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Is Keystone in the National Interest? Of Canada, That Is? | DeSmog Canada

Is Keystone in the National Interest? Of Canada, That Is? | DeSmog Canada.

keystone xl

It’s up to the U.S. President to decide whether the cross-border leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest of his country. Ultimately, his criteria are less scientific than political. Does he stand to lose more by alienating those who support or oppose the project?

With midterm elections coming up in November, Obama doesn’t have time to worry about Canada’s hurt feelings. Our economy, environment and opinion are very low on his list of priorities.

But the strongest pro-Keystone arguments on the American side raise an uncomfortable question: if the pipeline is approved, who benefits a little bit — and who benefits a lot? In other words, who gets the short end of the stick?

Houston-based Forbes contributor Loren Steffy lays out the business logic behind Keystone XLwith a clarity you’d be hard-pressed to find on our side of the border:

“[In 2011], for the first time in six decades, the U.S. exported more gasoline and diesel than it imported. The bulk of the exports went to Mexico, Canada and Brazil. Mexico and Canada, even without Keystone, are two of our biggest suppliers of crude (Canada is No. 1; Mexico is No. 4 behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela). Gasoline, of course, is more expensive than crude, so we are in effect importing raw materials, adding value, and selling it back at a higher price – and maintaining U.S. jobs in the process.”

Catch that? It sounds a lot like the old story about exporting logs and buying back the furniture. Our domestic politicians tell us we’re an “energy superpower,” but to hear U.S. analysts describe it, we’re more of a convenient resource colony.

Canada is a rare duck indeed: a developed nation that is also a net exporter of crude oil. But the U.S. is catching up, thanks to a different kind of oil. The crude coming out of North Dakota’s Bakken shale is light and sweet. Canada’s is higher in sulphur and carbon content, while lower in energy and therefore value.

We produce light crude too, but not enough to match domestic consumption. And we don’t have the refineries to handle our own heavy oil. So we import light crude and gasoline to make up the difference, and send our low-grade stuff to the U.S.

We’re producing so much oil sands crude that we’ve overwhelmed cross-border pipeline capacity. Now the industry is stuck in a Catch-22. Profit margins have dropped dramatically. To reassure investors, bitumen miners talk about dramatically expanding production. But the more we produce, the more we exacerbate the supply glut.

The industry’s best hope right now lies in pipelines like the Keystone XL.

Back to Barack Obama. He doesn’t care about the woes of Canadian oil sands producers. His job is to calculate the U.S. national interest — or at least a version he can sell to voters. Last week’s State Department environmental impact report gave him more political cover on the question of increased carbon emissions.

Yes, operating the pipeline would be like adding 300,000 cars to the road. Yes, Canadian crude is worse for the atmosphere than the other heavy grades it would displace. But, the reportargues, without Keystone much of the same oil would find its way to the same refineries by rail — creating even more emissions than the pipeline, and significantly increasing the risk of accidents.

Rejecting Keystone, the report finds, won’t stop Canadian producers from digging up oil. The question is how they get it to customers.

“Keystone is important to the U.S. because it amounts to an energy insurance policy,” wrote Loren Steffy in Forbes. “Keystone gives us improved access to Canadian crude, which, with or without Keystone, is likely to remain some of the cheapest in the world.”

Is it smart for the president to lock in a stable supply of cheap oil from an eager neighbour? Yes. Is it smart to provide short-term jobs for U.S. construction and refinery workers? Yes. Will the political benefits outweigh the backlash? It’s a good bet Obama will decide yes.

The voters who will be most upset are probably the Nebraska ranchers whose lands will be expropriated. But they’re already Republicans.

Many backs will be slapped and victory cigars chomped in Calgary and Ottawa, the day Keystone XL is approved. Stephen Harper and his cabinet ministers will, no doubt, claim full credit.

Who will be the real winners? Oil companies, certainly. The Government of Alberta, which badly needs the royalties.

On a more modest level, perhaps the Canadian treasury. More than half the federal government’s revenue now comes from personal income tax. So the bean counters will be happy at the prospect of higher wages in the oil patch, so long as wages don’t drop in other parts of the economy.

But remember, oil and gas together make up less than 7% of Canada’s GDP. The entire sector pays 4.2% of total corporate taxes. And it provides only 3% of the jobs in the country. What’s good for oil sands companies is not necessarily the same as what’s good for the nation.

How about ordinary Canadians? Perhaps we’ll feel a fleeting sense of pride that our low-grade crude has found a loving home in the big Gulf Coast refineries. Then we’ll go fill up our gas tanks.

