Keystone XL Remains Empty Pipe Dream for America
By Joshua Axelrod
When he turned the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from dead and gone into a reawakened zombie, President Trump claimed that his doing so would mean new construction jobs, steel manufacturing jobs and money for the U.S.
Before he was elected, he used the pipeline to show how he was going to enrich America, promising that we'd get 25 percent of TransCanada's profits. All in all, the basic message continues to be: This is a great deal for America. But what, actually, is the "deal?"
The short answer is: What deal?
The real deal here is a bad one. Just like the last time around, Keystone XL is not in our national interest. It would lock in decades of increased climate pollution driven by expanded tar sands production in Alberta. It would threaten our waterways and drinking water sources with the toxic legacy of a spill that can't be fully cleaned up. And it would serve Gulf Coast refineries who are exporting growing volumes of both refined products and crude oil to international markets. In other words, this is a pipeline that creates major environmental risks all to carry tar sands oil that America doesn't need and wouldn't use.
And what TransCanada has offered in "round three" doesn't improve on anything they've offered before, despite President Trump's bluster. Here's the rundown:
The application submitted by TransCanada to the State Department on Jan. 26, is basically the same application they submitted to the State Department back in 2012. The big change really comes down to what looks like the loss of the so-called "Bakken on-ramp" or Bakken Market Link project.
The Bakken on-ramp was added to the Keystone XL proposal in 2012 after outcry from U.S. oil producers forced TransCanada to add a "feeder" pipeline that could bring up to 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of U.S. oil into the Keystone XL pipeline system in Montana. The Bakken Market Link addition allowed Keystone XL's advocates to build support for the project from the U.S. oil industry. Now, it looks like they're doing what they can to make that gift to U.S. producers disappear.
In 2012, TransCanada wrote in its application:
"The related Bakken Market Link Project will include the construction of 'on-ramp' facilities in Fallon County, Montana to allow Bakken crude oil to access the pipeline system for delivery to Steele City and then to the Gulf Coast."
Note the use of the word "will" in that sentence. This on-ramp pipeline was part of the plan, as in, they were going to build it and Bakken producers were the planned beneficiaries from the added pipeline capacity. But in 2017, their application says:
"Subject to commercial demand, the related Bakken Market Link Project would include the construction of 'on-ramp' facilities in Fallon County, Montana to allow Bakken crude oil to access the pipeline system for delivery to Steele City and then to the Gulf Coast."
But the market case for pipelines in North Dakota and Montana has deteriorated since Keystone XL was proposed in 2008—the region now has more pipeline capacity than production and more is on its way. According to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, more than one million bpd of new pipeline capacity has been built since Keystone XL was first proposed, with more expected. Meanwhile, low oil prices have blunted once projected increases in Bakken oil production.
TransCanada's injection of uncertainty into their new Keystone XL application allows them to avoid a commitment they were previously willing to make. And it's likely they'll do so—as they may have a difficult time finding U.S. producers interested in signing long-term shipping contracts on Keystone XL without an easy way of getting their oil into the pipeline. In 2014, the key proponent of the Bakken on-ramp, Harold Hamm, said of Keystone XL, "It's not critical any longer… They just waited too long. The industry is very innovative and it finds other ways of doing it and other routes." If U.S. producers already admitted Keystone XL wasn't useful in 2014, you can bet it's even less useful to them now.
In the meantime, their new application is mum on President Trump's repeated demand that new pipelines be built from U.S. steel, his promise that the U.S. is going to get a big share of profits or his promise of tens of thousands of new construction jobs.
Then there's the strangely weak case TransCanada has submitted for why Keystone XL is in America's national interest. Last time around, TransCanada provided significant detail about the ways in which the pipeline fulfilled the State Department's criteria for making National Interest Determinations.
This time around, they've boiled their case down from 29 pages to seven bullet points. In sum, these points basically say that Keystone XL gives the U.S. access to more Canadian oil and allows Canada to get its oil to U.S. refineries more cheaply. What they don't mention is that these refineries—and the Gulf Coast region in general—are exporting more and more refined products and crude oil as U.S. demand weakens.
The same job and financial benefits that were highlighted the last time around are there and then there's the sweeping statement that approving Keystone XL will send a signal that large infrastructure projects can happen in America. These bullets obfuscate a few critical factors:
1. Keystone XL is, in part, about increasing the profits of Canadian tar sands producers (TransCanada talked a lot about this in 2012, but has since deleted that section).
