News on Keystone XL Pipeline – Your future sold for $8 million

tarsandshansen(Washington, DC 3/22) Today the United States Senate passed the Hoeven amendment 62 to 37, a non-binding amendment that expresses support for building the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

That’s the U.S. Senate, the chamber of Congress with a Democratic majority.

The planned Keystone XL pipeline would bring tarsands oil from its source in Canada to refineries in Texas.

Tarsands oil represents a whole new source of fossil fuel at a time when we need to be moving in the opposite direction, burning less fossil fuel and desisting from pumping planet-warming carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.   Before the tasands effort,  it was  just starting to look like oil supplies were dwindling and nature, by removing carbon sources, would force on us the much-needed changes we could not force on ourselves.

But today’s Senate action could have been much worse. The action is a non-binding amendment, toothless perhaps because so many prevailed on their senators to vote against the thing Big Oil had asked for: fast-track, Congressional approval of the pipeline.  Fast track approval would override the process that’s already in place: an environmental impact statement (currently being overseen by the Department of State) to be followed by a national interest determination by the Department of State, and then permit issuance or denial.

Still, why would the Senate give big oil even this amendment, this “March is climate-destroying, land-confiscating, spill-threatening pipeline month” amendment?  tarsandsvote

Payback to their donors maybe? As Oil Change International reports, “the ten original co-sponsors of the Hoeven amendment received an average of $807,517 from the fossil fuel industry, 254% more than the average non-sponsoring senator, for a total of $8 million dollars from the industry.” Further, “those voting for the amendment received $499,648 from fossil fuel interests, on average, and nearly $31 million in total over their careers. Meanwhile, those voting against the amendment received $143,372 on average.”

The Department of State issued a draft supplemental environmental impact statement earlier this month. Astonishingly, that study finds that the pipeline won’t contribute to climate change because if it isn’t built the fossil fuel companies will find some other way to transport the tarsands oil.  As Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones said in a teleconference on March 1, the day the draft was issued, “we find in this draft that the approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including this proposed project, really remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of development of the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil in the U.S.”

It’s a draft. It’s open to public comment until April 22. To tell State what you think, send them a comment at



Edit, March 25: Looks like that draft supplemental environmental impact statement was done by folks with a conflict of interest, and State tried to cover it up. Like most EIS’s, this study was contracted out. The contractor, ERM, provided conflict of interest info to State, which State posted on their website — in redacted form. The missing information had to do with the work history of the #2 person on the project — he had worked on three previous pipeline projects for TransCanada and had consulted on projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips,  companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project. This from Mother Jones.

Government work that gets contracted out is supposed to be reviewed closely by government workers, but that rarely happens.



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  • “If Canada proceeds and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.”

    Times have changed
    Our kids are getting worse
    They won’t obey the parents
    They just want to fart and curse!

    Should we blame the government?

    Or blame society?

    Or should we blame the images on TV?

    No, blame Canada!

    Blame Canada!

    With all their beady little eyes
    And flapping heads so full of lies

    Blame Canada! Blame Canada!

    We need to form a full assault

    It’s Canada’s fault!

    Don’t blame me for my son Stan
    He saw the darn cartoon and now he’s off to join the Klan!

    And my boy Eric, once, had my picture on his shelf
    But now when I see him he tells me to fuck myself

    Well, blame Canada!

    Blame Canada!

    It seems that everything’s gone wrong
    Since Canada came along

    Blame Canada!
    Blame Canada!

    They’re not even a real country anyway

    My son could’ve been a doctor or a lawyer rich and true
    Instead he burned up like a piggy on a barbecue

    Should we blame the matches?
    Should we blame the fire?
    Or the doctors who allowed him to expire?

    Heck, no!

    Blame Canada! Blame Canada!

    With all their hockey hullabaloo

    And that bitch Anne Murray, too

    Blame Canada! Shame on Canada for…
    The smut we must cut
    The trash we must bash
    The laughter and fun must all be undone
    We must blame them and cause a fuss
    Before somebody thinks of blaming us!

    What do I think? I think folks are being someone’s useful idiots to keep price support high and predictable while the project goes through. I think that actually stopping this would be catastrophic success for a non-trivial number of someones.

