PolluterWatch Blog

3 major scandals in 3 months, the latest about Keystone XL

Since it was first proposed in 2008 the argument for building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands crude oil from Canada to the Gulf coast for refining and export to foreign countries, has had some major holes. Literally.

Sunlight is visible through a faulty weld in the Keystone XL pipeline. Picture taken from inside a section of pipe by activists with Tar Sands Blockade

If approved, Keystone will pump a super-heated mixture of tar, sand, and chemicals from the most carbon polluting oil development on earth, while the effects of global warming manifest themselves across the country and the world. In order to mine and refine tar sands the oil industry must burn 1 barrel of oil for every 3 barrels of oil produced, a marvel of inefficiency. The potential builders of the Keystone XL have been caught in scandal after scandal in their attempts to get government and popular approval for the pipeline. The last few months have revealed the lengths that TransCanada (the company building the pipeline) and other Keystone proponents will go to secure approval for Keystone.

A tar sands mining pit in what was once boreal forest

Here are 3 of the most important Keystone XL Scandals that have been revealed since April:

1) The State Department doesn't know where the Keystone XL pipeline will be located

A year and a half ago, Thomas Bachand, a researcher mapping the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, asked the State Department - the agency responsible for approving the pipeline - for the coordinates of the Keystone XL. He hoped to accurately map the pipeline route so that people would know which waterways, neighborhoods, and back yards would be affected. After 14 months of waiting and haggling for what should have been an easy answer, the State Department admitted in June that they did not possess the GIS coordinates of the pipeline, and therefore did not know its exact route. Yet the State Department has promised that the Keystone XL would be environmentally safe and does not threaten water supplies in its path. From the Environmental Impact Study used by the State Department:

“A limited number of public water supply wells are located within one mile of the proposed pipeline area (39 along the entire route; Montana-1, South Dakota-0, Nebraska-38), and a very limited number of private water supply wells are located within 100 feet of the pipeline (Montana-6; South Dakota-0, Nebraska-14).”

But how would the State Department know how close the pipeline runs to water sources without knowing where the pipeline will run?

A tar sands spill from Exxon's pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas

2) The private contractors hired to gauge the environmental impact of the Keystone XL for the State Department work for TransCanada and other oil companies that would benefit from building the pipeline, a major conflict of interest that the State Department tried to hide.

The most recent Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the Keystone XL was conducted by the oil industry contractor Environmental Resource Management (ERM). Since it's release, the study has been widely criticized for both its glaring oversights and questionable findings. For instance, the EIS claims that building the Keystone XL, a giant among pipelines, would not have any effect on greenhouse gas emissions or the development of the Athabasca tar sands, even though the entire purpose of building the KXL is to increase tar sands development. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has questioned the trustworthiness of the study. As it turns out, ERM works for Transcanada, Koch Industries, Shell Oil, and other oil corporations that stand to benefit from building the Keystone XL. ERM is also a dues paying member of the American Petroleum Institute, which spent $22 million lobbying for the pipeline. Not only did the State Department know about these conflicts of interest, they redacted this information from public filings in an attempt to conceal the truth. ERM has a history of producing environmental studies that seem skewed toward befitting the oil companies that hire them. In March of this year, ERM released a study claiming that a tar sands refinery in Delaware made the air around the plant cleaner. The study, which was funded by the tar sands refinery in question, was challenged by independent air quality studies that found Benzene and other cancer-causing compounds far in excess of EPA standards. As the News Journal explains:

"Air-quality tests commissioned by a Delaware City citizens group show a jump in local chemical, soot and sulfur levels after the opening of the Delaware City refinery, with at least three toxic pollutants exceeding some public health limits in one spot a mile from the plant"

3) Obama Administration insiders have significant ties to TransCanada, which the company has tried to exploit.

As was recently reported by Steve Horn at DeSmog Blog, President Obama’s personal attorney, former White House Counsel Robert Bauer, has direct ties to TransCanada. Bauer works for Perkins Coie LLP, a major corporate law firm which represents TransCanada’s South Central LNG project. Furthermore, Robert Baur's wife, Anita Dunn, is the co-owner of the PR firm SDKnickerbocker, which handles public relations work for TransCanada. Dunn, who was a Communications Director for Obama and Senior Adviser for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, has met with top Obama administration officials more than 100 times since leaving in 2009, according to a recent New York Times investigation. However, Robert Bauer and Anita Dunn are just the latest tie between TransCanada and US regulators to be uncovered. TransCanada and the government of Alberta, Canada have purposefully stacked their ranks with lobbyists that have ties to the Obama administration and/or John Kerry, who is now in charge of the State Department. From Friends of the Earth:

The Financial Times has found that Alberta made a point to hire former Obama officials and Kerry staff in order to win approval from the State Department instead of focusing on Congress like most lobby groups. TransCanada and Alberta’s lobbyists have been trying to convince the administration that the pipeline will create jobs and pose no threats to the environment, in the hopes that they can get the pipeline approved.

TransCanada also snapped up people leaving the State Department to help grease the wheels of approval for Keystone XL within the State Department. From Businessweek:

David Goldwyn, an aide to Hillary Clinton, was something of a mole for TransCanada, coaching the company’s executives on how to win favor at State with “better messaging.” After leaving the State Department, Goldwyn testified before Congress in favor of Keystone XL.

These latest 3 scandals are just the most recent examples of the extent to which TransCanada and other Keystone XL boosters have manipulated the approval system in favor of the pipeline. Help stop the Keystone XL and protect the families and water sources in it's path by telling President Obama not to approve pipeline. Sign the petition here.

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