2. Oil demand in the U.S. is slowing, meaning the long-term access to new oil reserves promised by TransCanada is a red herring—a majority of the oil processed by the refineries potentially served by Keystone XL is currently exported and that trend is growing (TransCanada is also mum on this topic in 2017, even though they acknowledged this reality in 2012).
As recently as his speech before Congress on Feb. 28 and his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 24, President Trump has continued to claim that the Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, will be built from U.S. steel. This promise is empty for many reasons, the biggest being that TransCanada has already purchased most of the steel pipe it would use to build Keystone XL.
What's more, only 50 percent of that steel was produced in the U.S., meaning his promise would require TransCanada to re-purchase hundreds of miles of new pipe. This would dramatically increase the cost of the project, which in 2014 stood at $8 billion (and is likely higher today, given five years of inflation since TransCanada last figured its costs).
Then there's the jobs claim. President Trump can't seem to keep his numbers straight on this one, but we'll give him a pass on that fact this time around. When he signed the memo bringing Keystone XL back from the dead, he claimed 28,000 jobs. At the Conservative Political Action Conference he claimed 42,000. They're both big numbers that obscure the underlying facts. In terms of full time employment, the numbers are actually:
- 1,950 construction jobs (lasting two years)
- 35 full-time jobs (associated with running the pipeline after it is built)
These are well established numbers and have been for years. To be generous, you could claim a higher number—the State Department found 10,400 seasonal jobs—but each of those jobs would last four to eight months and then end. While there's no question that there are benefits to these short-term positions, if President Trump's job creation promises amount to short-term contracts spread across multiple states over two or more years, the benefits to local workers may be minimal indeed.
The last time I posted on this subject, I concluded with this thought: everything that was wrong with Keystone XL when it was proposed in the past is still wrong today. It's an environmental disaster waiting to happen, a climate-wrecking project with no place in today's energy mix and it's not in America's national interest. There are easier, less contentious and less expensive ways to create jobs—jobs that will outlast the inevitable decline of our dependence on fossil fuels and the boom and bust cycle of the environmentally destructive oil industry.
That sounds about right. A "better deal" in terms of what President Trump has laid out would kill Keystone XL. And Americans are starting to catch on to the fact that the pipeline, no matter how you slice it, just isn't a project in our country's interest: Polls now show that a majority of Americans—up to 51 vs. 38 percent in some polls—don't think the pipeline should be built. The raw deal TransCanada has offered up yet again isn't a salve for any of the challenges facing America's future energy needs, the need for stable employment in rural areas or the very real environmental impacts caused by global climate change.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Tuesday saying that the Federal Environmental Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to adequately review the environmental impacts of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the fracked gas Sabal Trail pipeline, which runs more than 500 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
As ocean waters warm and acidify, corals across the globe are disappearing. Desperate to prevent the demise of these vital ecosystems, researchers have developed ways to "garden" corals, buying the oceans some much-needed time. University of Miami Rosenstiel School marine biologist Diego Lirman sat down with Josh Chamot of Nexus Media to describe the process and explain what's at stake. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is killing coral?
I wish we had an easy, straightforward answer for what's killing corals. We know there are many, many different factors influencing coral abundance, diversity, distribution and health these days, but I think the specific answer varies based on where you are.
Temperatures play a major role at global scales, and then you have all of these other, more local factors like disease, physical impacts of storms, or ship groundings.
Researcher Stephanie Schopmeyer prepares to out-plant Staghorn coral onto a Miami reef. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
We had the dredging of the Port of Miami channel a couple of years ago and that caused a lot of localized mortality due to sediment burial and sediment stress. You also have land-based sources of pollution that can damage by location and nutrient influence that causes algal overgrowth of corals.
Local factors are superimposed on regional factors directly related to global climate change. Changes in temperature, more temperature extremes, acidification of the water, changes in storm frequency and sea level rise— all are at different scales — but they all combine to cause coral mortality.
Factors vary both spatially and temporally, but the outcomes are all the same. Regardless of where you are, we've lost a tremendous amount of coral.
Nursery-raised Staghorn coral out-planted onto a reef by a citizen scientist.
In the face of all those threats, can restoration work?
