The Keystone XL pipeline is probably here to stay; the fracking industry bubble looks like it might burst; Texas’s water problems worsen; a meth-head burns down one of the oldest living things on earth; and more!
Jeff Goodell, of Rolling Stone, wrote an incredibly important piece on the fracking industry. In addition to fracking’s nasty side effects, Goodell exposed the shady business practices of some of the biggest firms involved in fracking.
According to Arthur Berman, a respected energy consultant in Texas who has spent years studying the industry, Chesapeake and its lesser competitors resemble a Ponzi scheme, overhyping the promise of shale gas in an effort to recoup their huge investments in leases and drilling. When the wells don’t pay off, the firms wind up scrambling to mask their financial troubles with convoluted off-book accounting methods. “This is an industry that is caught in the grip of magical thinking,” Berman says. “In fact, when you look at the level of debt some of these companies are carrying, and the questionable value of their gas reserves, there is a lot in common with the subprime mortgage market just before it melted down.”
Water experts Laura Huffman (of the Nature Conservancy), Andrew Sansom (of Texas State University), and Tom Mason (former head of the LCRA) spoke in Austin Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the Central Texas Democratic Forum about the current water crisis facing Texas. They all agreed that the state needs to get serious about planning for the future. Sansom said, “even without the drought we would be facing the gravest natural resource shortage in history,” adding, “we have already given permission for more water to be withdrawn from our rivers than is actually in them.” Huffman focused on opportunities for massive increases in water conservation, but urged “we must make sure public funding targets the smartest programs first. We will not solve the state’s water problems with lo-flow toilets.” According to Huffman, agriculture accounts for 60% of water use in Texas, 30% of which is wasted. Programs which encourage Texas growers to reclaim, re-use, or just not waste that water could have a huge impact. Mason offered some thoughts on the recent Day Case, “it means groundwater districts will be much less inclined to regulate resources. It is a broad brush opinion that establishes no guidelines. It will derail water management for a long time.”
As if to underscore their talk, the LCRA was forced to cut off water to rice farmers along the gulf coast today as lake levels in Lakes Travis and Buchanan were too low to allow the release of 147,000 acre-feet of water. The water would have accounted for about a third of all the water farmers in Colorado, Wharton, and Matagorda counties would use in 2012
With natural gas prices falling sharply as a result of the fracking “boom,” it’s no surprise that Texas drillers are switching back to good old oil. Oil well drilling is skyrocketing with 765 wells completed this January compared to 368 last year.
President Obama campaigned today in New Hampshire, pledging to end tax payer funded subsidies to the oil and gas industry he called “outrageous and inexcusable.”
Coal fired energy is not hot these days. Chicago is the latest major city to announce the closure of its coal-fired plants. In Texas, coal fired energy production plummeted 30% from last year. Visit BeyondCoal for more information.
The Texas Observer has a fascinating interview with peak oil expert Tad Patzek. He discusses the dearth of conventional petroleum, the problems with unconventional sources of oil and bio-fuels, and the need to start realistic planning for the future. Here’s a nice tid bit:
I'm just trying to be realistic, you see, the thing again - since we have a very loose relationship to the truth and reality [in this country], we are unwilling to face reality, instead we are telling lies to one another, right? We call it optimistic and positive attitude, when somebody's trying to tell you the truth you call them pessimistic and a dark picture. Well how about something else: we live within our means, we spend what we have and then if we have an excess of it we devote it to something else. Now how is that for a novel way of living?
Sadly, it appears as if the portion of Keystone XL pipeline which runs from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas will be built after all, though there will be some significant challenges to the proposed route. Landowners, environmentalists, and city governments along the future pipeline are gearing up to fight Transcanada in court over the massive abuse of eminent domain seizures that will result from the construction. Here’s some background on the pipeline debate.
Finally, in astoundingly stupid and depressing news, a 26 year old Floridian was arrested for burning down The Senator, a 3,500 year old Pond Cypress, while smoking meth. It was the fifth oldest tree on earth, and the tallest tree east of the Mississippi River.