Image credit: www.keystone-xl.com

Tomgram: Engelhardt, The End of History? | TomDispatch

Tomgram: Engelhardt, The End of History? | TomDispatch.

Ending the World the Human Way 
Climate Change as the Anti-News
By Tom Engelhardt

Here’s the scoop: When it comes to climate change, there is no “story,” not in the normal news sense anyway.

The fact that 97% of scientists who have weighed in on the issue believe that climate change is a human-caused phenomenon is not a story.  That only one of 9,137 peer-reviewed papers on climate change published between November 2012 and December 2013 rejected human causation is not a story either, nor is the fact that only 24 out of 13,950 such articles did so over 21 years.  That the anything-but-extreme Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offers an at least 95% guarantee of human causation for global warming is not a story, nor is the recent revelation that IPCC experts believe we only have 15 years left to rein in carbon emissions or we’ll need new technologies not yet in existence which may never be effective.  Nor is the recent poll showing that only 47% of Americans believe climate change is human-caused (a drop of 7% since 2012) or that the percentage who believe climate change is occurring for any reason has also declined since 2012 from 70% to 63%.  Nor is the fact that, as the effects of climate change came ever closer to home, media coverage of the subject dropped between 2010 and 2012 and, though rising in 2013, was still well below coverage levels for 2007 to 2009.  Nor is it a story that European nations, already light years ahead of the United States on phasing out fossil fuels, recently began considering cutbacks on some of their climate change goals, nor that U.S. carbon emissions actually rose in 2013, nor that the southern part of the much disputed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to bring particularly carbon-dirty tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, is now in operation, nor that 2013 will have been either the fourth or seventh hottest year on record, depending on how you do the numbers.

Don’t misunderstand me.  Each of the above was reported somewhere and climate change itself is an enormous story, if what you mean is Story with a capital S.  It could even be considered the story of all stories.  It’s just that climate change and its component parts are unlike every other story from the Syrian slaughter and the problems of Obamacare to Bridgegate and Justin Bieber’s arrest.  The future of all other stories, of the news and storytelling itself, rests on just how climate change manifests itself over the coming decades or even century.  What happens in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 presidential elections, in our wars, politics, and culture, who is celebrated and who ignored — none of it will matter if climate change devastates the planet.

Climate change isn’t the news and it isn’t a set of news stories.  It’s the prospective end of all news.  Think of it as the anti-news.

All the rest is part of the annals of human history: the rise and fall of empires, of movements, of dictatorships and democracies, of just about anything you want to mention.  The most crucial stories, like the most faddish ones, are — every one of them — passing phenomena, which is of course what makes them the news.

Climate change isn’t.  New as that human-caused phenomenon may be — having its origins in the industrial revolution — it’s nonetheless on a different scale from everything else, which is why journalists and environmentalists often have so much trouble figuring out how to write about it in a way that leaves it continually in the news.  While no one who, for instance, lived through “Frankenstorm” Sandy on the East Coast in 2012 could call the experience “boring” — winds roaring through urban canyons like freight trains, lights going out across lower Manhattan, subway tunnels flooding, a great financial capital brought to its proverbial knees — in news terms, much of global warming is boring and repetitive.  I mean, drip, drip, drip.  How many times can you write about the melting Arctic sea ice or shrinking glaciers and call it news?  How often are you likely to put that in your headlines?

We’re so used to the phrase “the news” that we often forget its essence: what’s “new” multiplied by that “s.”  It’s true that the “new” can be repetitively so.  How many times have you seen essentially the same story about Republicans and Democrats fighting on Capitol Hill?  But the momentousness of climate change, which isn’t hard to discern, is difficult to regularly turn into meaningful “new” headlines (“Humanity Doomed If…”), to repeatedly and successfully translate into a form oriented to the present and the passing moment, to what happened yesterday, today, and possibly tomorrow.

If the carbon emissions from fossil fuels are allowed to continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the science of what will happen sooner or later is relatively cleareven if its exact timetable remains in question: this world will be destabilized as will humanity (along with countless other species).  We could, at the worst, essentially burn ourselves off Planet Earth.  This would prove a passing event for the planet itself, but not for us, nor for any fragment of humanity that managed to survive in some degraded form, nor for the civilizations we’ve developed over thousands of years.

In other words, unlike “the news,” climate change and its potential devastations exist on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species.  Great devastations and die-offs have happened before.  Give the planet a few million years and life of many sorts will regenerate and undoubtedly thrive.  But possibly not us.

