Environmentalists and Nebraska farmers are upping the pressure on President Obama to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline following an oil spill that took place over the weekend.
The rupture occurred in central Arkansas, about 20 miles north of Little Rock, as Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of Canadian tar sands oil — the same Alberta crude the Keystone pipeline would carry. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling it a “major spill” as officials from the EPA and Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) are currently conducting an onsite investigation while ExxonMobil continues its cleanup efforts.
The company said more than 12,000 barrels of oil and water, or 185,000 gallons, had been recovered by Sunday. Reports say the line gushed for 45 minutes before being stopped and 22 homes were evacuated.
The Arkansas accident was the second Canadian crude oil spill in less than a week, as last Wednesday a train derailed and leaked 30,000 gallons of crude in western Minnesota.
The 20-inch Pegasus pipeline runs from Illinois to Texas and carries 90,000 barrels of crude per day. TransCanada’s 36-inch Keystone XL Pipeline would stretch 1,179 miles from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska, where it would connect with the pipeline system that would carry the tar sands oil to refineries in Texas along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
A Media Matters report states that “Keystone is all risk and no reward for America. The fact that Canadians don’t want Keystone built across their own country tells us everything we need to know about the risks.” The report cautions about TransCanada’s poor safety record, citing 12 oil spills in the first year of operation of another section of the Keystone pipeline. However, TransCanada promises that new technology from its Calgary control room can better monitor pipeline pressure and shut off a leak within 15 minutes. But environmentalists say the tar sands pipeline is more vulnerable to leaks because “the diluted bitumen, or dilbit, from the oil sands can separate under pressure or high temperature and create explosive natural gas, heavy compounds, and corrosive acids.”
In an interview about the Arkansas spill, Keystone XL opponent and founder of climate action group 350.org, Bill McKibben, said “the power of the fossil fuel industry in Washington is enormous. They have all the money. The only thing we can stack up on the other side is the power of movements. We’ve been building them as fast as we can. We’ve had the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years about anything, about this pipeline. We had 40,000 people on the Mall last month in D.C. in the largest climate rally ever. I don’t know if it’s going to be enough, but we’re fighting it as hard as we can.”
The president is expected to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline by this summer.
By: Josh Marks, The National Memo, April 1, 2013
As far-right groups go, the Heartland Institute hasn’t quite reached household-name status yet, but it’s working on it. The group’s strange new billboards, at a minimum, will probably help push the group’s notoriety.
The Heartland Institute is “a tax-exempt organization which promotes conspiracy theories about climate scientists, distorts climate science, and attacks regulation of air and water pollution.” Despite support from corporate allies, the group has become so extreme that high-profile supporters, including GM and AT&T, no longer want anything to do with the outfit.
Instead of moderating its views and aiming for the mainstream, the Heartland Institute is buying billboards along highways in Chicago. Joe Romm reported today:
The Heartland Institute has launched one of the most offensive billboard campaigns in U.S. history. The Chicago-based anti-science think tank is comparing all those who accept climate science — and the journalists who report on it accurately — to Charles Manson, the Unabomber, and Osama Bin Laden.
The Guardian described this as “possibly one of the most ill-judged poster campaigns in the history of ill-judged poster campaigns.”
Of course, the Heartland Institute doesn’t quite see it that way. In its defense of the group’s propaganda, the Heartland Institute says it’s eager to convince people that “believing in global warming” is not “sophisticated,” and to do so, it’s noting that “murderers and madmen” agree with those who accept climate science.
Perhaps the group can use some of its remaining funds to buy a textbook on Logical Fallacies 101?
Andrew Sullivan added, “In some ways, this is an almost perfect illustration of what has happened to the ‘right.’ A refusal to acknowledge scientific reality; and a brutalist style of public propaganda that focuses entirely on guilt by the most extreme association.”
By” Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 4, 2012
Republicans have sought to frame the Keystone XL pipeline as a job-creating project being thwarted by “radical environmentalists.” Is it? A new Cornell University study claims that the pipeline could actually have a negative impact on the economies of the states it would pass through.
“In the national debate, job creation has been set alongside environmental concerns in a rigid either-or fashion,” says Sean Sweeney, one of the study’s authors, “But oil spills also kill jobs, they consume resources, they have an impact on health, and can also lead to a lower quality of life.”
