The final construction of the Keystone XL pipeline carrying Canadian tar sands to the US has been back burner issue for progressives and conservatives alike with periodic twists, turns and spills. The consistent delay of its approval by the Obama Administration, or more specifically the State Department has pushed the stalemate into year 3, but in many ways it is still a victory for environmentalists and advocates of clean American energy. As recently as last week Vice President Joe Biden expressed his opposition, while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ramped up his new FWD.us lobby group to promote its construction.
I was first introduced to TransCanada and their plans to pump bitumen from the Boreal forests of Alberta, Canada to my own backyard in Port Arthur, Texas for refinement in 2010. The Sierra Club contacted me about getting local citizens to testify at public hearings. All of a sudden my home county was caught in the middle of international energy policy. It was not a case as simple as progressives against and conservatives for it, there are legitimate landowner rights at issue here.
That's where the filmmakers of Above All Else come in. They have been following the unfolding story of Keystone XL through the experiences of Texas landowners, most notably David Daniel. Daniel started a tree-sit on his property which resulted in the Canadian company rerouting the pipeline around his land. I spoke with the Director and Producer John Fiege, whose films have been featured from Austin Film Festival to Cannes, about the overwhelming amount of data and and numbers of angles to approach the subject. I expressed my interest in covering the issue more but such a daunting task has led me down more rabbit holes than it has produced cohesive and informative but digestible articles. He agreed and said that was a large part of why he chose to tell the story of this group of landowners. The films website describes the film as follows:
Learn more about the film with a link to footage after the jump...
Land Commissioner Wants To Steal Money From Children To Fund His Nifty New Desal Plant
Though Texas schools lost over $4 billion from their budgets over the last legislative session, Texas Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, has come up with a devious plan to take even more money from them. His plan is to use funds from the Permanent School Fund to build a desalinization plant on General Land Office land somewhere between Austin and San Antonio. “Desal” (as those in the know like to call it) is the talk of Texas these days, with supporters imagining it to be a sort of silver bullet to end all our water woes. While Texas has a huge supply of brackish water stored deep in aquifers, the process of turning it into drinkable, lawn water-able water is hugely expensive. If similar Texas plants are any guide, this plant would cost around $100 million, and would produce water at 3-6 times the price of water gained thorugh conservation efforts.
Enron Apparently Still Exists, And Its Trying To Poison North Texans
Everyone’s favorite disgraced energy giant, Enron Oil and Gas (EOG) is up to its neck in complaints from residents living near a proposed sand mine in Cooke County, along the Oklahoma border. Residents expressed concerns about respiratory diseases and cancer to a TCEQ hearing on the subject in Gainesville. “The real problems begin when they start operating. We’re gonna have air pollution, that’s our major concern, we’re gonna have water problems, that’s another major concern, we’re gonna have truck traffic, emissions from those trucks,” said a concerned citizen, Ozlem Altiok. A TCEQ contested case hearing will begin on Thursday to determine who will be affected by the mine, and whether construction can continue.
Remember To Visit The Beach While It’s Still There
Climate Central released this nifty map which allows you to see exactly where flooding will occur as sea levels begin to rise due to global climate change. The map coincides with a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report which predicts that by 2070 sea level changes will effect 120 million people and cost around $35 trillion in damages. Galveston, for instance, sees little flooding from a moderate 2 foot flood surge, but is nearly wiped off the map in the event of a 6 foot surge.
Tar Sands Spill The Result Of Sloppy Management And Regulation
Federal investigators reported on Tuesday that the 2010 spill of 843,000 gallons of toxic tar sands diluted bitumen oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan was the result preventable safety measures. The report faults both Enbridge, the Canadian operator of the pipeline, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal agency tasked with regulating pipeline operators. Enbridge (which is currently building a tar sands pipeline to the Texas coast from Oklahoma) was blamed for not incorporating readily available knowledge in its safety evaluations, and the PHMSA was blamed for “weak and ambiguous regulations.”
Though Texas has more than enough pollution to go around, we’ve got nothing on Guandong province, China.
China Daily Newspaper reported that about 9.5 billion tons of raw sewage (or about 3/4s of the province of 104 million people’s annual waste) is discharged, untreated into the Pearl River which supplies Hong Kong. That news of this sort is even reported is a sign that China’s government is beginning to get serious about the rampant air and water pollution that has followed China’s remarkable economic growth since 1976.
The Canadian Prime Minister labels his Canadian critics American. Victims of an Indian disaster caused by a US firm may finally have a clean place to call home 28 years later. North Carolina lawmakers choose to legislate sea level changes with their heads in the sand. All that, and South Texas Spaceports, in this weeks’ Environmental Roundup for Texas, the Nation, and Beyond!