    • Dave —

      Can you explain? What price support? Who are the lucky someones?

      I don’t think Hansen meant “Canada” personally — I think he used the word as shorthand for “Canada’s effort to mine tarsands.” Anyway, no offense was meant.


      • The logical lucky someones would include folks who have large stakes in unconventional recovery with relatively short production lives. There’s currently a significantly higher than normal (about 2X) price discount for Western Canadian crude compared to WTI. Some discount is normal given that Western Canadian crude simply isn’t as “nice” from a refining perspective, but it’s currently significantly higher than normal – and has been for several years. The primary driver of that discount is lack of pipeline capacity. Now me, suspicious bastard that I am, I can’t help but note that the major strategic danger for all those folks who have it all hanging out with their large scale comparatively expensive unconventional recovery is that someone comes along with a cheaper source of oil. The Eagle Ford play is less than a quarter the size of Bakken (those are the two big unconventionals). Last I checked they were estimating a production lifespan of 16 years for Eagle Ford. I believe the economic production floor there was something on the order of $70 bbl – probably pretty similar up North. If one is smart and one wants to maximize the profit one receives, logically what you’d like to see is for the Eagle Ford stuff to be depleted first. Imagine my surprise when realizing that opposition to Xl would help facilitate that quite nicely.

        As to the Canada thing, my point wasn’t really about Canada per se. What it’s about is that the primary problem here is people thoughtlessly using petrochemicals for transport and coal for electrical generation, not that we’ve found some new source of petrochemicals and/or coal. We’ve known for a long time that the supply of those things was roughly as large as it is (at least on the same order of magnitude) and it’s also been evident for non-trivial lengths of time that those quantities, if exploited, would drive climate change far beyond what consensus agrees is pretty dangerous. (It’s also evident that we’re already at the point that we’re going to be needing active cooling measures and that focusing all of our energy on trying to stop things at some magic level that will avert disaster is a bad idea.)

        The long pole in the tent here, the prime mover, is human behaviour. Among many other beliefs, it’s the belief that it’s rational to use a 4,000 pound machine to move one 165 pound human and a box of kleenex back and forth on the average 6 mile daily commute – and anywhere else that apparently not bipedal human cares to go. The big problem is that people do this on a massive scale and don’t reflect on how batshit insane it is. Even if folks in the movement succeed in stopping this pipeline cold (which I don’t think they will, not permanently) it amounts to utter insignificance compared to moving behaviours away from insanity. Me, I’ve been around long enough that I don’t have much patience for strategies that devote significant effort to things I can’t see amounting to much in the way of meaningful change – compounding that, I have long enough time remaining to be around that I don’t want to wear the consequences of crap strategy. I especially don’t have time for them when they involve some of the money flows that I’ve been seeing signs of.

        • Well, but it kind of *is* rational “to use a 4,000 pound machine to move one 165 pound human and a box of kleenex back and forth on the average 6 mile daily commute,” the way things are set up. I speak as one who tries hard hard to set up her life with work at home or within biking distance. But I still have to drive twice a week. And where I live, a 6-mile daily commute is something to envy; most of us have to drive much farther. In other words, it’s the system that forces people to drive that’s irrational — most of us are forced to drive.

          One important step, I think, in moving behaviours away from insanity, as you put it, would be to make the world safe for low-impact travel, starting with safe, accessible bike lanes and walking paths. When I say this, I often hear the objection “I have a physical disability; I can’t bike; stop being so selfish.” You don’t have to bike. There are lots of roads and I don’t advocate closing them. But if those who want to bike have a way to do it, that will save a lot of CO2.

          I envision bike stores and repair shops replacing lots of the car dealerships, gas stations, and auto service centers.

          • There’s no way that it’s rational. Sorry. It might be necessary because of where y’all have gotten yourself, but it’s still insane. People who drive themselves and a box of kleenex to work every day in a personal motor vehicle, they’re not “us” on this issue, they’re “them” – part of the problem, not part of the solution. The challenge is to move them over to being part of the solution. The few measures that you’ve mentioned are a very few of the levers that we could use – there are many, many more. But if we’re focusing on XL we’re not moving them, instead we’re jumping up and down and expending massive energy on something that – even if it works to the maximum extent it possibly could – won’t make a measurable difference to where we are right now.