One would think that since Republican Congressman Michael McCaul serves on the House Ethics Committee, he wouldn't be constantly dogged by accusations of ethical misconduct. While his violations may not break the law, they certainly don't pass the smell test. Here's a run-down of recent revelations about Michael McCaul's unethical behaviors.
Michael McCaul Engaged In Insider Trading Before He Voted to Ban It
This is just sloppy. Michael McCaul bought TransCanada stock -- the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline -- the day before he urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to approve the project. Then, McCaul sponsored the STOCK Act to ban the exact kind of insider trading he engaged in!
Here's the timeline:
December 21st, 2010 -- Michael McCaul purchased as much as $65,000 in TransCanada stock. [LINK] (Warning, opens PDF)
December 22nd, 2010 -- McCaul sent a letter to the Secretary of State urging approval of TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline project. [LINK]
January 31st, 2012 -- McCaul became a co-sponsor of the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act
McCaul clearly was feeling the heat when he sponsored the STOCK Act, a law that had languished in Congress for six years. Suddenly in this era of public outrage over income inequality, McCaul's blatant greed and subservience to the 1% is a much greater political liability.
According to a press release from challenger Dan Grant's campaign, McCaul has also been advocating publicly on behalf of TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline for over a year while having investments worth as much as $1 million in at least 9 companies who could benefit from the project.
In an interview with KVUE, Grant stated, "You shouldn't be going to Congress to support legislation that profits you personally. That's the definition of insider trading, and it's deeply troubling."
Michael McCaul Withdrew from House Ethics Committee Investigation After Receiving Inappropriate Confidential Information
McCaul was one of the four Republicans on the House Ethics Committee who withdrew from an investigation of Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, due to questions swirling around his impartiality. Last July after allegations of bias by GOP members of the Ethics Committee, the panel was forced to hire an outside lawyer to investigate the committee and its handling of the Waters case.
According to Politico, two top Ethics Committee lawyers are accused of secretly communicating with Republicans on the panel investigating Waters. McCaul allegedly received confidential documents during the investigation of Rep. Charlie Rangel that he was not allowed to view. The documents would have apparently "so tained the proceedings that there would have been no option but to move to dismiss." The two attorneys who leaked the information were suspended from their jobs, and no longer work on the Ethics Commission. Of course, McCaul is right at the center of these ethical transgressions.
"Congressman McCaul should have known that it was inappropriate to review those confidential documents," said Campaign Manager Joe Hamill in a press statement. "This is another example of McCaul playing fast and loose with the ethical rules in Congress."
Michael McCaul Used Taxpayer Money to Host Event for High-Dollar Donors
Just yesterday, McCaul hosted an annual event at the Headliner's Club, which usually hosts posh fundraisers in a tony downtown high-rise. Last year, McCaul paid for the event from his officeholder account, raising questions about whether taxpayer dollars should be utilized to allow McCaul to visit intimately with some of his biggest donors.
Research by the Dan Grant campaign has unearthed documents demonstrating that McCaul receives thousands of dollars of donations from members and officers of the Headliners Club, many of whom attend his annual event. In fact, just in February 2011, McCaul received $5400 from current and past officers of the club. On the same day McCaul's office paid the Headliner's Club, he received $3000 from two then-current officers of the Headliner's Club.
"It's flatly wrong for McCaul to charge taxpayers for his private events at exclusive clubs with his biggest donors," challenger Dan Grant said in a press statement. "It's clear that he values schmoozing with his wealthy backers more than answering to the taxpayers who pay his salary. He needs to pay back what he owes and meet face-to-face with the people he claims to serve."
Engaging in insider trading before voting to ban it? Receiving confidential, prejudicial information in a House Ethics Commission investigation? Charging taxpayers to rub elbows with his biggest donors?
Michael McCaul is what's wrong with Congress, and he has to go.
For more information about Dan Grant, who is challenging McCaul in the 10th District, check out his website and Like him on Facebook.
