New Keystone XL Route Still Threatens Water Supply

Cross-posted from WeArePowerShift.

At the height of the Keystone XL battle, some of the pipeline’s toughest opponents came from Nebraska, where people of all political persuasions were alarmed at the damage a potential spill would cause. And rightfully so: According to the original plan, KXL would have crossed the Nebraska Sandhills, an ecologically-sensitive area that sits above the Ogallala aquifer.

TransCanada just re-applied for a permit to build KXL along an alternate route, one that avoids the Sandhills. But, according to the new plan, the pipeline would still threaten the crucial aquifer. Lisa Song of InsideClimate News reports:

The company’s preferred corridor avoids the Sandhills of southwest Holt County, just as TransCanada promised it would. But it still crosses through northern Holt County, where the soil is often sandy and permeable and the water table is high—the same characteristics that make the Sandhills so vulnerable to the impact of an oil spill.

In some parts of the new corridor, the groundwater lies so close to the surface that the pipeline would run through the aquifer instead of over it. (See map of TransCanada’s preferred Keystone XL route.)

What does that mean for the no-KXL movement? Obviously, a major objection to KXL–that it could poison water for thousands of people–is still completely valid. That means landowners, even those who don’t object to the pipeline on principle, may be powerful allies again, as TransCanada gears up for another battle over the border crossing permit.

However, that permit may soon be useless. A new batch of pipeline projects, none of which require State Department approval, could render KXL redundant.

  • The Bakken Crude Express will carry oil from deposits in North Dakota to the market hub of Cushing, Oklahoma. This pipeline will serve U.S. refineries the same way KXL would, but for about a tenth of the cost.
  • Enbridge, another Canadian pipeline company, plans to reverse the flow of its Seaway pipeline, in order to pump crude from Oklahoma to Texas.
  • Flanagan South, also by Enbridge, will carry oil to Oklahoma and is expected to be in service a year before KXL would be.
  • Meanwhile, Enbridge’s Trailbreaker project, which would ship tar sands oil into New England, seems to beback on the table. Several green groups claim Enbridge is trying to skirt proper review by breaking Trailbreaker into smaller phases.

Round two of the tar sands fight is about to begin. This time, the result may hinge more on the presidential election, since Obama will try to avoid another controversial decision. For his part, Romney has said he is prepared to build KXL himself, if need be. (Presumably, that is why he wears blue jeans at campaign stops.)

If KXL is ever delayed or permanently canceled for any reason, the climate movement can and should claim a victory. After all, they helped draw toxic attention to it, in the first place. From a carbon perspective, though, the “alternatives” are no better. A tar sands pipeline, by any other name, still smells like tar sands.

Image: Tar Sands Action


Of Oil and the Undead: A Keystone XL Update

Not long ago, the creature known as Keystone XL was hidden in the uncharted lands of bureaucracy, unknown to the general public. That was before an alliance of environmental campaigners, climate activists, college students, and Nebraska landowners dragged Keystone into the spotlight and made it pivotal issue in Washington.

A New York Times article, a corrupt environmental review, and a couple thousand arrests later, Keystone XL was a celebrity. Its every move became headline news. The No-KXL campaign convinced Obama that the pipeline was dangerous (politically, at least), and he tried to lock it up until after the election. But Republicans in Congress threw a tantrum and demanded a rushed decision on Keystone XL, even though State had warned that the review process would not be complete.

