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Obama Backs Tax Deal but Keystone XL Pipeline Now in Doubt

Obama supports the tax deal reached in Congress, but the Keystone XL clause means the pipeline likely will not be built, an administration official said.

By Reuters

Dec 17, 2011
President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama supports a compromise payroll tax deal reached in Congress on Friday but Republican insistence on including a demand to speed a decision on a controversial Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline means it almost certainly will not be built, a senior administration official said.

The Obama administration believes that while an agreement to extend payroll tax breaks for just two months is not ideal, it would be inconceivable that Republicans would consent to that and later refuse to renew the cuts for rest of the year.

The senior official said the deal, which still must be approved by the full Senate and House of Representatives, meets Obama's main concern that middle-class taxes not rise with the expiration of payroll tax breaks at the end of December.

But it falls short of Obama's original push for a full-year extension and also runs counter to an earlier White House demand that there be no link to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Oil Sands Opponents Turn Focus to Enbridge's Pacific Pipeline Project

A new report signals that the Northern Gateway pipeline project will become the next battleground over the future of the Alberta tar sands.

By Jeffrey Jones, Reuters

Nov 29, 2011
Route of the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project/Source: Enbridge

ALBERTA, Canada—Enbridge Inc's proposed $5.3 billion pipeline to British Columbia poses a raft of environmental risks, according to a new report that signals the project will become the next battleground over the future of Canada's oil sands.

The study by a trio of environmental groups, released on Tuesday, comes fast on the heels of a decision to push back approval of TransCanada Corp's Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline by more than a year.

The delay has led Canada's oil industry and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to intensify their emphasis on exporting oil sands-derived crude to Asia.

The Enbridge project, known as the Northern Gateway pipeline, is the first attempt at doing that in scale.

But the new report—issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pembina Institute and Living Oceans Society—says the project would threaten native communities, salmon fishery and wildlife habitat on land and in waters off the West Coast.

The report uses last year's Enbridge pipeline rupture and oil spill in Michigan, and even the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, as examples of why governments and regulators should block the proposal to bisect the rugged Western Canadian province with steel pipe.

UK in Secret Campaign to Derail EU's 'Dirty' Fuel Label on Tar Sands

In the run-up to a key European vote Friday that could designate tar sands crude as dirtier, the UK has been secretly helping Canada fight the standard.

By Damian Carrington, Guardian

Nov 28, 2011
Tar sands mining at the edge of the Canadian boreal forest.

The UK government has been giving secret support at the very highest levels to Canada's campaign against European penalties on its highly polluting tar sands fuel, the Guardian can reveal.

At the same time, the UK government was being lobbied by Shell and BP, which both have major tar sands projects in Alberta, and opened a new consulate in the province to "support British commercial interests."

At least 15 high-level meetings and frequent communications have taken place since September, with David Cameron discussing the issue with his counterpart Stephen Harper during his visit to Canada, and stating privately that the UK wanted "to work with Canada on finding a way forward," according to documents released under freedom of information laws.

Charles Hendry, the energy minister, later told the Canadian high commissioner: "We would value continued discussion with you on how we can progress discussions in Brussels," with Hendry's official asking the Canadians if they had "any suggestions as to what we might do, given the politics in Brussels."

Nebraska Lawmakers Vote to Reroute Keystone XL Pipeline

"Our work is done," said Gov. Dave Heineman following the unanimous vote on Tuesday.

By Michael Avok, Reuters

Nov 22, 2011
Keystone XL protest at the White House on Nov. 6

LINCOLN, Neb.—Nebraska lawmakers on Tuesday voted unanimously to reroute a controversial proposed U.S.-to-Canada oil pipeline away from an ecologically-sensitive region in the state, and the governor quickly signed the measure into law.

Governor Dave Heineman signed bills to reroute TransCanada Corp's proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline away from the ecologically sensitive Sandhills region and Ogallala aquifer and to fund an environmental study for a new pipeline route.

The Obama administration earlier this month delayed approval of the proposed pipeline until after the 2012 U.S. election, bowing to pressure from environmentalists and sparing President Barack Obama a damaging split with liberal voters he may need to win re-election.

The administration's decision to explore a new route for the pipeline to avoid fragile territory in Nebraska dismayed the Canadian government, which had lobbied vigorously for the project.

After working with Nebraska lawmakers last week, TransCanada Corp agreed to find a new route for its pipeline that would deliver 700,000 barrels a day of crude from Alberta's oil sands to Texas refineries.

TransCanada-Nebraska Deal on Keystone Route Won't Affect Federal Review, State Dept. Says

The agency says the agreement will not change the timeline for its analysis of alternative pipeline routes, which would likely conclude in 2013.