            I’ve been around long enough working the issues to know that in addition to the massive opportunity cost of not pursuing meaningful strategy, we’re giving many of the “part of the problem” folks their “out”. Rather than focussing on influencing them to personally act in certain important ways, we’re telling them that it’s all about big corporations and government. Rather than focusing on tough things that might make a difference, like “drive 20% less, now 30% less, now 50%”, we’re implicitly selling the notion that it’s all about a pipeline. That’s numbers, one (1) pipeline, not even pipeline development more generally.

            You run it out to the end, we’re teaching them that all they have to do to be “morally pure” is to mean well. Personal action? Meh. Friend the Sierra Club on Facebook – that’s all I can do, because moving big business and big government is so hard, time consuming and expensive, and it usually doesn’t work. Sorry, but that doesn’t work for me. Instead of teaching them that it’s all about big institutions that have so much more power, you teach them first that they can change themselves, and then that groups of them can have a disproportionate power in changing things on the local level, then the regional, state, etc. It’s a basic community development strategy, which we’ve done for absolutely yonks. It’s every bit as hard, slow, messy, and expensive – but it works, and the participants see that it works so they keep going. The really nice thing is that it also allows one to attack whole suites of related issues and set up mutually reinforcing virtuous links between them.

    • I think Canada should find a way to export the stuff through their own lands, especially since the US isn’t getting anything out of it, certainly not lower fuel costs.

      • No, we are not getting anything out of it.

        I just hope they don’t export it at all, at least not in large quantities, because it will do too much damage to the whole world’s climate.

        • Jillian, thanks so much for this very timely report. We look forward to future contributions from you.

          The Hoeven Amendment got little notice in the press. The endorsement, not formal approval, of the Senate is a sign of hope in a perverse sense. They didn’t have the courage to out-and-out approve the project. For those of us, you included, with an eye on history, this reticence is not characteristic of the repeated displays of blithe indifference that legislative body has to the best interests of citizens.

          • I think we’ve got Bill McKibben and to thank for that. It looked like the Senate was going to do something real, and then told folks to call their senators and tell them not to do it. The compromise you see is the result.

            I wonder how much of that citizen impact is real and how much is just appearance. I suppose we’ll find out in the next few months, when we see what happens with the pipeline.

    • At the risk of attempting to be the JPD whisperer, the argument of your verse seems to be – Canada isn’t the problem, it’s the insanity of the petro based economy. I’ve often thought that it is silly in the extreme to have a society based on “transformed remains of long dead organisms.”

      But pointing at the societal dependence on oil misses the point that James Hansen makes clearly. If we exploit the tarsands, it is truly game over for the climate. Canada didn’t create the broader problem and Canada isn’t creating the specific problem, but those in Canada and the United States who promote the project are the cause. Hansen is our best scientist on climate change, maybe our best in general. His elegant analysis is correct. Therefore, those who enable, promote, and conduct the exploitation are world killers. They are the deadly proximate cause. Hansen might have said, If the investors behind tarsands, the refiners in the United States, and the Chinese rulers who plan to burn the fuel succeed, it is game over for the climate. But he didn’t, yet the main point stands — full exploitation spells doom.

      You said something below about “the money flows that I’ve been seeing signs of.” Money flows to and from? Can you be a little more specific? That’s of interest.

      All in all, you gave a memorable welcome to our newest contributing author, Jillian.

      • The problem is to some extent our petroleum based society, however I come at this somewhat differently from most. The problem isn’t cars full stop or any particular energy source, full stop. It’s how thoughtless we are in using them. For a non-trivial number of trips, personal motor vehicles are the smart choice. But for the vast majority of them inside even moderately dense built-up environments they are not. But people keep using the one size fits all approach because it’s convenient and they’ve convinced themselves that it’s okay and/or “necessary” that they do so. The problem is that we have a high degree of reliance on “one size fits all” solutions – our energy and transport needs have to be mosaic strategies where many modes of generation and transport are available and we use what makes the best tradeoffs for the particular circumstances. Blind support or opposition for one method (i.e., I love wind but hate nuclear; love LRT but hate buses) just Balkanizes things and allows the various interests behind each of the modes to run rings around one.

