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Pipelines on front line of oil debate

Rebecca Penty, Calgary Herald
Protests seen as stand against fossil fuels

When U.S. policy analyst Michael Levi sat down last January to sketch out the top five issues to watch in 2011, the Keystone XL pipeline didn’t make the cut.

“Shale gas was on my list, all sorts of other things were on my list,” said Levi, director of energy security and climate change with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

Levi called the widespread public interest in the 2,700-kilometre pipeline, which ended up dominating North American energy debate in 2011, “a surprising development.”

Much is at stake for industry, environmental groups and political leaders in the discussion about whether it’s in the U.S. national interest to allow construction of Keystone XL.

The $7-billion Alberta to Texas oil pipeline proposed by TransCanada Corp. has been held up by a much delayed regulatory process and a political battle in Washington on whether to expedite a decision on the pipeline, which has become a proxy for the polarizing debate about whether bitumen production from Canada’s oilsands should continue on a path to more than double by 2020, to 3.5 million barrels per day.

So, too, has the $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline envisioned by Enbridge Inc. to link growing oil output in Alberta to a marine terminal in B.C. for export. Northern Gateway is also up against local opposition for any increase in oil tankers frequenting coastal waters.

Both infrastructure projects are seen as crucial to business development by the oilpatch and key to economic growth by federal and provincial governments. They are also viewed by environmentalists as contributors to climate change, by linking the oilsands to new export markets.
(24 December 2011)
Suggested by EB contributor Bill Henderson who writes: “One more for the newly visible oil industry and carbon industry lock-in debate. Can’t belive there is this rich vein of informed criticism in MSMland for the otherwise ignorant, mis-educated and in denial, too busy shopping and worrying public (well at least in Canada). ”

U.S. Congress hands energy industry historic victory

John Kemp, Reuters via Financial Post
In a crushing demonstration of the growing power of domestic energy producers, and waning influence of environmental groups, Congress is poised to enact legislation fast-tracking approval for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

It is a stinging defeat for environment groups that have lobbied fiercely against the Keystone extension, and comes little more than a month after the president had sought to take the heat out of the issue by postponing approval beyond the next election pending a review of alternative routes through Nebraska.

The Keystone provisions have been inserted by congressional Republicans into a must-pass bill to make them difficult for the president to veto.

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act (HR 3630), which has been approved by the Senate and was agreed upon by the House of Representatives following a compromise deal on Thursday, instructs the president to grant a permit for the pipeline within 60 days, or report to Congress on why construction of the pipeline is not in the national interest.
(23 December 2011)

Oil lobby lagging reality

Claudia Cattaneo, Financial Post
It may come as a surprise to some, but the organization that represents Canada’s oil and gas industry feels pretty good about public sentiment about its activities in both Canada and the United States.

David Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the sector’s efforts to improve its environmental performance and its communication are succeeding and will continue along the same lines next year.

… “I think it’s very important not to construe the very strong and vocal opposition from environmental activists and what I would characterize as a very small part of civil society as representative of civil society. Our view is that there is broad public support of the oil and gas industry and we need to keep it there.”

… It’s an interesting take considering the oil sands industry suffered a huge and costly blow when U.S. President Barack Obama delayed making a decision on Keystone XL oil sands pipeline last month in response to opposition from his green constituency, while opposition to the Northern Gateway project is escalating in time for the start of public hearings Jan. 10.

It’s also a take that may be lagging reality.

A new poll suggests opposition to the two projects is widespread in Canada, rather than a fringe cause
(22 December 2011)

The politics of pipe: Keystone’s troubled route

Nathan Vanderklippe, Globe and Mail
… For TransCanada, Nebraska would come to form the heart of a fierce opposition to a $7-billion pipeline project that has now been put on hold, after a groundswell that started in Cornhusker country swept through activist environmental groups to Washington, D.C.

Before Mr. Perry could tackle the boiling sands issue, the 2008 financial crisis sank his project. But for TransCanada’s Keystone XL, which followed in the footsteps of Altex, the boiling sands of Nebraska would prove to be an immense hurdle.

TransCanada saw the Sand Hills as any pipeline builder would – as an engineering challenge, one that could be managed with special construction techniques and a tailor-made plan, drafted after speaking with local experts, to rehabilitate unearthed land.

But as TransCanada developed its Keystone XL plan, the world was changing.

