KEYSTONE XL: A PIPELINE THAT WOULD TAKE US BACKWARD
By Erica H. Mattison- SpeakingofJustice.com Correspondent
“Let’s be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil.” –Senator Barack Obama, 2007
[I will be] “a president who harnesses the ingenuity of farmers and scientists and entrepreneurs to free this nation from the tyranny of oil once and for all.” -Senator Barack Obama, 2008
On November 6, 2011, thousands of people from around the United States will gather in Washington, D.C. to urge President Obama to stay true to the vision he communicated during the Presidential campaign by preventing the Keystone XL Project from advancing. If our country really has the intention to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, and preserve natural resources for the sake of present and future generations, the only possible answer to Keystone is “no.” We need our President to put an end to this nonsense project and make a statement that investing in energy efficiency and clean, safe renewable energy projects is what this country really needs to be focusing on. For that to happen, President Obama needs to know the public opposes Keystone and supports sustainable practices that will move us forward.
In October, 2011 the U.S. State Department held its final public hearing on a proposal by TransCanada Corp. to build a pipeline, called the Keystone XL, which would transport crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to oil refineries in Oklahoma and Texas.
A Presidential Permit is mandated for facilities which cross international borders. In addition, certain types of energy projects, including pipelines, are subject to an Executive Order issued in 2004, which requires the State Department to determine whether a project is in the nation’s interest before a Presidential Permit is granted. A 90-day review period extends part-way through November 2011, during which time a National Interest Determination is crafted. It is expected that a decision will be issued in December, and the Presidential permit will either be issued or denied.
CONCERNS ABOUT THE PROJECT
Natural bitumen is often referred to as tar sands or oil sands. Questions abound regarding potential risks of this material. Organizations such as the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) argue that the State Department’s environmental impact statement does not adequately address the array of concerns that exist regarding the project.
NRDC and others contend that this project is not in the nation’s best interests. In the summer of 2011, over one dozen scientists, including leading climate expert James Hansen, wrote a joint letter to President Obama, stating that Keystone XL was not in the nation’s interest or the planet’s interest. Hansen took part in the August 2011 protests in Washington, D.C., where demonstrators showed their opposition to Keystone XL. Along with hundreds of others who took part in the sit-in, Hansen was arrested.
According to a recent article in Technology Review, while the drilling might appear to be less damaging to the environment than strip-mining, the newer technology is actually more destructive; because it is an energy intensive process, it produces substantially more carbon dioxide emissions. Steam is used to extract the oil sand deposits, which are too deep to access via surface mining. This energy intensive process, which will have serious implications for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, is prompting some to pause. Canada is worried a European Union proposal to classify oil sands as carbon-intensive could reduce its money-making chances.
If inadequate management and safety precautions, combined with lack of oversight, could result in the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, who’s to say similar circumstances could not lead to a catastrophe in the proposed pipeline locations?
SO WHY DOES THIS PROJECT HAVE A CHANCE?
Some, such as Hansen, attribute it to the influence “that fossil fuel special interests have over policymakers and the public.”
Let’s take a look at the company at the center of this controversy. TransCanada’s third-quarter earnings were $384 million. In 2011 to date, the company has spent $1.3M on lobbying (over $900,000 of which was spent by Subsidiary TransCanada Pipelines). To put that in perspective, that would be the equivalent of paying three consultants at $100/hour to work 12 hours per day, 365 days of the year. Interestingly, that lobbying figure is the company’s largest in years. Five years ago, the subsidiary was not even investing in lobbying. In 2010 the Pipelines subsidiary spent $180,000 on lobbying, in 2009 only $50,000, in 2008 the figure was back up to $160,000, but in 2007 it dropped back to $60,000, and in 2006 the subsidiary spent $0 on lobbying. Could the controversy over the Keystone XL have anything to do with the recent increase in lobbying activity?
Early in 2011 concerns were raised about possible impropriety involving TransCanada’s lobbyist, Paul Elliott, who just so happens to be a former presidential campaign staffer to now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In fact, Friends of the Earth, the Center for International Environmental Law, and Corporate Ethics International filed a Freedom of Information Act request, which the State Department initially rejected. However, the efforts to illuminate a possible conflict of interest did, in fall 2011, turn up some correspondence between Elliott and State Department officials. Communications between Elliott and the State Department leave open the question of whether the relationship between the lobbyist and the government agency is proper.
Celebrities such as actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus have referred to the project as “mega stupid” and a “money-grab.” Actor Robert Redford is calling upon the President to stand up to big oil, encouraging him to say “no” to the Keystone XL, calling it a dangerous project that will increase pollution and threaten our land, water, and climate.
Some lawmakers, including Senator Bernie Sanders, are encouraging the President to delay the decision on the project until the State Department has looked into potential conflicts of interest.
Meanwhile, the State Department defends its awarding of the environmental impact study to Cardno Extrix, a contractor some are concerned has links to TransCanada, the company proposing the pipeline.
Nebraska legislators are considering a bill which would give the state increased control over the pipeline route.
And President Obama is weighing the pros and cons of the project, stating that he is going to be looking at what is best for the American people, economically as well as in terms of health.
Step 2: Even if the Keystone XL is stopped, oil sands and other unconventional oil sources will continue to be pursued by those seeking to make money and those seeking to feed our oil addiction. The United States is already heavily reliant on oil from Canada, and starting to delve into oil-sands production will only increase our dependence. Many experts say decreasing our overall oil demand is the real option that will enable us to reduce the environmental impact of the oil-sands industry. So,
- After you’ve taken steps to improve your own energy efficiency,
- Share information to help make it easy for others to take action,
- Join with organizations large and small that are working to further energy efficiency and clean energy sources, and
- Tell candidates and elected officials what’s important to you.
The change starts with us. This year we can take steps that get us on the path toward freeing our communities from the greed and shortsightedness that is threatening to take us backward.
 U.S. Department of State, Keystone XL Pipeline Project, http://www.keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/clientsite/keystonexl.nsf?Open
 Executive Order 13337 of April 30, 2004, Issuance of Permits with Respect to Certain Energy-Related Facilities and Land Transportation Crossings on the International Boundaries of the United States, http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2004/pdf/04-10378.pdf
 U.S. Geological Survey, Heavy Oil and Natural Bitumen – Strategic Petroleum Resources, 2003, http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs070-03/fs070-03.html
 Inside Climate News, Keystone XL Primer: Secrecy Still Shrouds Diluted Bitumen Risks, Nov. 2, 2011,
 Before it can be used for conventional refineries, natural bitumen usually needs to be upgraded, which involves decreasing the carbon content or adding hydrogen. http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs070-03/fs070-03.html
 Financial Post, Poor Management Caused BP Spill: Report”, Sept. 14, 2011, http://business.financialpost.com/tag/oil-spill/
 Huffington Post, TransCanada, Company Behind Keystone Pipeline, Sees 11-Per-Cent Profit Boost, Nov. 1, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/01/transcanada-keystone-pipeline-profit-up_n_1069269.html
 Reuters, Clinton Ties to Pipeline Lobbyist Obscured by Questionable FOIA Denial, Jan. 17, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/17/idUS96463486420110117
 New York Times, Oil Pipeline Foes Sue State Department for Release of Documents, May 18, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/05/18/18greenwire-oil-pipeline-foes-sue-state-department-for-rel-89728.html
 Technology Review, What’s Peak Oil?, http://www.technologyreview.com/files/73756/Nov11%20Feature%20Oil%20Sands.pdf