Historically, restoration was developed and used for acute disturbances. A ship runs aground, and so then there's a recovery, and funds are allocated to recovering the reef structure at a given location, and then corals are planted on top of that. But as global conditions decline for coral reefs, there's now a need to scale up. So, we're not just dealing with the localized impact—we're looking at species declining throughout their range.
We need other tools at larger scales, and that's where coral reef gardening has come into play, because it works at larger scales compared to just dumping cement and rebuilding reef structures, costly endeavors that recover just a very small footprint. We're growing and planting these organisms.
Do you worry about planted coral dominating the reefs?
Initially, these techniques were developed for fast-growing corals. The genus that we're focusing on, Acropora, is threatened, so these are very important reef-building species.
When abundant, they monopolize shallow environments. They form thickets, extensive areas of high-density colonies. That's the way they used to grow, until about three to four decades ago when they got wiped out by disease and other factors. The branching corals that we're working with grow between 10 and 15 cm per branch per year, so that's very fast growth.
Through recent advances in coral aquaculture, we're now also able to grow massive species, the ones that grow very slowly. Mote Marine Lab has developed microfragmentation techniques where they can cut coral colonies very, very small and make them grow very, very fast. Although we focused on branching corals initially, now most of the programs, especially here in Florida, are expanding onto other threatened species.
Citizen scientists plant coral. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Can these efforts solve the problem, or are they a placeholder until climate stabilizes?
You hit the nail on the head. One of the early criticisms of reef restoration was the scale issue and spending a lot of resources working on a very small footprint.
We've dealt with that now, over the past 10 years we've expanded to the point where we're growing thousands and thousands of corals—we're planting thousands and thousands of corals—so that issue of scale is no longer a valid criticism.
The other major criticism is that, even though we're planting a lot of corals, we're planting them onto environments where the same stressors that caused their initial mortality are in place. Now there is ocean acidification and increased temperatures, so things have gotten, in some cases, progressively worse.
Staghorn corals create a sustainable source of corals for use in restoration. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
That is a valid concern if we were just planting corals, but we're not just doing that. We're still concentrating on all of the other aspects of reef restoration, setting up marine protected areas to protect fish stocks and coral impacts, working to curb land-based sources of pollution, and setting up sedimentation and nutrient controls. And then, on a much larger scale, we're all trying to curb carbon emissions, trying to limit the greenhouse impacts and acidification impacts. All these tools just help us buy time.
We're also doing a lot of genomics work to see how corals can increase their resilience. A colleague of mine here at the Rosenstiel School at University of Miami, Andrew Baker, is stress-hardening corals. He works on coral symbiosis, and he found that by applying a little bit of non-lethal stress, he can make corals shuffle their Zooxanthellae, which are the endosymbiotic microalgae that provide energy to the corals. In that process, they're able to uptake Zooxanthellae that are more thermally tolerant. So, through the forced shuffling of symbionts, you may be able to buy these corals one or two degrees of tolerance, so that they become more tolerant to bleaching in future years. That is cutting-edge science.
We're trying to actually find out what makes corals survive, and trying to beef up their defenses and their resilience over time. And that's because we have access to all these coral genotypes through the active propagation from coral gardening.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
By Karen Perry Stillerman
This job has responsibility for scientific integrity at the USDA, as well as oversight of the department's various research arms and multi-billion dollar annual investments in agricultural research and education that are essential to farmers and eaters alike.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club lodged formal comments with the federal government Monday opposing a massive gas fracking project that spans 220 square miles of public land in Wyoming south of Yellowstone National Park.
The Normally Pressured Lance gas field would destroy wildlife habitat and worsen ozone pollution, a major cause of childhood asthma, in areas already suffering from extreme air pollution.
Sierra received complete surveys from a record-breaking 227 schools—in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and for the first time ever, Canada.
By Andy Rowell
The decades-long struggle for social and environmental justice in the Niger Delta continues, largely unseen by the wider world.
On Aug. 11, hundreds of people from the Niger Delta stormed the Belema flow station gas plant owned by Shell in the Rivers State region of the Delta. The plant transports crude oil to the Bonny Light export terminal, from where it is shipped overseas.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a statement the Interior Department has directed it to cease its study on the potential health risks for people living near surface coal mines in Central Appalachia.
The Interior Department, which committed more than $1 million to the study last year, has begun an agency-wide review of grants over $100,000 because of the "Department's changing budget situation."