A week after an unmanned capsule, launched by SpaceX, became the first privately owned spacecraft to reach the International Space Station, a Texas environmental group, Environment Texas launched a campaign to prevent SpaceX from building a launch pad on coastal land surrounded by wildlife refuges near Brownsville. According to Environment Texas Director, Luke Metzger, “launching big, loud, polluting rockets from the middle of a wildlife refuge will scare the heck out of every creature within miles and spray noxious chemicals all over the place. It's a terrible idea and SpaceX needs to find another place for their spaceport.” The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department noted that the proposed site has “potential for significant contamination of very senstive resources in the event of a catastrophic event (i.e., hurricane),” is “extremely susceptible to wildfires,” and that the spaceport could cause the “loss of the function and value of all wetlands” in the area. You can sign Environment Texas’ petition here.
Private water wells are becoming the new status symbol for Austin’s elite residents. According to data from the Texas Water Development Board, Austinites have drilled 150 wells into the Edward’s Aquifer since 2006 and 46 last year alone. The wells cost $18,000 - $36,000 each and are generally used for unlimited lawn irrigation, not for consumption. They are not subject to city permits, since most of Travis County does not lie within a groundwater conservation district. Dick Aaron, General Manager of the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District which manages groundwater under Bell County, told the Austin American Statesman “The trend concerns me. This is the most precious resource we have, so drilling for the sole purpose of landscape (watering) is philosophically a challenge for a lot of us.” Private well owners, such as Attorney General Greg Abbott enjoy the lower water bills these wells provide, but Travis County Commissioner Karen Huber calls them “a bit of a black hole in our water management in Texas. We don’t have any way to have any idea … how much water’s being pumped out of aquifers in Travis County.”
In other bad news for the Edward’s Aquifer, extremely high levels of tetrachloroethene, a solvent used in dry cleaning, were detected in wells in north San Antonio. It is not known where the pollution came from, but the only method of cleaning it is to wait for it to dilute within the aquifer. San Antonio and the Edwards Aquifer Authority have one of the largest aquifer protection programs in the US with 120,000 acres protected from development, and an additional 90,00 acres the city hopes to protect in three to four years.
Scientists from Texas AgriLife Research have embarked on a three-year study to measure the effects of a large scale transition from intensive cotton farming in Texas to switchgrass and sorghum which would be used to power biomass power plants. According to the researchers, “the thought is that the second-generation biofuel feedstock systems will reduce the negative environmental effects associated with the conventional, intensively managed cropping systems currently in the region.” The largest biomass plant in the US is in Nacodoches, and sells its energy to Austin.
While the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (a state agency), and federal authorities predict that sea levels will rise by 1 meter by 2100, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would mandate that all development and emergency planning be based on “historic sea level” changes which show a 1.7mm rise per year since 1900 and a 3.17mm rise since 1993. According to these calculations, the sea should only rise about 8-15 inches by 2100. What is at stake, of course, is millions of dollars in potential revenue from lands that could be developed if the state accepts the low water mark, or would be condemned as a flood zone in the higher estimate. Ignoring rising seas could hinder transportation and emergency planning, and could cause insurance rates to rise. The N.C. Coastal Federation said that relying on historical trends is like “being told to make investment decisions strictly on past performance, and not being able to consider market trends and research.”
More than 400 organizations blacked out their websites Monday in response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s efforts to silence critics of the Keystone XL pipeline, of which he is a major backer. Harper’s Conservative government has written a new bill, set to pass later this month, that would strip the non-profit status of many environmental groups which oppose the pipeline. “Our government’s ... trying to push through pipelines at all costs. That new attitude is propelled by their surprise at Keystone’s failure,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, among the organizers of the “BlackoutSpeakout” action. The Harper administration counters that it is trying to prevent “foreign interference” in Canadian politics. I suppose the numerous Canadian groups opposing the pipeline including British Columbians, Indigenous Canadians, and major opposition parties are considered “un-Canadian” by Mr. Harper.
On May 29th, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the Indian government to clean up toxic waste left over from the 1984 Union Carbide plant disaster in Bhopal. In December 1984, a large amount of deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the plant and killed up to 20,000 people, severely wounded up to 500,000 more. It is, by far, the worst industrial accident in history. The Court’s statement said the government had “not taken any steps for the disposal of toxic waste because the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy are poor. There is a lack of seriousness in handling this problem.” The home affairs minister, P Chidambaram rejected the court’s assertion, noting that a German company has been contracted to dispose the waste, but a final incineration site has not been found.