While the US Senate is debating a bill that would revive the moribund Keystone XL pipeline while limiting legal challenges to the route, Joe Nocera of the New York Times published an ill considered OpEd today that shows he understands neither the risks nor the economics of tar sands oil.
Nocera makes at least four completely false assertions in his piece.
The first, which makes up the bulk of the essay, is that the Obama administration’s rejection of Keystone is driving the Canadian government into the arms of the Chinese and thereby endangering US energy security. Keystone was always aimed at the Chinese market. As a result of increased efficiency and the global downturn, US oil consumption has steadily dropped since 2005 (from about 20.5 million barrels per day to 19 million bbd in 2010). China’s demand, on the other hand, rose from about 6.5 million bbd to over 9 million bbd during the same period. Source: CIA Factbook. Over this same period, Port Arthur, Texas (the proposed endpoint of Keystone XL) undertook “the largest US refinery expansion to occur in 30 years” with major additions to Motiva and Valero refineries. That expanded refining capacity and easy access to the Panama Canal made Port Arthur the easiest and cheapest route for tar sands oil to reach the Chinese market. Tar sands oil has been in the US market for years it just never had an easy path to overseas markets. A recent Cornell University study on Keystone’s economic impact predicted that were the pipeline built, midwest gasoline prices would likely rise 10-20 cents per gallon. Also, though Joe asserts that Canada has a “newfound willingness to to business with China,” the Canadian logging industry has never had an issue with selling lumber to China.
The second, is that tar sands oil would allow the US “to become, if not energy self-sufficient, at least energy secure, no longer beholden to OPEC.” Not only is all that Canadian oil not bound for US markets, it will not endanger price points set by, in Joe’s words, “countries that don’t like us.” Countries like Saudi Arabia which possesses the world’s largest oil reserves and which recently indicated that it would keep global oil prices “around $100 per barrel” regardless of new supplies (tar sands) or supply instability (Iran). $100 per barrel is, conveniently, about the lowest price for tar sands oil to be economically viable, as the cost in extracting and transporting the sticky, nearly solid substance is substantially higher than traditional crude oil.
Nocera’s third false premise is that tar sands oil is just ” a little dirtier than the crude that pours forth from the Saudi Arabian desert, but is hardly the environmental disaster many suppose.” Tar sands oil is a lot dirtier than Saudi crude. It contains 10 times more sulfur and is 3 times more acidic than traditional crudes. When piped, it is subject to 3 times more pressure than crude oil, and contains a 3 times greater flow of abrasive quartz and silica than a commercial grade sandblaster. There already has been a major tar sands oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the increased size and flow of the Keystone XL pipe would raise the risks of another, bigger, spill considerably. Also, just last week, Canadian officials announced a plan to start poisoning wolves in northern Alberta in an attempt to stave off the collapse of caribou herds which have been affected by massive habitat loss due to tar sands mining that destroys huge tracts of forest to get at the sticky substance underneath. If the massive deployment of strychnine is not an admission of an environmental catastrophe, what is? See it for yourself. This is what a tar sands strip mine looks like from space. This is a whole lot different from the “crude that pours forth from the Saudi Arabian desert.”
Nocera’s final wrong assumption is that if Keystone XL isn’t built, Canada will, with a sweep of its imperial hand, find its own “diverse buyers so it won’t be held hostage by American politics.” To do this, Canada would need an oil exporting terminal along with a pipeline bringing oil to it from Alberta. This has not proved easy for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration. Enbridge, a major player in Albertan oil, has proposed the Northern Gateway pipeline which would terminate in Kitimat along the pristine northwest coast of British Columbia. British Columbians, blessed as they are with natural beauty and clean waters, are not pleased with this plan and have been staging large protests ever since Northern Gateway was first proposed.
Joe Nocera should stick to issues he understands, apologia for Canadian oil profiteering is beneath him.
Contact your senators here to let them know that a revived Keystone pipeline is unacceptable. We have enough oil in this country, and it is dirty enough as it is thank you very much.
Environmental activists gathered in front of President Obama’s Austin campaign headquarters yesterday to applaud his decision to deny Transcanada’s bid to construct the Keystone XL pipeline which would have brought diluted bitumen, a nearly solid form of petroleum, from the tarsands region of Alberta to the Texas Gulf coast.
