Keystone XL Belongs in the 'Trash Can of History'
By Lorne Stockman
Hearings began Monday at the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) in Lincoln for the Keystone XL pipeline. The PSC is charged with deciding whether the pipeline's route is in the interests of the state of Nebraska. If the pipeline is judged to pose unacceptable risks to land, water, wildlife, cultural resources and property values, the PSC could deny a permit to build the 36-inch pipeline carrying toxic tar sands oil through the state. No doubt TransCanada will be attempting to make its case that these risks are minimal and/or mitigable, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
But key factors the PSC should be assessing—like whether market demand still exists for the project—have been disqualified from the process. As a result, the PSC is in danger of issuing a permit for a pipeline that may be underutilized and possibly not built at all. While on the surface, it may sound like an underutilized pipeline would come with fewer risks, this is far from the truth. Grave risks associated with these outcomes—like increased potential for spills and the indefinite seizure of private land—must be considered in order to protect Nebraskans.
Nebraska officials eager not to hear from homeowners during #KXL hearings. Oil ind. is so devious, but on we fight https://t.co/zBbcod9dTR— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1501858229.0
When President Trump signed the federal permit for Keystone XL in the Oval Office in March, there were some uneasy murmurs in the room from TransCanada executives as he jovially quipped that TransCanada could now go ahead and start construction. Transcanada CEO Russ Girling knew that not only did the project still need approval in Nebraska, where it had faced the stiffest opposition in the past, but that as things stood, he did not actually have any customers for the pipeline. That situation has not changed.
A multi-billion dollar pipeline does not get built unless customers that will ship product in the pipeline contractually commit to using the pipeline. This usually takes the form of signing 20-year take-or-pay contracts for the majority of the pipeline's capacity. So a shipper, which could for example be an oil producer, a refiner or a trader, will sign a contract committing to pay for shipping a specified amount of oil on the pipeline every day for 20 years. It is essentially a long-term reservation of space on the pipeline. TransCanada has stated that it hopes to sign up 90 percent of the project's 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity. So it needs to sign up nearly 750,000 bpd. This is a tall order in today's oil market and the future does not look any better.
It was primarily this issue of market need about which I submitted some 13,000 words plus 33 attachments of testimony to the Nebraska PSC back in June. I was expecting to present that testimony in person at the PSC this week. However, in a last minute decision the PSC dismissed my testimony, and that of 39 others, limiting the scope of issues it will consider and thereby ignoring some of the key risks it should be considering.
The key points that the PSC should be considering are this:
- After the projects that are currently under construction come online, ultimately by 2020, there is currently no financial commitment from Canadian tar sands oil producers for further production growth.
- There is already enough pipeline and refining capacity to cope with the production growth that is committed to.
- The future of oil demand, and consequently oil prices, is more uncertain than ever, with new technologies and environmental policies threatening to end oil's stranglehold on transportation forever.
- As one of the most expensive to produce sources of oil in the world, the tar sands oil that would potentially fill Keystone XL has no future in a world moving toward cleaner cities and greater climate and energy security.
That the pipeline may not attract enough customers is a major issue for TransCanada. The company has stated several times that it is struggling to sign up committed shippers and will not know if it has enough commitment until November at the earliest.
Massive Crowd Marches to Give 'KXL the Boot' https://t.co/nz3m7C5LVR (@ecowatch) #NoKXL #keystonexl— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1502115444.0
So why should the PSC consider this? If the pipeline doesn't get built then how are Nebraskans at risk? If it does get built but then fails to meet expectations, isn't that only of concern to the company?
Unfortunately, the vagaries of the land easements that would be enforced if the PSC issues the permit, and the greater risk of spills in an underutilized pipeline, mean that the risks of the project failing financially are potentially as bad or worse than if it is a success.
The land easements that TransCanada has signed with willing landowners, as well as those it would force upon unwilling landowners through eminent domain, give the company rights to the pipeline corridor in perpetuity. This means that if the pipeline is not built TransCanada can sell the easements to the highest bidder. Therefore, landowners will have no control over what happens on their land in the future.
That unwilling landowners will be forced through eminent domain to hand over land for an unspecified use is an outrageous abuse of the principle of eminent domain. No public good has been proven for Keystone XL or any project that may end up in the corridor.
If shippers decide to take the gamble and sign up enough capacity for the project to go ahead—a gamble they may take based on overly optimistic expectations of the oil market—it is highly likely that some of the contracts may not be fulfilled and the pipeline may be underutilized.
The Natural Resources Defense Council reported Monday on the increasing evidence that underutilized pipelines are more prone to spills and those spills are much harder to detect and locate in pipelines operating under low pressure, known as "slack line" conditions.
These spill risks have not been evaluated in the environmental impact assessment of the project, which has assumed the pipeline would operate at or near full capacity.
The Keystone XL project has always been a risky and misguided venture designed to enrich corporate shareholders at the expense of the climate and landowners along the route. Since its original permit was denied, the case for building it, weak as it was, has evaporated.
What remains is a project serving only the political goals of a vain and corrupt administration bent on reversing its predecessor's achievements no matter who bears the cost. Granting a permit in the state of Nebraska risks ceding control of Nebraskan land to a corporation that has in no way demonstrated a public interest for its project.
The permit should be denied and the Keystone XL pipeline finally confined to the trash can of history where it belongs.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
How does your burrito impact the environment? If you ordered it from Chipotle, there is now a way to find out.
- Food's Environmental Impact Varies Greatly Between Producers ... ›
- Panera Bread Becomes First Chain to Use Climate-Friendly Label ... ›
Are you noticing your shirts becoming too tight fitting to wear? Have you been regularly visiting a gym, yet it seems like your effort is not enough? It's okay to get disappointed, but not to lose hope.
By Sarah Steffen
A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
- 8 World Cities That Could Be Underwater as Oceans Rise - EcoWatch ›
- Endangered Migratory Birds on Collision Course with New Airport ... ›
- How Is Climate Change Affecting the Philippines? - EcoWatch ›
A pair of studies released Monday confirmed not only the presence of water and ice on the moon, but that it is more abundant than scientists previously thought. Those twin discoveries boost the prospect of a sustainable lunar base that could harvest the moon's resources to help sustain itself, according to the BBC.
- Scientists Find Rust on the Moon 'Puzzling' - EcoWatch ›
- Historic NASA/SpaceX Mission Could Pave the Way for Space ... ›
- NASA Study of Increasingly Dire Global Water Shortages Finds ›
- Groundbreaking NASA Announcement: Evidence of Liquid Water on ... ›