Nuclear Dress Rehearsal

Here’s the strange thing: we went through a dress rehearsal for this in the twentieth century when dealing (or not dealing) with nuclear weapons, aka the Bomb — often capitalized in my youth as a sign of how nuclear disaster was felt to be looming over life itself.  With the dropping of that “victory weapon” on two Japanese cities in 1945, a new era opened.  For the first time, we humans — initially in Washington, then in Moscow, then in other national capitals — took the power to end all life on this planet out of God’s hands.  You could think of it as the single greatest, if also grimmest, act of secularization in history.  From 1945 on, at least prospectively, we could do what only God had previously been imagined capable of: create an End Time on this planet.

In itself, that was a remarkable development.  And there was nothing figurative about it.  The U.S. military was involved in what, in retrospect, can only be considered operational planning for world’s end.  In its first “Single Integrated Operational Plan,” or SIOP, in 1960, for instance, it prepared to deliver more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities which would then, if all went well, cease to exist. Official estimates of casualties ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured.  (Those figures undoubtedly underestimated radiation and other effects, and today we also know that the exploding of so many nuclear weapons would have ended life as we know it on this planet.)  In those years, in the most secret councils of government, American officials also began to prepare for the possibility that 100 Russian missiles might someday land on U.S. targets, killing or injuring 22 million Americans.  Not so many years later, the weaponry of either of the superpowers had the capability of destroying the planet many times over.

The U.S. and the USSR were by then locked in a struggle that gained a remarkably appropriate acronym: MAD (for “mutually assured destruction”).  During the Cold War, the U.S. built an estimated 70,000 nuclear warheads and bombs of every size and shape, the Soviet Union55,000, and with them went a complex semi-secret nuclear geography of missile silos, plutonium plants, and the like that shadowed the everyday landscape we knew.

In 1980, scientists discovered a layer of particularly iridium-rich clay in sediments 65 million years old, evidence that a vast asteroid impact had put such a cloud of particulates into the atmosphere as to deprive the planet of sunshine, turning it into a wintry vista, and in the process contributing to the demise of the dinosaurs.  In the years that followed, it became ever clearer that nuclear weapons, dispatched in the quantities both the U.S. and USSR had been planning for, would have a similar effect.  This prospective phenomenon was dubbed “nuclear winter.”

In this way, nuclear extermination would also prove to be an apocalyptic weather event, giving it an affinity with what, in the decades to come, would be called “global warming” and then “climate change.”  The nuclear story, the first (and at the time the only imaginable) tale of our extinction by our own hands, rose into the news periodically and even into front-page headlines, as during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as into the movies and popular culture.  Unlike climate change, it was a global catastrophe that could happen at any moment and be carried to its disastrous conclusion in a relatively short period of time, bringing it closer to the today and tomorrow of the news.

Nonetheless, nuclear arsenals, too, were potential life-enders and so news-enders.  As a result, most of the time their existence and development managed to translate poorly into daily headlines.  For so many of those years in that now long-gone world of the Cold War stand-off, the nuclear issue was somehow everywhere, a kind of exterminationist grid over life itself, and yet, like climate change, nowhere at all.  Except for a few brief stretches in those decades, antinuclear activists struggled desperately to bring the nuclear issue out of the shadows.

The main arsenals on the planet, still enormous, are now in a kind of nuclear hibernation and are only “news” when, for instance, their very backwater status becomes an issue.  This was the case recently with a spate of headlines about test cheating and drug use scandals involving U.S. Air Force “missileers” who feel that in their present posts they are career losers.  Most of the major national arsenals are almost never mentioned in the news.  They are essentially no-news zones.  These would include the gigantic Russian one, the perhaps 200 weapons in theIsraeli arsenal, and those of the British, French, Indians, and Pakistanis (except when it comes to stories about fears of future loose nukes from that country’s stock of weapons).

The only exceptions in the twenty-first century have been Iran, a country in the spotlight for a decade, even though its nuclear program lies somewhere between prospective and imaginary, and North Korea, which continues to develop a modest (but dangerous) arsenal.  On the other hand, even though a full-scale nuclear war between Pakistan and India, each of which may now have about 100 weapons in their expanding arsenals, would be a global catastrophe with nuclear-winter effects that would engulf the planet causing widespread famine, most of the time you simply wouldn’t know it.  These days, it turns out we have other problems.

The End of History?

If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial.  The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of both the nuclear situation and climate change.  Each is now woven into our lives in essential, if little acknowledged, ways and yet both remain remarkably recessive.  Add to that a fatalistic feeling among many that these are issues beyond our capacity to deal with, and you have a potent brew not just for the repression of news but also for the failure to weave what news we do get into a larger picture that we could keep before us as we live our lives.  Who, after all, wants to live life like that?