Adam Hammick, a volunteer with 350.org, was ecstatic, describing the decision as “the only time in decades big oil has been put in its place.” He added, “against all odds we won.” He acknowledges, however, that the fight to keep tarsands oil, which is profoundly nasty substance, out of the United States has just begun, and that there are more pipelines already planned, including the Seaway Pipeline which would bring existing stocks of tarsands oil from Oklahoma to Texas. That there are so many new projects planned means “environmental groups can’t afford to spend this much energy on one project in the future.”
The President was forced to make this decision due to a cynical political ploy from Republicans in Congress who attached a rider on the Payroll Tax Cut Bill that stipulated he must make a decision on the pipeline within 60 days of the bill’s passage. The State Department had previously determined that their environmental impact study for the project was insufficient, and needed approximately 18 months to fully study the pipeline’s proposed route. Congressional Republicans believe that they can use this as leverage in the November elections by painting Obama as a job killing tree hugger who killed a project that would provide energy security to America and, in the words of Transcanada’s economic review “hundreds of thousands of man-years of employment.” Well, their math is just dead wrong.
Two non-idealogical reviews of the project, by the State Department and by Cornell University, show that Transcanada is wildly inflating job creation numbers. The DOS review puts the total number of jobs at 5000-6000, while Cornell estimates that no more than 4650 temporary jobs would be created by the project. Thinkprogress.org’s review of the Transcanada report showed “Among the list of jobs that would be created: 51 dancers and choreographers, 138 dentists, 176 dental hygienists, 100 librarians, 510 bread bakers, 448 clergy, 154 stenographers, 865 hairdressers, 136 manicurists, 110 shampooers, 65 farmers, and (our favorite) 1,714 bartenders.”
The notion that these pipelines would somehow improve America’s energy security is also erroneous. Tarsands oil already flows to market in the US. What it does not do, at the moment, is reach overseas consumers in the burgeoning markets of China and India. If it were to be refined close to major export terminals along the gulf coast, it would actually raise gasoline and diesel prices “10 to 20 cents per gallon,” according to the Cornell study. “These additional costs (estimated to total $2-4 billion) will suppress other spending and will therefore cost jobs.”
The Sierra Club is planning a large rally on February 18 to begin the fight against future tarsands pipelines, and I will keep you up to date on these events as they near.
To read the President’s statement on the Keystone decision, and thank him for protecting our environment and economy, visit whitehouse.gov.
President Obama said he will VETO Payroll Tax Legislation if Republicans insist on attaching the Keystone XL to this vital legislation. Republicans have no problem trying to push TransCanada's BOGUS job claims yet they sure have a problem supporting President Obama's Jobs Bills that benefit Americans irregardless of their political affiliation.
From today's joint press conference with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Harper: "If the payroll tax cut is attached to a whole bunch of extraneous issues, then it's not something that I'm going to accept."
In the three weeks since the State Department decided to re-evaluate the environmental impact of the proposed route of Transcanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, the focus of the pipeline debate has shifted from Nebraska, where a broad coalition of activists, landowners, and politicians from both parties effectively stopped construction of the pipeline over the state’s sensitve Sand Hills region and forced the Obama administration to reconsider its approval of the project in general, to Texas, where Transcanda (and a competitor, Enbridge) are trying to rush construction of the southern section of the pipeline.
The proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline is split up in to two major segments. The northern portion begins in the tarsands region of northern Alberta, crosses the international border in Montana, then through South Dakota and Nebraska where it would merge with an existing Transcanada pipeline on its way to Cushing, Oklahoma. Cushing is a major oil shipping and storage hub, and is the price settlement point for West Texas Intermediate crude, which makes Cushing a critically important link in the chain that brings oil products from the Gulf coast north to consumers. There is a huge stockpile of diluted bitumen oil (the tarsands oil variety) at Cushing, but no capacity there to refine it into usuable vehicle fuels. Unrefined bitumen is used in road construction and roofing, but the huge volume flowing out of Alberta has collapsed the price for unrefined bitumen. In order to get the tarsands oil to market, Transcanada and Enridge hope to connect their stockpiles in Cushing to the major refinery complexes on the Texas gulf coast in Houston and Port Arthur. This section of pipeline would primarily pass through east Texas, taking over sensitive areas such as the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer recharge zone, and the Neches River.