So it was that Barack Obama killed Keystone XL. But the pipeline’s friends on Capitol Hill aren’t backing down. The Grand Oil Party seems to have made reanimating Keystone XL its number-one goal. Right now, they have three main options:

  • Keystone XL will likely be featured in the House’s infrastructure bill. The “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act” is a veritable Frankenstein of pro-oil policies and outdated urbanism. (To paraphrase the bill’s authors: Bikes and pedestrians = bad, highways and oil drilling = ♥.) Keystone XL would be in good company.
  • Alternatively, Keystone XL could be added to the next payroll tax bill. The previous one–a stopgap measure–was considered a “must-pass,” so the Republicans used it to rush a decision on the pipeline. They could try the same strategy again, this time requiring an approval. But the leadership would take some heat for holding the popular tax break hostage over an unrelated issue.
  • Big Oil’s pals in the Senate are promoting a standalone bill to approve Keystone XL. So far, 44 Senators have signed on. A House version is in the works as well. If you’re wondering, it would be legal for Congress to approve Keystone XL on its own, but Obama would have to pass a bill circumventing his own authority. In other words, the standalone bill would serve mainly as a talking point

If these options fail, Zombie XL could still come back with an alternate route, or TransCanada could apply for a new permit. For now, though, our oily adversary is confined to the laboratories of Congress.

The Keystone XL is unpredictable and known to attack without warning. Be sure to follow @TarSandsAction and @TheGreenLens for the latest news.

Keystone XL Delayed: A Young Person’s Reaction

…in which the author reflects on the first national environmental victory of his generation.

Obama delayed the Keystone XL pipeline after thousands protested

When I became aware of the Keystone XL campaign, I really had no idea where it would lead. On the one hand, I thought, this pipeline is just the type of thing Candidate Obama would have decried; if there were ever a president who would stop the project, it would be he. On the other hand, President Obama has barely talked about clean energy in recent months, not even mentioning climate change in his State of the Union address. Quite the opposite, his Interior Department announced a massive coal mining expansion earlier this year.

Considering the confidence within the industry–TransCanada had already spent millions on pipe, signed contracts with suppliers, and begun seizing land–victory seemed unlikely. Yet this didn’t change the anti-KXL movement, beyond charging it with urgency. The struggle, to me at least, was not something you take part in because you expect to win. It was more, “Years from now, how do I explain why I didn’t speak out against this?”

The answer is that you don’t. You speak, you write, you rally; and you do it with enough savvy to give yourself a decent chance. Then, if you lose, you can say that you fought the good fight.

That’s how I went into this: with the hope that all activism requires but also with the understanding that, too most onlookers, the Keystone XL was a done deal. So imagine my surprise when, in the midst of research for yet another anti-KXL article, I check my email and see that the pipeline has been delayed until 2013, and that this delay could prove fatal.

For me and many other young people, this success was especially meaningful. It was one of the first, if not the first national environmental victory of our lifetime. We had watched the wheels of dirty politics turn–and we’d seen them grind to a halt. To be part of something like that is nothing short of inspirational. I’ve realized that Tim DeChristopher was right when he said we “have more than enough power” to win these battles.

I’ve also realized that, where individual concern falls short, collective action is powerful. Changing your lightbulbs won’t stop an oil pipeline. For that matter, selling your car, swearing off airplanes, and moving into an off-the-grid earthship won’t either. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t address the root causes of our problems on a big enough scale. Change is created by passionate, focused, collective movements. And that is what we now have.

We should come away from the Keystone XL victory encouraged, but we don’t have much time to congratulate ourselves. More challenges are already on the horizon. The gas industry is pushing for 20,000 fracking wells in the Delaware River watershed, a water source for millions. A vote will take place on November 21–and the White House could play a decisive role. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for 2012 is almost sure to come out swinging against clean air, water, and energy.

But now we’re prepared. We’re organized and energized. As a movement, we know we can make a difference.


Image: Josh Lopez/Tar Sands Action

Infographic: Keystone XL ‘Built to Spill’

TransCanada claims their pipelines are the safest in the continent… So what about the 12 spills along the Keystone I line in its first year of operation? Since commencing operation in June of 2010, the Keystone I pipeline has suffered more spills than any other 1st year pipeline in U.S. history.

In addition to a nasty spill record, the proposed Keystone XL will cross one of the largest aquifers in the world – the Ogallala – which supplies drinking water to millions and provides 30% of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation.