And yet nuclear weapons and climate change are human creations, which means that the problems they represent have human solutions.  They are quite literally in our hands.  In the case of climate change, we can even point to an example of what can be done about a human-caused global environmental disaster-in-the-making: the “hole” in the ozone layer over Antarctica.  Discovered in 1985, it continued to grow for years threatening a prospective health catastrophe.  It was found to be due to the effects of CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) compounds used in air-conditioning units, refrigerators, and aerosol propellants, and then released into the atmosphere.  In fact, the nations of the world did come together around CFCs, most of which have now been replaced, while that hole has been reduced, though it isn’t expected to heal entirely until much later this century.

Of course, compared with the burning of fossil fuels, the economic and political interests involved in CFCs were minor.  Still, the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer is evidence that solutions can be reached, however imperfectly, on a global scale when it comes to human-caused environmental problems.

What makes climate change so challenging is that the carbon dioxide (and methane) being generated by the extraction, production, and burning of fossil fuels supports the most profitable corporations in history, as well as energy states like Saudi Arabia and Russia that are, in essence, national versions of such corporations.  The drive for profits has so far proven unstoppable.  Those who run the big oil companies, like the tobacco companies before them, undoubtedly know what potential harm they are doing to us.  They know what it will mean for humanity if resources (and profits) aren’t poured into alternative energy research and development.  And like those cigarette companies, they go right on.  They are indeed intent, for instance, on turning North America into “Saudi America,” and hunting down and extracting the last major reserves of fossil fuel in the most difficult spots on the planet.  Their response to climate change has, in fact, been to put some of their vast profits into the funding of a campaignof climate-change denialism (and obfuscation) and into the coffers of chosen politicians and think tanks willing to lend a hand.

In fact, one of the grim wonders of climate change has been the ability of Big Energy and its lobbyists to politicize an issue that wouldn’t normally have a “left” or “right,” and to make bad science into an ongoing news story.  In other words, an achievement that couldn’t be morecriminal in nature has also been their great coup de théâtre.

In a world heading toward the brink, here’s the strange thing: most of the time that brink is nowhere in sight.  And how can you get people together to solve a human-caused problem when it’s so seldom meaningfully in the news (and so regularly challenged by energy interests when it is)?

This is the road to hell and it has not been paved with good intentions.  If we stay on it, we won’t even be able to say that future historians considered us both a wonder (for our ability to create world-ending scenarios and put them into effect) and a disgrace (for our inability to face what we had done).  By then, humanity might have arrived at the end of history, and so of historians.

Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, isTerminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

[Note: I would like to thank Jonathan Schell for loaning me the term “anti-news” in relation to climate change.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

Our take on the State of the Union address: It’s time for climate action | – Environmental Defence

Our take on the State of the Union address: It’s time for climate action | – Environmental Defence.

photo credit: 350.org

President Obama delivered the annualState of the Union address last night. And while we usually keep our attention north of the border, there are a few key reasons that we tuned in. As climate impacts hit harder and closer to home with floods, forest fires, heat waves and cold snaps, the time for ambitious climate action has never been clearer.

Last night the President reaffirmed his commitment to climate action through emissions reductions, clean energy, cuts to fossil fuel subsidies, and efficiency. But a ramping up of the ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, with increased natural gas and oil, threatens to hold the U.S. back as a climate leader. Nonetheless, the President’s determination to protect future generations from climate change stands in sharp contrast to what’s happening here in Canada, where the reckless expansion of the tar sands is making it impossible to do our share to prevent the worst of climate change.

Here are the key reasons we watched the speech:

  1. A tale of two countries and climate changeThe Canadian government claims, when it comes to action on climate change, we are harmonizing with the U.S., our largest trading partner. So when President Obama stepped up earlier this year (in the President’s June climate speech) by committing to tackle the U.S.’s biggest source of pollution (coal), it put pressure on Canada to finally take action to regulate the tar sands, our fastest growing source of climate change pollution.Rather than being harmonized, it seems our leaders are singing different tunes. Recently, Prime Minister Harper suggested that any rules to deal with tar sands emissions are still a couple of years away. In contrast, as we heard last night, the President remains dedicated to working to tackle carbon pollution and invest in clean energy and efficiency – commitments that are lacking in Canada.

    We’d welcome real cross-border collaboration on climate action, clean energy and efficiency. The U.S. is committed to taking advantage of the growing clean energy economy (solar got a shout out last night). If we don’t get on board soon with clean energy, Canada will miss out on the jobs and benefits of this growing sector.