Transcanada believes that the Cushing to Texas segment would not require State Department approval since it does not cross an international border, and is rushing to begin construction on the line. It is not altogether clear whether it is legal for Transcanada to consider the southern segment as a separate entity from the northern portion, and several groups in Texas are already considering lawsuits if Transcanada does attempt to move forward with this plan.
While Transcanada’s pipeline is stalled for the moment, a competing company, Enbridge, is trying to move forward with its own plans to reverse the flow of an existing pipeline. In its current state, the Seaway Pipeline brings crude oil from the gulf north to Cushing, but Enbridge proposes to use Seaway to bring tarsands oil south from Cushing to the gulf where it can be refined and exported. Now, Enbridge has a horrible safety record on lines it manages including, but not limited to, a 2010 spill of 840,000 gallons of bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River that has cost at least $700 million to clean up, and a 2003 natural gas pipeline explosion in Ontario that killed 7. Enbridge is also trying to build its own tarsands pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean in British Columbia, a prospect so atrocious to Canadians it does not seem likely to be built.
The primary concern with these pipelines is the odious nature of the diluted bitumen(PDF) that they contain. Bitumen is nearly solid at room temperature, so it has to be heated to over 158 degrees farenheit in order to be transported (conventional crude transportation temperatures are approximately 100 degrees farenheit). Bitumen contains 10 times more sulfur, is three times more acidic, and is subject to almost 3 times more pressure inside the pipeline than conventional crude. Each one of these factors increases the risk of pipeline corrosion, and thereby spills, considerably. That the tarsands oil would have a three times greater flow of abrasive quartz and silica than a commercial grade sandblaster ensures that these pipelines would be extremely stressed. A study released by Alberta’s provincial government disputes these findings, but remember that Alberta is basically run as a personal fiefdom of the tarsands industry, and its findings have to be taken about as seriously as cigarette manufacturers’ “evidence” that tobacco isn’t harmful.
Here in Texas, non-idealogical groups such as local volunteer fire departments and landowners along the proposed route are simply trying to figure out what the results of a spill in the east Texas woods would mean for their communties. Given the unprecedented drought and wildfire season we have experienced, it would seem as if these are legitimate concerns. A number of chemicals are used to dilute the bitumen, some of them might be flamable or hazardous to residents living near a spill, but Transcanda and Enbridge refuse to disclose the chemicals used, considering them to be “proprietary.” Chief George Bostok of the Gallatin, Texas fire department estimates that it would take the nearest hazmat team (from either Tyler or Longview) over an hour to respond if there was a leak in his jurisdiction.
There is still time to stop Transcanada and Enbridge from building these dangerous pipelines. Visit the Texas Sierra Club and stoptarsands.org for more information on how you can get involved.
(Last day to comment on this crucial issue, y'all! Also check out the awesome "Built to Spill" poster below the jump. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)
The State Department is currently considering TransCanada's application for a Presidential Permit to build and operate the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This massive pipeline would be the third and largest dedicated tar sands pipeline running between Canada and the US, and would deliver up to 900,000 barrels a day of this toxic oil from Canada to Texas.
Allowing TransCanada, a foreign company, to profit from a dirty and dangerous tar sands oil pipeline at the expense of of Americans' drinking water, food supply and economy is not in our national interest. Please stand up for our clean energy future and submit your public comment today.
Here's just a few reasons to oppose KXL:
Producing tar sands oil creates 3x more carbon pollution than conventional oil and will push our climate system past the tipping point. Also, the refining of tar sands oil will further threaten the public health of communities in Houston and Port Arthur.