        I also come at the Hansen’s issue somewhat differently. Yeah, if we liberate that CO2 into the atmosphere, we’re going to have real problems. However, the strategy that you are seeking to pursue of magically constraining supply isn’t going to work. What about the decades long chain of failure in permanently stopping exploitation in sensitive environments suggests that supply constraint options are going to work this time? Supply constraint is exactly the same strategy that folks critique when we’re talking about the “War on Drugs”, but somehow when it comes to oil it’s viable? Really? The addiction is much more widespread, the cartels are orders of magnitude more powerful and supply is much more distributed and harder to check at choke points, and this is the strategy we pick? The essence of good strategy is picking good options for oneself and leaving the bad options to the opposition, not the reverse!

        Instead we need to pursue strategies that undercut demand. Make alternatives more attractive. Establish competing power blocs around other technologies. Change personal behaviour. Make non-viable strategies like supply constraint unnecessary.

        • I agree that reducing demand is more effective than shutting down supply, since the monied interests would take their money & greed elsewhere. In general, as supply is reduced and demand constants prices will rise. In this case, the project would not much affect USA prices since the oil is intended for export, which makes this an environmental issue rather than an economic one.

          I can’t speak to population spread in Canada, but the US has made life without automobiles extremely difficult if one doesn’t live in a city. Truly rural folks tend to minimize their driving and cities with mass transit can eliminate a lot of personal autos, although the support and encouragement of mass transit is hit-or-miss and varies a lot by location. The suburbs, on the other hand, would be almost unlivable without a vehicle, and frequently used at that. They are too spread out for mass transit to be efficient. Whether you consider that a bug or a feature depends on how paranoid you are. I don’t think Big Oil and Detroit were the original drivers behind the development of suburbia but they certainly took advantage of the circumstances.

          Suburbia was a terrible idea for a good many reasons: civil, cultural, environmental, social, financial and economic. The worst problem is that it was predicated on unlimited cheap energy and the conceited hubris of the technocrats that they could forever put off paying the piper. Some were genuine believers in science’s ability to solve all problems, but over time, the good ones learned their limits and changed while the bad ones became apologists for Big Money.

        • Politics. It always comes down to politics. The technical solutions are here now. The economic solutions are here now. Even the social solutions are here now. What is not here are the political solutions.

          Demand constraint is a political problem of “if everybody did x…” sort. The supply constraint is a political problem of “if the (a) government did x…” sort. For supply there is not a world government to impose either an economic constraint nor a legal restraint. And as for demand constraint if we can ever get “everybody to do” anything then that anything is likely a solution. It’s a classic medium being the message, with “everybody doing” being the medium.

          So back to politics. As long as there are no limits on the concentration of power within individual hands there will be political problems. Those individuals with too much concentrated power will always band together enough to protect their concentrations of power. Usually the protection is exercised via control of governments.

          So we are back to politics. So since we cannot depend upon concentrations of power controlled government to control supply then we must return to the “if everybody did” version of politics. Usually it comes down to revolutions which often are lead by charismatic individuals. The problem there often comes from weak charismatic individuals deciding they want the concentration of power in their own hands. Sometimes we luck out with a Chavez but that tends to be the exception.

          So in the meantime we await a catastrophe upheaval within a badly structured current economic system. While waiting we might turn our suburban lawn into a bio-dynamic garden with solar panels powering our house and electric 4000 2000 lb hunk of steel carbon-fibre personal and tissue box transport machine for the needed 60 mile daily round trip for the wife’s job while the husband tends the kids and market garden.

          There has to be something to dream about during the day.

  • there is an interesting angle that exists here. bp in indiana is at the end of a pipeline that does exist for tarsands oil but because there is no competing pipeline bp is getting the oil cheap. now if obama wnated to tilt towards his illinois stop in his rise to the presidency and look environmental he could deny the pipeline.

    at the rate that clean energy is coming online we could start to see a glut of gas drive prices down. i get that that is counter intuitive.

    • Would the Keystone XL pipeline affect petro-economics in Indiana or Illinois? I have the impression that the oil will just flow south, get refined, and get shipped overseas.

      Or are you saying that once the XL pipeline in online there will be competition for the stuff coming from Alberta, so prices will go up?