The range of estimates of jobs vary widely. TransCanada claims the pipeline will create 20,000 jobs. A State Department report estimates that only 20 permanent operating jobs would be created in the six states along the pipeline route. By comparison, those same states are home to robust agricultural, ranching and tourist industries that are dependent on water and vulnerable to environmental contamination. Across the six states agriculture employs 571,000 workers and tourism 780,000; the total revenue from those sectors, respectively, is $76.3 billion and $67 billion.
Sludge not crude
Tar sands oil — known in energy circles as diluted bitumen — may be more damaging to environments and communities than regular crude. Said Sweeney, “Diluted bitumen is an irregular substance — it runs thick and thin, hot and cold. It’s basically a sludge, not like regular crude — it behaves differently.” Tar sands also seem more likely to spill than conventional crude: The spill rate for diluted bitumen in the northern Midwest between 2007-2010 was three times the national average for conventional oil. This may be because the heavy, corrosive material puts greater stress on pipelines.
The already existing Keystone I pipeline, which runs 2,100 miles from Alberta to Illinois, began operating in 2010; in the two years since, 35 spills have occurred. In the pipeline’s first year of operation alone, its spill rate was 100 times TransCanada’s projection. All told the amount of tar sands oil being transported through the United States has more than tripled in the past decade to 600,000 barrels in 2010. Keystone XL, if built, would add another 830,000 barrels per day.
John Stansbury, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Nebraska, analyzed spill data from the Keystone I pipeline to estimate that 91 spills would occur over the course of 50 years of Keystone XL’s operation — close to two spills each year. In a worst-case scenario, he says, a spill could contaminate 4.9 billion gallons of groundwater in Nebraska’s Sand Hills with benzene, a known carcinogen.
The threat the pipeline poses to Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, which provides 30 percent of the irrigation water in the U.S., has been much-discussed, but the pipeline would also cross another 1,747 bodies of water, including the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers and the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer, the third largest aquifer in Texas.
If Keystone were to leak — or worse, rupture — the consequences could be serious. In July 2010, a pipeline operated by the company Enbridge ruptured — the company has never explained why — spilling 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The oil drifted 40 miles upstream, causing 145 reported instances of illness and health problems for people living in the riverside community of Marshall, Mich. Marshall residents living within 200 feet of the river were eligible for a buyout program; about 130 people sold their houses to Enbridge, leaving some areas uninhabited.
The Kalamazoo cleanup has cost $725 million so far — twice as much as Enbridge estimated — and the river remains closed to fishing, hunting and other recreational activities over a year and a half after the spill occurred. Officials in the Calhoun County Health Department have said some bitumen will likely remain in the river “indefinitely.” Sweeney points out that the rural areas along pipeline routes are unprepared to cope with spills. “They had to bring someone in from the Gulf to deal with Kalamazoo,” he explained.
While the Kalamazoo spill was the biggest-ever tar sands spill, pipeline spills occur with startling frequency. In 2011 alone, there were 600 reported pipeline incidents. TransCanada’s website argues that “if they do occur, pipeline leaks are small,” yet pipeline spills caused 17 deaths and 68 injuries, and over $335 million in property damage. In 2010, when the Kalamazoo spill occurred, the damages from pipeline spills topped $1 billion. While pipeline spills don’t get the attention of disasters like the Exxon-Valdez and BP, they point to a familiar pattern of underestimating risk and underpreparing for disaster.
TransCanada insists that it will comply with all federal regulations, and construct and operate Keystone XL “to the highest industry standards.” Danielle Droitsch, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, argues that we don’t know enough about diluted bitumen to be able to transport it safely. “We’re building these pipelines as if they were conventional oil pipelines,” she said. “We don’t have any special regulations in place to deal with the fact that these are tar sands pipelines and they are very different. Until we have a new regulatory system in place there are no safety measures proposed that would make this pipeline safer.”
And in the meantime? “There’s no question this pipeline will spill — it’s a question of when.”
By: Allyssa Battistoni, Salon, March 19, 2012
Rick Santorum regularly knocks the stimulus bill that the Democratic Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, back in early 2009. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act “cost American jobs,” he told CNN last July. But that didn’t stop Santorum from claiming a tax credit for home efficiency funded through the stimulus plan that year.
According to his 2009 tax form, which was released last week, Santorum claimed a $3,151 expenditure on new exterior windows and skylights, one of the “qualified energy efficiency improvements” for homes that was granted a tax credit through the stimulus bill. The stimulus bill revived a tax credit that had expired at the end of 2007 and increased the amount of money homeowners could claim. This allowed the Santorum family to knock $945 off their taxes.