For decades, pipeline permitting applications were fought largely on technical grounds, and they’ve virtually all been successful. Two other major cross-border oil pipelines – the first instalment of Keystone, and Enbridge Inc.’s Alberta Clipper – had been speedily approved in the years prior.

But Keystone XL was the first major pipeline to confront a country that had suddenly turned a sharp eye on the oil industry. The BP spill had erupted amidst still-simmering concerns about global warming – and in the following months, a series of pipeline spills into important U.S. rivers made headlines.

Against that backdrop, Nebraska’s boiling sands transformed from an engineering challenge into a political and social challenge – one that TransCanada, and the industry in general, was ill-equipped to handle(24 December 2011)
(24 December 2011)
Recommended by EB contributor Bill Henderson who writes that the article represents, “an important shift.”

If You Care About Keystone and Climate Change, Occupy Exxon

Paul Rogat Loeb, CommonDreams
It seemed like the afterthought in the payroll tax cut extension fight, a small consolation prize to the Republicans on what should have been the easiest of bi-partisan votes. But the two-month clock is now ticking on whether Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s environmentally disastrous tar sands. If we want him to make the right decision and deny the permit, maybe it’s time to Occupy Exxon, with creative protests at local Exxon/Mobil stations. Of course we need to keep pressuring Obama. The bill’s deadline precludes anything close to the kind of comprehensive environmental review that he called for after rallies and civil disobedience at the White House led him to delay approval for a year. But why not also go after the oil companies whose influence led the Republicans to hold the rest of the unemployment and payroll tax bill hostage to the fast-track requirement. Exxon/Mobil has long been the dirtiest of the dirty among these companies. This makes them a logical target.

In a week heralding news of melting Arctic methane beds, and a year of record global temperatures and billion-dollar weather-related disasters, demanding Keystone’s approval is a stunning exercise in denial. But that’s the deal that passed. So our challenge is not only to get Obama to reject the pipeline. We also want to make this raw power grab backfire on those who insisted on it by turning at least part of the national conversation back onto oil company greed.

The more we do this, the more political room we create for Obama both to block the pipeline and to act more forcefully on climate change in general.
(27 December 2011)

‘Secret’ Environment Canada Presentation Warns of Oilsands’ Impact on Habitat

Mike De Souza, Postmedia News
Contamination of a major western Canadian river basin from oilsands operations is a “high-profile concern” for downstream communities and wildlife, says a newly-released “secret” presentation prepared last spring by Environment Canada that highlighted numerous warnings about the industry’s growing footprint on land, air, water and the climate.

The warnings from the department contrast with recent claims made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Environment Minister Peter Kent that the industry is being unfairly targeted by environmentalists who exaggerate its impacts on nature and people.

The presentation noted figures from the Canadian Energy Research Institute, a collaboration among industry, government and academics, that estimate the oilsands sector is responsible for more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs in Canada, and will contribute more than $1.7 trillion to the country’s economy over the next 25 years.

But it warned that Alberta and other parts of Western Canada are facing a steep economic and ecological price tag for failing to crack down on the industry’s collateral damage.
(27 December 2011)

Official White House Response to Reject the Keystone XL Pipeline

Heather Zichal, US White House

Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Decision to Seek Additional Information

Thank you for your petition regarding the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. Public engagement on this issue – no matter the viewpoint – is vital. President Obama believes “the final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people.”

On Thursday, November 10, the State Department – which, in accordance with Executive Order 13337 [PDF], is assessing the project on behalf of the Federal government – announced that as part of its ongoing review process, it will seek additional information about this proposal.

From the State Department’s announcement:

After obtaining the additional information, the Department would determine, in consultation with the eight other agencies identified in the Executive Order, whether the proposed pipeline was in the national interest, considering all of the relevant issues together. Among the relevant issues that would be considered are environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.

The full text of the State Department’s release can be found here.

Here is the full statement from President Obama on the State Department’s Keystone XL Pipeline Announcement:

I support the State Department’s announcement today regarding the need to seek additional information about the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood. The final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people. At the same time, my administration will build on the unprecedented progress we’ve made towards strengthening our nation’s energy security, from responsibly expanding domestic oil and gas production to nearly doubling the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks, to continued progress in the development of a clean energy economy.

Heather Zichal is Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy & Climate Change
(23 December 2011)
I received this email in response to a phone call and email to the White House about the prospect of the Keystone XL project being approved. -BA