      • The guy I talked to from BP implied that prices go up for them. BP is in NW Indiana which is part of the Chicago Metro area so both IL and IN would be affected, more or less.

        So BP had to make changes to its refinery to handle the tar-sands oil. They were at the time still dumping polluted water into the Great Lakes aquifer so they asked permission to dump more. Of course there was an out cry which was resolved by Senator Durbin. No additional pollution. Which likely was their desire all along to not lose the polluting privileges they already had. That’s my guess anyway.

        • It sounds like the pipeline could result in higher prices, rather than the lower ones that have been touted, because it will affect demand on the existing part of the pipeline but not the supply of oil.

  • We are so screwed. I will likely be in my grave before we see the worst consequences of our foolishness, but there will be a day of reckoning. Count on it!

  • *Paul Simon lends classic song for use in anti-Northern Gateway Pipeline ad

    Opponents of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline have received some heavyweight help in their campaign from famed singer-songwriter Paul Simon.

    Simon gave permission for the use of his classic Simon and Garfunkel song The Sound of Silence on a video marking the 24th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, produced by Coastal First Nations (CFN), the Vancouver Sun reports.

    As the iconic sixties folk-rock ballad plays, the video shows the effects of the massive March 24, 1989 spill on Alaska’s pristine coast and warns the B.C. coast is equally vulnerable if a supertanker carrying oil sands bitumen from the proposed Kitimat export terminal ever comes to grief.

    The two-minute video is the latest volley in an ongoing public relations battle between proponents of the multi-billion-dollar project oil sands export project and opponents, including environmentalists and B.C. First Nations.

    More at the link

  • ‘Trains or pipelines,’ Doer warns U.S. over Keystone

    The Globe and Mail, By Shawn, McCarthy, July 28

    Ottawa — Canada is telling the U.S administration it will see a sharp increase in cross-border crude-oil shipments by rail if President Barack Obama fails to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

    In a telephone interview from Washington, Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer said oil companies are increasingly turning to trains – and even trucks – as the construction of pipelines has failed to keep up with the boom in North American crude production, and that trend will grow if the President turns down Keystone XL.

    “His choice is to have it come down by a pipeline that he approves, or without his approval, it comes down on trains. That’s just the raw common sense of this thing, and we’ve been saying it for two years and we’ve been proven correct,” Mr. Doer said Sunday. “At the end of the day, it’s trains or pipelines.”

    The ambassador made his comments to The Globe and Mail after Mr. Obama questioned the much-touted economic benefits of the $7.6-billion project in an interview published in the U.S. on the weekend. The President also suggested Canada could do more to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to help win approval.

    The risks of the growing volume of oil being shipped around North America by rail was highlighted this month with the derailment and explosion of a crude-carrying train in Lac-Mégantic, Que., killing 47 people. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says trains are now carrying nearly a million barrels a day of crude oil in North America, with volumes in Canada expected to more than double in the next two years.


    Mr. Obama is not expected to make a decision on the project until the end of this year, despite efforts by Republicans in Congress to speed up the approval.

    Mr. Doer noted that the U.S. State Department, in a draft report released in March, said the pipeline would have little impact on emissions because Canadian producers will find a way to get the oil sands crude to markets, whether in the U.S., Asia or Eastern Canada. And he said growing use of rail is part of that effort. Advocates on both sides will be watching for the State Department’s final environmental report – expected around the end of the summer – to see whether it maintains its contentious view that the project won’t drive up emissions.

    Also, CNN Money: If Wall Street’s right, Obama may nix Keystone

    Obama has long said that he will only approve the project if it doesn’t significantly contribute to climate change. He reiterated that in a recent interview with The New York Times. The State Department has said it won’t because it thinks the oil sands, which are dirtier than conventional oil, will get developed no matter what happens to Keystone. In other words, that oil is going to leave Canada somehow … so it might as well be through the United States.

    But several analysts at investment banks and other financial firms disagree. They think that if the Keystone XL project isn’t expanded, development of Canada’s oil sands may slow.

    Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a report in June that if Keystone XL encounters more delays, oil supply “may remain trapped in the province of Alberta.”

    Analysts with RBC Capital Markets said something similar, arguing that “should Keystone XL be rejected, Canadian oil sands producers will need to rethink expansion plans, timelines, and export pipeline solutions.”

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