The purpose of the tax credit was to help homeowners save money by using less energy, while at the some time generating fewer emissions. But the efficient choices can often cost more upfront—hence the desire to create a tax credit to incentivize that kind of expensive upgrade. The measure was also intended to benefit the manufacturing and construction industries by creating more opportunities for them to make and install the windows and other efficient products.
Santorum has made attacking the Obama administration’s energy and environmental policies a prime plank in his platform, implying just last week that the president is some kind of dirt-worshiping hippie aligned with “radical environmentalists.” He’s also used his position on the subject as a way to distance himself from rival Mitt Romney, who has at times shown sympathy for protecting the environment.
GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum has taken advantage of his newfound popularity to get on board the Republican war against clean air and water.
According to Santorum, the new EPA rule that will finally place limits on how much mercury the nation’s coal and oil fired power plants can spew into the air —a regulation specifically created to protect young children and developing fetuses from the damage known to be caused by mercury, a dangerous neurotoxin—will shut down 60 power plants in the US and is “not based on any kind of science.”
What Santorum is not telling you is that we have long had regulations on mercury emissions for other types of emission sources such as waste incinerators. Why? Because it is no secret that mercury is highly damaging to our health, particularly the health of children and developing fetuses. Yet, coat and oil fired power plants, the single-largest source of mercury emissions, were never included in the limits —until now.
Indeed, the only thing not based on any kind of science is Santorum’s determination that causing some private power plant operators to install the technology required to stay within the new emission limits is more important than the estimated 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks that will be prevented each and every year as a result lowering the level of mercury in the air.
While it may not play well with the GOP base and Tea Party members committed to ending federal government regulations—even when they make sense—the new EPA rules are the result of a peer-reviewed study that has taken twenty years to complete.
But it’s not like one requires a degree in chemical engineering to appreciate that mercury in the air can’t be a good thing.
If you doubt this, just listen to the never-ending GOP complaints over the dangers of mercury escaping from the compact florescent light (CFL) bulbs the government will soon require us to use in place of the highly inefficient incandescent bulbs. While the supposed dangers of mercury from a broken CFL bulb falling to the carpet is enough to motivate conservatives to fill their basements with stockpiles of old-school style light bulbs as if they were preparing for electric-Armageddon, they don’t seem to have a problem with coal plants pouring this neurotoxin into the air where it can cause all sorts of serious health problems for the entire population.
How does that make any sense? You would think that these Republicans and their children breathe different air than the rest of us.
But then, maybe they do. You don’t find a lot of coal burning power plants in upper-class neighborhoods – only the people who own the plants and would prefer not to have to spend the money to upgrade their technology to meet the new standards to protect the rest of their fellow citizens.
While you may wish to argue that the amount of mercury exposure resulting from a busted CFL bulb in your house is, somehow, more dangerous than being exposed to mercury 24/7, you would be wrong. Despite the horror stories being pitched suggesting that people in hazmat gear will be required to clean up a busted light bulb, the truth is a broken CFL bulb will be swept up (not vacuumed) just as broken bulbs have always been swept up. A little more care is required in disposal just as more care is required when disposing of used batteries.
And yet, despite these obviously contradictory impulses, the GOP is ready to shut down the EPA because the agency dared to require power plants to reduce the amount of mercury it pumps into the air.
If this behavior fails to strike you as sufficiently odd, consider the hypocrisy of a man like Rick Santorum—as dedicated a pro-lifer as you will find—who argues, in defense of life, that a physician who performs an abortion should be treated as a criminal and thrown in jail but defends the practice of spreading the very neurotoxins through the air that damage the development of many unborn children along with the many already born children who will grow up to be sickly adults—or worse— due to the illnesses caused by mercury.
If you are going to protect life, then protect all life — not just the ones that will win you some votes. To do otherwise is the ultimate in hypocrisy.
We all understand that, from time to time, the government can get carried away and over regulate. If it can be shown that a regulation is causing far more harm than good, I have no problem doing away with that regulation.
However, when it comes to our health and the health of our children, is over-regulation even possible? Does it ever make sense to balance the need to drive profit against the desire to have healthy children?
The bottom line here is that the GOP has picked the wrong enemy in taking on the EPA. You simply can’t argue that you are pro-life and then be unwilling to protect that life because you believe it is bad for business.
With the exception of the die hard GOP base, it’s a losing pitch as voters just aren’t going to buy it.
And we all know what that means.
By: Rick Ungar, Contributing Writer, Forbes, January 3, 2012