If you missed it, the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun occurred yesterday. It is the last time this phenomenon will happen until 2117. Here are some fantastic photos of the, literally, once in a lifetime event.
The Keystone XL Pipeline just won’t go away. Texas and the UK are dealing with water crises while Saudi Arabia, of all places, is wasting it. Wind energy is soaring. Solar is getting slimmed down. And Cuba is leading an agricultural revolution. All that and more, in this weeks environmental roundup
Though the Canada to Oklahoma portion of the Keystone pipeline was rejected by his administration, President Obama vowed, last week, to fast track the southern portion of the pipeline, which would bring bring tar sands, diluted bitumen oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries on the Texas coast. The White House reiterated the “administration's commitment to expediting the construction of a pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico, relieving a bottleneck of oil and bringing domestic resources to market.” Problem: that oil is not a domestic resource (last time I checked, Alberta is in Canada).
David Daniel, an East Texas landowner, whose property would be cut in half by the southern portion of the pipeline wrote this editorial in response to the President’s statement. He asked, “Does the president stand with American families and their right for clean water, air, and land or does he stand with Big Oil in its never-ending quest to wring private profits from the tar sands?”
A collaboration between the Travis County District Attorney’s office, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the EPA resulted in the conviction of Bencor LLC, and its owner, Christine Giese, for abandoning large drums of hazardous waste in a storage unit in Austin. The company was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine, and the owner was fined and placed on deferred adjudication. While this offense occurred in Austin, Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis Co DA, has jurisdiction over statewide environmental crimes and has aggressively prosecuted polluters. “This prosecution reflects our commitment to defending the environment,” said Lehmberg.
Here are two great reads that sum up the looming water crisis Texas faces despite recent rains. The first, from Community Impact gives a great overview of the drought and the lack of unified water planning. The second, from the Texas Tribune details a recent Texas House committee hearing on the drought wherein the legislators discussed mandatory watering restrictions and desalination plants. Both are insightful reads. “[Texas is] projected to double our population in the next 50 years, and we currently do not have the water to support that future growth," Travis County Commissioner Karen Huber said. "Water policymaking in Texas is fragmented, and as a result, no one takes responsibility for actually solving bigger problems. We must figure out how to change this and change it soon.”
Wind power is, by far, the fastest growing component of the energy sector in the US, with output growing by 36.5% between 2007-2011. Texas leads the nation with 10,400 megawatts of wind production. T. Boones Pickens, the mercurial Texas billionaire, announced plans to build a new 377 MW wind farm in the panhandle. Three years ago he scrapped plans to build a 4,000 MW farm near Pampa due to a lack of adequate transmission lines.
Apparently, radioactive waste dumps are the new growth industry in West Texas. Well, at least if Harold Simmons, a major Republican donor, gets his way. After years of lobbying the Obama administration to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to change rules which limit the types of nuclear waste that can be dumped in landfills, Simmons has shifted tactics towards electing Republicans. Thus far, he has donated $15.9 million to various R candidates and Superpacs. So, just to reiterate, electing Republicans will lead to more hazardous radioactive waste being dumped in Texas.
Ian Carey debunks the notion that what is good for the environment is bad for the economy. “A healthy environment is a prerequisite for a healthy economy.”
A new report shows that New Jersey dumps 8.5 million pounds of toxins into its waterways every year. The bulk of the pollution comes from one plant, the DuPont Chambers Works in Salem county which releases 5.4 million pounds of hazardous waste into the Delaware River each year.
Facing rising gasoline prices, FedEx CEO Fred Smith announced an ambitious plan to sharply limit his companies use of fossil fuels. The plan includes replacing its light truck and van fleet with electric vehicles, which “will operate at a 75 percent less per-mile cost than an internal combustion engine variant,” he said. He expects his company’s heavy trucks to run on natural gas, and its planes to run on biofuels in the near future.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and the group Environment Illinois issued a report Wednesday urging immediate action to address climate change. The report highlighted the large number of extreme weather events in Illinois in recent years. 97% of Illinois residents live in counties affected by weather related disasters since 2006. Here is an example of extreme and bizarre weather closer to home:
Illegal logging is now a $10-$15 billion per year enterprise according to a report issued by the World Bank. “Most illegal logging operations are run by organized crime, and much of the profit goes to corrupt officials.”