Regarding water security, the first Keystone tar sands pipeline has already spilled 12 times in its first 12 months, and a recent study concludes this new KXL pipeline poses a major threat to our water supply, especially the Ogallala and Carrizo-Wilcox aquifers.
In addition to being bad environmental policy, there appears to be a conflict of interest between some officials in the State Department and TransCanada lobbyists and consultants. According to the New York Times, "The State Department assigned an important environmental impact study of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to a company with financial ties to the pipeline operator, flouting the intent of a federal law meant to ensure an impartial environmental analysis of major projects."
There are many problems with bringing Canada's dirty oil to Texas, but we can still stop this mistake before it's too late.
BP has a long history of cutting corners and ignoring basic safety guidelines, and now the survivors of the Deepwater Horizon explosion are publicly confirming that BP ordered shortcuts on the day of the blast.
On a related matter, BP and the other oil companies are now proposing that tar sands oil production can help replace dangerous offshore drilling. This is a giant step in the wrong direction. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry toxic tar sands oil across the Ogallala Aquifer and 32 Texas rivers and streams. Given the gulf oil disaster, can we really trust BP and the big oil companies when they claim that tar sands oil spills are unlikely?
The Houston Chronicle editorial board shines a spotlight on this controversy in today's paper:
But the process of approving new pipelines coming into this area must be undertaken with great care. We share the concerns of local Sierra Club officials that such care is not evident in the approval process for the proposed Trans- canada Keystone XL Pipeline, which has two destinations on the Texas Gulf Coast, one in east Houston and the other in Port Arthur.
We share their worry about proposals to use a thinner-than standard pipe (0.465 of an inch versus 0.515) and run the cargo through at higher-than-stan-dard pressures (80 percent of design strength versus 72 percent). Surely, concerns about cutting corners raised by the BP spill ought to mean a belt-and-suspenders approach on pipe thickness and pressures on this project.
And then there's the Keystone cargo itself: 500,000 barrels per day of heavy, high-sulfur tar sands crude from Canada. The Sierra Club folks say the refinery process for the tar sands could put air quality here at risk. Would it? We need to know. Hearings on the project are scheduled for 7 p.m. this evening in Channelview.
Please spread the word about the tar sands public hearing tonight, and let's make our voices heard and stop this mistake before it's too late. Refining tar sands oil causes 3x more air pollution than conventional oil, and it would further degrade our air quality in Texas.
If you can't attend tonight's hearing, then please go online and register your public comment before the July 2nd deadline. To learn more about the threat from tar sands pollution, go to the Sierra Club site or watch the video below.
Exciting news. The public comment period for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has been extended from June 16 to July 2 to allow for more public participation. Please stand up to BP and the big oil companies by submitting your public comment today!
Thanks to pressure from Houston Mayor Anise Parker, the U.S. State Department also agreed to host an official public hearing in Houston. Mayor Parker sent her official letter to the State Department last week, and the Sierra Club followed up this week by turning out 65 supporters to our Houston Air Quality Forum. Let's keep up the momentum and spread the word about this upcoming hearing!
Tar Sands Public Hearing
Hosted by the U.S. State Department
Friday, June 18
7:00 - 9:00pm
Channelview High School - Auditorium in New Campus
1100 Sheldon Road
Channelveiw, TX 77530
Tar sands oil is the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet, and it's 3x dirtier than convention oil. The proposed pipeline would cross 32 Texas rivers and streams and further pollute our air in Houston and Port Arthur.
The State Department has issued a draft environmental impact statement on the project; the public comment period has been extended to July 2. Last month, the department conducted four meetings in Texas about the pipeline: in Liberty, Beaumont, Livingston and Tyler. Another meeting will be held in Houston on June 18, following a request last week from Mayor Annise Parker.
"Houston is the country's fourth-largest city and it continues to have a robust partnership with the oil and gas transportation and refining industries," Parker wrote. "However, Houston's citizens should be afforded the opportunity to inform themselves about this project and offer comments to the Department if they so choose. It seems particularly appropriate at this time to seek greater public participation in evaluating the environmental impacts of permitting decisions."