  2. The Keystone XL tar sands pipelinePresident Obama holds the key to significant tar sands expansion (and climate pollution) through the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. While he wasn’t expected to – and didn’t – mention the pipeline in last night’s speech, the heat was still on the President with over 100 people gathered in the cold outside of the White House,demanding a rejection of this massive pipeline that would enable major industry expansion and significant climate pollution.The pipeline is in the midst of a final environmental impact assessment, which the State Department is expected to release in the coming weeks or months. The impact assessment follows the President’s June climate speech, where he was clear that the pipeline would not be approved if it significantly exacerbatesclimate pollution. Industry and governments have been lobbying heavily for the Keystone pipeline, precisely because it would open up export routes and allow for tar sands expansion.

    After the assessment is presented, the pipeline will go through a National Interest Determination process where the public can weigh in. But the final decision rests with the President. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is an example of the infrastructure we should not build if we’re serious about stabilizing our climate, which requires us to move away from polluting fossil fuels. Rejecting the pipeline would be yet another signal for investors who are coming to terms with the risks of investing in dirty fuels. And it would be very good news for the climate, which would be saved tens of millions of tonnes of carbon pollution.

  3. Our shared atmosphereBecause we share an atmosphere with the U.S, we care about what our southern neighbour does on climate change, pipelines, fracking, clean energy and energy efficiency. While we work hard every day to push for climate and clean energy policy in Canada, it isn’t just our pollution that matters. The U.S. is one of the world’s largest polluters and what it does or doesn’t do to tackle global warming pollution will impact us in Canada.Every country must try to do its fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here at home we will work even harder, because we have further to go. Some important change is happening in Canada, led by cities and provinces. Look at Ontario’s move to shut its last coal plant down for good or Nova Scotia’s impressive success at cutting energy waste. But as a country we need to grapple with the fact that expanding fossil fuel production is incompatible with action on climate change. If the tar sands are allowed to expand, pollution from them will cancel out every other effort in the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    The good news is that on both sides of the border there a diverse, powerful and growing  movement of committed individuals, organizations and communities standing up for a safer future for our shared environment and climate. This movement has made the tar sands the defining energy conversation on the continent, with many voices calling for an end to expanding the tar sands. As the impacts of climate change continue to hit close to home, this movement is only going to get stronger.

Keystone XL southern leg opens – Business – CBC News

Keystone XL southern leg opens – Business – CBC News.

The main portion of the Keystone XL still requires approval from the Obama White House.The main portion of the Keystone XL still requires approval from the Obama White House. (The Associated Press)

The southern portion of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline officially opened on Wednesday, pumping oil from the distribution hub of Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the American Gulf Coast.

Calgary-based TransCanada announced the news on its website Wednesday. At about 10:45 a.m. central time, the Gulf Coast Project began delivering crude oil to the pipeline company’s refining customers.

“This is a very important milestone for TransCanada, our shippers and Gulf Coast refiners who have been waiting for a pipeline to supply oil directly from Cushing,” TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said.

The 783-kilometre stretch of pipeline in the American South cost $2.3 billion to develop and construct. The 36-inch pipeline that can transport as much as 830,000 barrels of oil per day​.

More opposition

The shorter leg will begin transporting on average about 300,000 barrels of oil daily and should end the year at an average of about 520,000 barrels, TransCanada’s Alex Pourbaix said.

TransCanada was trumpeting the opening of the pipeline as a watershed moment on Wednesday, but the company still faces numerous hurdles getting the rest of the Keystone XL pipeline approved.

The remaining portion of the pipeline is still seeking final approval from the U.S. government. When and if it’s completed, it will ship Canadian oil more than 1,800 kilometres from Hardisty, Alta., through six U.S. states to the Gulf of Mexico for refining and export.

Environmentalists have rallied against the project, urging U.S. President Barack Obama to stop its construction. But it’s backers say it will be an economic boom for both countries and reduce North America’s dependence on foreign oil from more hostile parts of the globe.

Jane Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska, a group that has opposed the Keystone pipeline, said the Gulf Coast segment presented a “huge risk” to people along the route noting problems flagged by the federal pipeline regulator during construction.

“Citizens are watching this pipeline like a hawk,” Kleeb vowed.

Oil prices rose

Oil prices were boosted by the opening of the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery rose $1.76, or 1.9 per cent, to close at $96.73 US a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil last closed above $96 a barrel on Dec. 31.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, gained $1.54, or 1.4 per cent, to US$108.27 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Meanwhile, natural gas futures shot up almost six per cent as temperatures in many parts of the U.S. Northeast dropped well below freezing and strong demand tapped the region’s supplies of natural gas.

State Department Says It Doesn’t Know Keystone XL Pipeline’s Exact Route | Motherboard

State Department Says It Doesn’t Know Keystone XL Pipeline’s Exact Route | Motherboard.

 

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