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Beyond Keystone XL: Three Controversial Pipeline Proposals

Energy

ThinkProgress

By Kiley Kroh

While the national debate remains largely focused on President Obama’s impending decision regarding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, communities across the U.S. and Canada are grappling with the oil and gas industry’s rapidly expanding pipeline network—cutting through their backyards, threatening water supplies and leaving them vulnerable to devastating spills.

As production booms in Alberta, Canada’s tar sands and fracking opens up vast oil and natural gas deposits around America, companies are increasingly desperate for new pipelines to get their product to market. “We’ve so narrowly focused on Keystone that a lot of these other projects aren’t getting the scrutiny they probably need,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. He explains that as production skyrockets and companies look to cash in, no one is really in charge of it all. “We’re leaving it up to these individual companies to come up with their own solutions to figure out how to move energy and we don’t have any national policy guiding those decisions.”

According to a recent analysis of federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data, since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 incidents, resulting in more than 500 deaths, more than 2,300 injuries and nearly $7 billion in damage.

Here are three of the most recent pipeline controversies emerging around the country:

1. Bluegrass Pipeline

Opposition is growing to the proposed 500-mile Bluegrass Pipeline, which would transport flammable natural gas liquids across Kentucky to an existing line that terminates in the Gulf. Landowners and environmentalists gathered at the state capital last week to protest the project, which they fear would threaten water supplies and safety. Residents were caught off guard by the project—landowner Stacie Meyer said she noticed survey markers going up near her property and had to search the internet and consult her neighbors to find out what they were for.

Locals are concerned the company, Williams Co., could use eminent domain to seize the land if opposition proves too strong. As the Courier-Journal reported, “Brad Slutskin, a Woodford County landowner who spoke at the rally, said the pipeline companies are threatening condemnation based on a loose interpretation of Kentucky law, and most property owners don’t have the money to mount a court challenge.” Residents opposed to the pipeline—including a group of nuns and monks who are refusing to give up their land for the project—delivered a petition with more than 5,200 signatures asking Gov. Beshear (D-KY) to include pipeline and eminent domain-related issues in the upcoming special legislative session, which he refused.

“Knowing a pipeline is coming through, is like waiving a red flag to the creatures of the Earth. God created Earth as our land to use not abuse,” Sister Joetta Venneman told local WAVE News.

As the gas fields north and east of Kentucky boom, the state will likely find itself in the crosshairs of many battles to come. In fact, while the fifth Kentucky county was passing a resolution opposing the Bluegrass Pipeline on Wednesday, the Courier-Journal reported that the project may already have some competition—a joint venture to convert an existing natural gas line called the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

2. Energy East Pipeline

Facing resistance in the U.S. over its Keystone XL proposal, TransCanada Corp. is moving forward with plans for another tar sands pipeline project that would carry almost as much crude as Keystone. The new pipeline, the most expensive in TransCanada’s history, would run from Alberta to the Atlantic seaboard, ending where a new deep-water marine terminal would be built to export the crude overseas. In early August, TransCanada said it received the long-term contracts for about 900,000 barrels of crude per day and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already indicated his support for the project.

TransCanada’s proposal has been met with stiff opposition from Canadian environmentalists and native leaders—particularly in Quebec, where Premier Pauline Marois has halted natural gas exploration while last month’s deadly Lac-Megantic crude oil train explosion is still being cleaned up.

The $12 billion development plan calls for converting 1,864 miles of an existing, 55-year-old pipeline currently used for natural gas to carry the oil. Though the proposed route does not cross into the U.S., it does skirt the border with Maine.

Perhaps most worrisome to residents of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, however, is that the increased shipping capacity from Alberta will impact another pipeline—the 70-year-old Portland Pipeline. Currently, the pipeline is used to ship crude into Canada but residents are concerned the flow will be reversed to bring Canadian tar sands into the U.S. As the Boston Globe explains, “this would provide Canada—whose Alberta-centered oil industry is suffering from too much supply and too little access to overseas markets—its first direct pipeline to a year-round, deep-water port.”

Residents throughout New England are staunchly opposed to the region becoming a conduit for the dirtiest form of fossil fuel production, holding anti-pipeline demonstrations in Portland, while 29 Vermont communities passed resolutions banning tar sands oil from the state.