Cuba’s agricultural transition from a Soviet Bloc factory for cigars, sugar, and rum that had to import the majority of its foodstuffs into a land of small tenant farmers who have great freedom with their land and are able to feed the rest of the country makes for an interesting read and could make a model for other desperately poor countries in Latin America and Africa.
Texas plans for continuing drought as Europe grapples with its own water crisis. Santorum refuses to believe in climate science though a pacific nation will soon disappear. Zombie Keystone Pipeline rises from the dead once more. Austin bans bags. Corpus cashes in on coal. All that and more in this week’s environmental roundup
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), submitted a new water management plan to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that will, according to LCRA General Manager Becky Motal “balance the interests throughout the basin and protect customers during severe droughts, like the one we are still experiencing.” The major proposals would change the way LCRA provides water to agricultural interests (primarily water intensive rice farming) in Colorado, Matagorda, and Wharton counties. Currently, there is a single “trigger point” for releasing water to farmers. If the water in the Highland Lakes is high enough on January 1st of each year, farmers are allowed to draw an unlimited amount of water throughout the year. The new plan would add a second trigger point, in June, and would also require LCRA to monitor lake levels, and shut off supply, if they get too low. Water management plans, such as this, will be critical to Texas’s future, as our population and our thirst continues to rise.
The Port of Corpus Christi, Ambre Energy, and Cline Mining Corp. are planning to construct a massive new coal export terminal with the capacity to move 20 million tons of coal per year by 2017. While coal consumption has declined in the United States in recent years as evidence of coal-fired power’s notorious history of pollution and adverse health effects have come to light, the emerging economies of China and India, and concerns about the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster have boosted coal consumption overseas. The Sierra Club issued a damning report on the port’s plans. In it, they highlight not just the environmental dangers that coal presents, but also the poor economics of coal. The report shows how the ports of Los Angeles and Portland invested heavily in coal export infrastructure only to see those facilities fail due to the volatility of the market. As Kevin Parker, global head of asset management at Deutsche Bank, said, “coal is a dead man walking. Banks won’t finance them. Insurance companies won’t insure them, and the economics to make it clean don’t work.”
Austin became the first city in Texas to ban single use plastic bags after the city council unanimously approved the bag-ban ordinance on March 2, though there are a few exceptions for dry cleaners, restaurant carry out food, and bags that hold perishables. Clean Water Action applauded the ordinance saying, “plastic bags clog our streams and storm drains, litter our streets, threaten wildlife and cost our city over $800,000 each year to manage.” Several other Texas cities, including McAllen, Corpus Christi, and Odessa, are considering similar bans.
The Keystone XL Pipeline is up for yet another vote in the US Senate today, even though a similar amendment was voted down last week. This amendment, introduced by Pat Roberts, would “mandate drilling off of every coast in our nation and in the Arctic Refuge, allow oil shale development on millions of acres in America's west,” in addition to allowing the Keystone pipeline to go forward, according to Elly Pepper of the NRDC. In short, the Roberts amendment would be a disaster.
Everyone’s favorite climate expert, Rick man-on-dog Santorum, continues to make baffling statements on the dangers of climate change. In an Oped for Redstate, he asserted that he is the only candidate for President “that has not bowed, and will never bow” to the reality of climate change, adding, “this debate is about whether human activity plays a role, and whether U.S. emissions cuts can have any effect when China and India refuse to go along. The apostles of this pseudo-religion believe that America and its people are the source of the earth's temperature. I do not.”
Here is another, “insightful” statement from Santorum on carbon dioxide emissions:
A study from the University of California-Davis shows that groundwater in California’s Central Valley is heavily by nitrate runoff from industrial farming. Nitrate pollution can lead to numerous adverse health effects, including methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome) which can be fatal for infants. At least 2.6 million people in the region depend on that water for drinking.
Texas is not the only place experiencing crippling drought. The European Environmental Agency presented its findings recently showing that water supplies throughout the continent are severely at risk. Former Soviet Premier, Mikhael Gorbachev, said, “The deficit of freshwater is becoming increasingly severe and large-scale - whereas, unlike other resources, there is no substitute for water. Continuation of water consumption at 20th Century rates is no longer possible.”
The 100,000 citizens of Kiribati, an island nation in the South Pacific, are preparing to move their entire nation as rising ocean levels could cause the low lying nation to disappear within the next 30 years.
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.
This is the first in what will be a weekly rundown of environmental news affecting Texas, the United States, and the world. In brief, the drought in Texas continues despite recent rains in East Texas, news leaked out of an ongoing oil spill in the Gulf that began in 2004, the Keystone XL pipeline debate made its way onto Comedy Central, nuclear power is making a comeback in the US, and President Obama released his 2013 budget.
