Keystone XL

Lord Donoughue: New Chair of Climate Science Denying Group Has Vested Interests in Fossil Fuels

Read time: 2 mins

The new chairman of the UK’s principal climate science denier campaign group holds investments in a number of fossil fuel companies, including those building controversial oil and gas pipelines in Canada.

Labour peer Lord Bernard Donoughue was handed the reins of the climate science denying Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) after former Chancellor Nigel Lawson stepped down earlier this month.

Ten Huge Climate Change Moments of 2015

Read time: 6 mins

This is a guest post by DeSmog UK contributor Victoria Seabrook

It’s been a big year for the climate. We saw Uruguay go green and the UK go back to black. Global temperatures rose and Shell dropped Arctic drilling.

Here’s DeSmog UK’s round-up of ten key events from 2015 that stoked the fire of the climate change debate.

World Adopts Paris Agreement

Almost 200 countries agreed to a new international pact on climate change this month to keep global warming well below 2°C, with the aim of trying to keep it to 1.5°C.

Obama’s Secret Anti-Environmental Agenda: Ring Of Fire Features DeSmog On Obama Policies That Fly In The Face Of Climate Legacy

Read time: 1 min

The new Republican majority in the Senate was just a few hours old when Mitch McConnell vowed to pass legislation that would greenlight the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, despite President Obama’s veto threat.

That’s just one of the many domestic actions that would undermine efforts by the Obama Administration to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy. But the thing is, Obama himself regularly supports policies that are at odds with his purported climate legacy, like the recent news that his administration is quietly allowing oil companies to skirt the crude oil export ban.

An all-star cast of DeSmog experts—including DeSmog Canada managing editor Carol Linnitt, DeSmogBlog executive director Brendan DeMelle and DeSmog contributor Justin Mikulka—recently joined Farron Cousins on Ring of Fire Radio to discuss “Obama’s Secret Anti-Environmental Agenda.” Watch it here:

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

Read time: 5 mins
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?

Koch Brothers' Tar Sands Waste Petcoke Piles Spread to Chicago

Read time: 3 mins
Chicago petcoke pile

After using Detroit as a toxic waste dumping ground, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers are now piling their petroleum coke from tar sands oil refineries in Chicago.

Kiley Kroh of ThinkProgress writes that petroleum coke, or petcoke, “is building up along Chicago's Calumet River and alarming residents.” The Chicago petcoke piles are owned by KCBX, an affiliate of Koch Carbon, which is a subsidiary of Koch Industries.

Petcoke is a high-carbon, high-sulfur byproduct of coking, a refining process that extracts oil from tar sands bitumen crude. The petcoke owned by Charles and David Koch is a byproduct of bitumen crude shipped to US refineries from the Alberta tar sands.

Keystone XL Decision Delayed Again? Inspector General Pushes Report on ERM Scandals to January

Read time: 2 mins

Did the Obama administration's decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline just get delayed again? Quite possibly, since the State Department Inspector General announced today that it has delayed until January the release of its review of the scandals surrounding Environmental Resources Management, Inc., the contractor chosen by TransCanada to perform State's Keystone XL environmental review. 

Although the State Department was evasive about whether the IG's announcement signals a delay in the administration's decision, it would seem odd for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to decide on the fate of the KXL export pipeline without waiting for the results of this critical report.  

Bloomberg News and The Hill broke the news about the delay, and all signs point to the fact that State's “inquiry” has morphed into a thorough conflicts-of-interest investigation into ERM's financial ties to TransCanada and other scandals. 

Ever since the March 2013 release of the State Department's environmental impact statement, critics have pointed to ERM Group's historical ties to Big Tobacco, its green-lighting of controversial projects in Peru and the Caspian Sea, and its declaration that a tar sands refinery in Delaware made the air “cleaner,” among many other industry-friendly rulings.  

Worst of all, perhaps - and potentially in violation of federal law - ERM Group lied on its State Department contract, claiming it had no business ties to TransCanada and the tar sands industry. The facts showed otherwise. 