For now, residents of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are left with little option other than waiting to see how the Energy East pipeline development may impact the Portland Pipeline. In a statement released earlier this month, the company said, “It is uncertain to us what the entire impact of this proposed project might be on crude movements and crude supplies for the East Coast. We are continuing to evaluate this recent development.”

3. Eastern Gulf Crude Access Pipeline Project

Enbridge’s proposed 774-mile pipeline would run from Illinois to Louisiana and carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation, as well as Canadian tar sands. The pipeline would be capable of transporting almost as much crude as Keystone XL and, as Inside Climate News reports, will likely sail through the regulatory process because much of the pipeline is already constructed as a natural gas line.

“Converting pipelines makes [approval] easier and riskier, too,” explains Weimer. “Keystone is brand new, state of the art pipeline with its own set of problems. Enbridge on the other hand, is converting other pipelines that have already been in the ground for years—putting in new types of crude or switching natural gas to liquid on pipelines that aren’t built to today’s standards. Those old pipes being re-purposed certainly presents a new risk.”

While the Keystone decision is momentarily stalled, Eastern Gulf is just one of many new pipelines being built to ship North American oil to the Gulf Coast for refining and export. According to Inside Climate, “Enbridge plans to build thousands of miles of pipelines over the next few years, including an expansion of its Alberta Clipper pipeline from Canada to Wisconsin. If approved, that line would ship up to 880,000 barrels of Canadian crude into the United States each day, compared to the Keystone’s capacity of 830,000 barrels per day.”

Last month, all five members of Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission approved increasing the flow of the Alberta Clipper line while refusing concerned citizens the opportunity to testify publicly. The initial expansion still awaits approval from multiple government agencies but Enbridge already has its sights set on a second expansion, which wasn’t discussed at the meeting. The protesters, including several Native American representatives, fear their communities could soon face the same devastating impacts of tar sands development being felt in Alberta. Marty Cobenais of Bemidji, part of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told the Bemidji Pioneer that the pipeline is a major issue for his Red Lake community. “This is huge,” he said. “This is in our back yard.”

These fights are just three of many being waged by citizens across the country. Alabama residents, for instance, have been protesting multiple pipeline projects—including the Plains All-American oil pipeline, which would run 41 miles to Mississippi and through a section of Mobile’s drinking water supply.

Though pipeline companies are seeking to capitalize on the Lac-Megantic tragedy to tout the safety of crude transport over rail, the devastating impacts of pipeline spills are impossible to overlook. Last week, the New York Times profiled two communities in Michigan and Arkansas that are forever changed by tar sands pipeline spills. Though it’s been three years since Enbridge’s pipeline rupture that spewed more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, the region is far from restored. And even despite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s recent order for Exxon to dredge the river, an EPA spokeswoman estimated that 1620,000 gallons of oil will remain in the Kalamazoo.

And in March, an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst, spilling an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude into a Mayflower, AR neighborhood. What’s left behind is bleak: “Four months later, the neighborhood of low-slung brick homes is largely deserted, a ghostly column of empty driveways and darkened windows, the silence broken only by the groan of heavy machinery pawing at the ground as remediation continues.” As Inside Climate News has continued to report, residents are now grappling with the long-term effects of the toxic spill, including the difficult process of relocating their families and the frightening health complications that have begun to manifest.

In addition to re-purposing old pipelines, there are several aspects of the unchecked expansion of fossil fuel pipelines across the country that has Weimer concerned. First, pipeline regulation needs to be strengthened and clarified. He explains that right now, “regulations are written in such a way that to a vast degree, it’s left up to the pipeline companies to figure out how safe their pipelines are and what to do about it.”

And it’s not just oversight—planning future pipeline routes is also dictated by the companies themselves. “The way we leave it up to each company means we could have multiple pipelines from different companies moving [their products] through the same place. Each company is just trying to capitalize and make money. State and local government really hasn’t thought about it much—is unprepared—and pipelines will go into place before there are policies to guide the construction. It can really affect the way local communities may develop and often happens before the community has any sense of what they can do about it.”

Visit EcoWatch’s PIPELINES page for more related news on this topic.

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The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about donations to the Amazon Fund. LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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