The Drought In Texas
The water supply system in Texas was built in response to the 1950’s drought. Laura Huffman of the Nature Conservancy argues that Texas needs major investments to meet the needs of today’s population and economy. The drought cost Texas over $5.2 billion in crop and cattle losses last year. If water supplies do not improve, losses could reach $116 billion a year by 2060.
The drought killed 5.6 million trees in urban areas and up to 500 million trees statewide, or about 10% of the state’s forest cover, according to a report from the Texas Forest Service. Houston saw some of the worst drought damage, with thousands of trees lost in Memorial Park alone. Central and North Texas parks tend to feature hardier, drought resistant species, so losses were less in those areas.
Republicans in the Senate are attempting to attach an amendment to a highway bill that would force approval of the pipeline. President Obama has threatened to veto a similar bill in the House.
Anti-Keystone activist, Bill McKibben, appeared on the Colbert Report to discuss the widespread public outrage over the Senate Republicans’ plans. His group, 350.org collected over 800,000 signatures urging senators to vote against the pipeline.
As we all know, our Governor, and national disgrace, Rick Perry loves polluters, and hates anyone (such as the EPA, children with asthma, and even religious organizations) that get in the way of his huge crush on those who poison our Texas environment. The Texas Tribune has a neat interactive guide to Perry’s pursuit of dirty water and unbreathable air for all.
President Obama released his 2013 Budget that would increase funding for clean energy and energy efficiency by 30%.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) released the agenda for its last meeting, on Feb. 8 showing fines totaling $636,000 were handed down for violations including 11 air quality, 3 municipal solid waste, 7 municipal waste discharge, 3 petroleum storage, 2 public water system, and 2 water quality violations. One particularly macabre violation was handed out to an Illinois medical waste disposal company, Stericycle, which was improperly dumping human remains in landfills in Austin and McCallen. Stericycle was fined $42,000. The entire agenda text can be read here. TCEQ will meet next Feb. 22.
Nuclear power is back in the news after the announcement that 2 new reactors will be built in Georgia. They are the first reactors approved in the US since 1978. Nuclear power requires very little fuel, produces a huge amount of energy, and creates almost no waste… Unless something goes wrong. The biggest obstacle to new nukes is, of course, the fear of another Fukushima like tragedy, but the cost of new plants is prohibitive as well. The Georgia plants are expected to cost $14 billion! Gizmag has a fascinating piece on Small Modular Reactors which are significantly smaller, safer, and, potentially, orders of magnitude cheaper than the current massive plants. Its definitely worth a read.
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.
(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.
Hundreds gathered at the University of Texas's LBJ Auditorium yesterday to voice their opinions for, and against, Transcanada's Keystone XL pipeline which would carry diluted bitumen, an unconventional form of oil, from the oil sands of northeastern Alberta to southeast Texas. I was there to check out the proceedings, and a few things struck me that I'd like to share.
The Pro-Pipeline Activists Are Very Well Organized Several dozen members of the Laborers' International Union of North America were in attendance wearing matching shirts to support the pipeline they believe will give them multiple construction contracts in the coming years. They arrived first to the Austin hearing, and outnumbered pipeline opponents at other hearings in Montana and Port Arthur, TX.
Pipeline Could Fail in Texas due to Eminent Domain Abuse Much like the Trans Texas Corridor before it, the Keystone XL pipeline would require unprecedented abuse of eminent domain laws, according to the executive director of We Texans, Debra Medina. She said that a "recent decision by the Texas Supreme Court in the Denbury Green Pipeline case, which was sent back to a lower court after the company failed to prove it was confiscating land for the public good, shows that a higher bar has been set for oil companies to cite eminent domain in condemning people's property."
Nebraska Contains the Strongest Opposition to the Pipeline Unlike other states, Nebraska's anti-pipeline coalition includes high level figures from across the political spectrum. The state's Republican governor, Dave Heineman, and both its US senators, Ben Nelson (D) and Mike Johans (R), lined up with thousands of others recently to express their outrage at the proposed route of the pipeline across the state's sensitive Ogallala Aquifer.
There Is Still Time To Fight This Outrageous Pipeline! The State Department is accepting public comment until October 9th, here. Let them know that this pipeline is a grave threat to Texans' land, air, and water. This pipeline might be a boon to one Canadian company, but it will be a disaster for our state and country.
Again, please contact the State Department and tell them Texans want nothing to do with the toxic tar sands pipeline. A few thousand temporary jobs are not worth the grave economic and environmental threats posed by this terrible plan.