This latest development certainly raises the prospect of a further delay, if not another sign that the Keystone XL will be rejected by President Obama.   

Greenwashing the Tar Sands, Part 3: Wherein money trumps fact every time

Read time: 6 mins

This is last installment of a three-part series on greenwashing and the tar sands. Be sure to read Part 1, A Short History of Greenwashing the Tar Sands, and Part 2, Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

Recently, Canadian Oil Sands Chief Executive Officer Marcel Coutu explained to Bloomberg why he and other big shot oil executives have been lobbying U.S. politicians so hard for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ferry more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude to the Gulf Coast. Coutu had participated in a Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) lobbying junket in February, and another trip is being planned for this month.

The first reason is money. The Keystone XL pipeline is a vital component of the tar sands industry’s plans. Without it, it will be hard for Big Oil to double production of tar sands crude by 2020. With no way to transport the extra crude to markets in the U.S. and beyond, there would be no point in spending all that money to turn bitumen into a crude form of oil. This, Coutu said, has had a chilling effect on investment and share prices.

Canadian Oil Sands shares have risen just two per cent this year, while Cenovus’ have fallen seven percent and Imperial Oil’s are down 6.2 percent. Keystone XL, says Todd Kepler, a Calgary-based oil and gas analyst at Cormark Securities, would increase share prices for oil producers by as much as 20 per cent.

That's a big deal worth millions of dollars.

Is Houston a Tar Sands “Sacrifice Zone”?

Read time: 4 mins

This is a guest post by Caroline Selle

Much of the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has focused on the dangers of extracting and transporting the tar sands. Left out, however, are those in the United States who are
guaranteed to feel the impacts of increased tar sands usage. Spill or no spill, anyone living near a tar sands refinery will bear the burden of the refining process.

Tar sands oil is produced from a mixture of sand, clay, water, and the sticky, peanut-butter like form of petroleum known as bitumen. Unlike conventional crude, it’s essentially solid at room temperature, has a higher heavy metal content, and has to be diluted for transport. The diluents are trade secrets, and the content mixture - which often contains benzene, a human carcinogen - isn’t something companies are required to report.

DeSmogBlog has covered the impacts of tar sands extraction on indigenous communities, and the dangers of moving tar sands through a network of pipelines is aptly covered here. And while major nonprofits have completed studies on the dangers of transporting tar sands, there is significantly less information available on how refining tar sands differs from processing conventional crude.

Additional heavy metals and benzene might sound like a recipe for disaster anywhere, but the location of several major tar sands refineries is already overburdened with pollutants. In Harris County, Texas – home to the city of Houston – people are already surrounded by refineries and factories spewing toxic pollution into the air. And as the southern leg of the Keystone XL project slowly fills in its missing pieces, the spectre of toxic bitumen looms.

Could NAFTA Force Keystone XL On United States?

Read time: 5 mins

As the public anxiously awaits the U.S. State Department’s final decision on the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the discussion has largely ignored the elephant in the room: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)

Thanks to NAFTA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the State Department will likely be able to do little more than stall the pipeline’s construction. In its simplest form, NAFTA removes barriers for North American countries wishing to do business in or through other North American countries, including environmental barriers. The goal of the agreement was to promote intra-continental commerce and help the economies of all involved in the agreement.

Our Climate Choice

Read time: 3 mins

I boarded a jet plane this past Friday and traveled 16 hours through the night to Washington, DC. I was back on a plane again on Monday morning flying the reverse 16 hours back home.  

I was in Washington for the Forward on Climate rally, to call on President Obama to say “no” to the KXL pipeline. 

The journey was long and on the way there I read Tim Flannery’s Now or Never, an inspiring (short) read on the state of the planet in the face of climate change. On the way back I was too exhausted to read or do anything productive, so I watched b-movies and contemplated my experience at the largest climate rally in US history.  

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