That’s Emma Pullman on DeSmogBlog, taking on TransCanada and its proposed Keystone XL pipeline. We’ve already covered the myths and facts about Keystone XL, but this infrographic, produced by Heather Libby of TckTckTck and DeSmogBlogs’s Pullman summarizes the situation visually.

The pipeline is just a signature short of approval–Obama has only to declare the project in the “national interest,” and he has less than ninety days to do so. In the last few weeks, opposition to Keystone XL has been heating up, with over 1,200 protestors arrested in Washington. And hundreds have already signed up for a follow-up event in October. The message is clear: oil spills in aquifers and accelerated climate change are not in the national interest.

Keystone XL Pipeline: Facts and Myths

(Updated 9-04-11.)

Political debates in the U.S. are often plagued by disinformation, and the TransCanada oil pipeline controversy is no exception. So here’s my humble effort to dispel a few misconceptions.

Myth: There is little to no chance of an oil spill. In fact, a University of Nebraska study found that the pipeline could have nine times as many spills as TransCanada estimated. The pipeline will carry diluted bitumen from the tar sands, and it’s possible that “DilBit” poses a greater risk of corrosion and spills that conventional oil (see the NYT article for details).

Myth: A Keystone XL oil spill would be harmless. The study mentioned above also said that a rupture could take ten times as long to shut down and spill six times as much crude oil as TransCanada predicted. Specifically, the XL could leak up to 7.9 million gallons in the Nebraska Sandhills, home of the world’s largest underground reservoir, the Ogallala Aquifer. The Ogallala supplies drinking water to millions of people in eight states and provides over a quarter of U.S. agricultural water.

Myth: Oil spills are the worst problem the pipeline would cause. The Keystone XL would allow more oil to be pumped from Canada, which opens the way to expanding the tar sands. In case you haven’t heard, Alberta’s tar sands are the most destructive project on earth, covering a Florida-sized area that was once Boreal forest. The extraction process uses massive amounts of water and natural gas, and leaves toxic tailing ponds that are visible from space.

Even more importantly, the carbon footprint of tar sands production is three times that of old-fashioned oil. That’s why twenty top climate researchers wrote a letter to President Obama saying tar sands oil “does not make sense to exploit.” James Hansen, an eminent scientist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, has gone a step further:

Exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts….Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over.

Myth: The Keystone XL would lower gas prices. The Energy Department says the pipeline would have a minimal effect on national gas prices, and may even lead to an increase in oil and gas prices in the Midwest.

Myth: The Keystone XL would enhance our energy security. Nobody thinks it’s a great idea to rely on Saudi Arabia and Venezuela for our oil supply. That’s why the oil industry and its cheerleaders are spinning the KXL as an energy security issue. But, according to a report commissioned by TransCanada itself, building the pipeline would not reduce oil imports from “unfriendly” countries.

How is that? The Keystone XL is an export pipeline. As Oil Change International reported,

The Port Arthur, Texas, refiners at the end of its route are focused on expanding exports to Europe, and Latin America. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks.

If we want to achieve energy independence, we should start by promoting renewable fuels in the U.S., not by playing middleman in the Canadian oil market.

Myth: We need the Keystone XL because it would create jobs. Yes, building a 2,000-mile-long pipeline would create jobs. So would a high-speed railway, a wind farm, or a solar array. In fact, green industries account for more jobs than do oil and gas production. And don’t forget that TransCanada’s job estimates were greatly exaggerated. A Cornell University report found the pipeline would create far fewer jobs than TransCanada claims, according to the company’s own data. Most of these jobs would not be local and many would not even be American. Furthermore, the number permanent American jobs could be as low as 50, based on TransCanada’s figures of operating costs.

Still, some would argue that relatively few jobs are better than no jobs, and that temporary employment is better than none. Job creation is certainly a priority, but oil pipelines aren’t the only way to do it. Focusing on short-term benefits, however much-needed, while ignoring the long-term environmental and social impact is a risky strategy, to say the least.

Image: Tar Sands Action/Flickr