By Michael Avok, Reuters

Nov 15, 2011
An estimated 10,000 anti-Keystone XL protestors marched at the White House on No

LINCOLN, Neb.—Nebraska and TransCanada Corp. agreed on Monday to find a new route for the stalled Keystone XL pipeline that would steer clear of environmentally sensitive lands in the state.

Under pressure from green groups, the U.S. State Department last week ordered the company to find a new route for the line in a decision that set back the $7 billion, Canada-to-Texas pipeline by more than a year.

The pipeline would deliver 700,000 barrels a day of crude from Alberta's oil sands to Texas refineries. But environmentalists strongly oppose the project, because of the route, concerns about spills and carbon emissions from production of oil sands crude.

In the deal with Nebraska, the state would pay for the new studies to find a route that would avoid the Sandhills region and the Ogallala aquifer, which provides water for millions in the area.

"I believe we will put the routing issue completely behind us," said Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's president of Energy and Oil Pipelines. "We have heard and we have listened to the people of the Sandhills."

The agreement will not change the timeline for a federal review, said a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, which has final approval for the project because it crosses an international border.

"Nothing has changed in the process since last Thursday's announcement as any new proposed routes will be subject to the thorough, rigorous and transparent review process we have undertaken throughout," said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the department.

EPA Finds Fracking Chemical in Wyoming Gas Drilling Town's Aquifer

Wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical used in fracking.

By Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica

Nov 13, 2011
Drill rig in a natural gas field in Wyoming

As the country awaits results from a nationwide safety study on the natural gas drilling process of fracking, a separate government investigation into contamination in a place where residents have long complained that drilling fouled their water has turned up alarming levels of underground pollution.

A pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, according to new water test results released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The findings are consistent with water samples the EPA has collected from at least 42 homes in the area since 2008, when ProPublica began reporting on foul water and health concerns in Pavillion and the agency started investigating reports of contamination there.

Midwest Tries to Prove Its Worth as a Green Technology Supplier to Pentagon

The Midwest's strength in manufacturing, battery storage, solar panel production and biofuel development could make it a top contender for military funds.

By Frank Jossi, Midwest Energy News

Nov 9, 2011

Five Minnesota-made electric vehicles with rooftop solar panels will soon find homes at Naval bases in Texas and Mississippi.

Manufactured by e-Ride Industries in Princeton, the low-speed vehicles can travel between 40 and 45 miles on a single charge and have the same power as a gasoline-powered small pickup.

E-Ride is among the many Midwest firms vying for business from the Department of Defense for good reason. The DOD has become a major federal funder of green projects, with $1.2 billion spent in 2010 alone. It's also funding research through other initiatives, such as a collaboration with the Department of Energy called the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA-e.

In fact, the military set up a website, DoD Goes Green, just to track all the activity.

Every service branch is participating in green energy procurement and research, according to Phyllis Cuttino of the Pew Project on National Security Energy and Climate.

Released in September, Pew's report "From Barracks to Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America’s Armed Forces" details the armed services push for greener bases, supply chains and more renewable energy and technology for soldiers in battle.

The Pentagon's continued support of greener energy is a potential game-changer because of its enormity. The military spends more than $400 billion on goods and services every year, a good portion of it on new technology.

State Dept's 'Special Review' May Delay Keystone Decision into 2012, or Later

The State Department's Inspector General has opened a "special review" of the department's handling of the pipeline's environmental assessment.

By Timothy Gardner, Reuters

Nov 7, 2011
State Dept building in DC

The State Department's Inspector General has opened a "special review" of the department's environmental assessment of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline, Senator Bernie Sanders said, which could delay the final decision on the line into 2012 or later.

"The State Department inspector general has informed me that it is reviewing the department's handling of an environmental impact study related to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project," Sanders, a Vermont independent, said in a release.

The State Department has said it hopes to decide by the end of the year whether TransCanada Corp's $7 billion Keystone project to ship oil sands crude to the United States can go forward, but has opened the door to a possible delay citing the need for a thorough review.

Sanders, one of the Senate's most liberal members, Democratic Representative Steve Cohen and 12 other Congressional Democrats late last month asked President Barack Obama in a letter to delay a decision on the oil pipeline until the State Department inspector general investigated alleged conflicts of interest over the project.

"The chances of them making a decision before the end of the year are pretty much impossible at this point," a congressional aide familiar with the matter, told Reuters.

Keystone XL Primer: Secrecy Still Shrouds Diluted Bitumen Risks

Many questions but few answers about the substance that would flow through the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

By Marie C. Baca, InsideClimate News

Nov 2, 2011
A handful of Canadian oil sands

The Canadian crude oil that would flow through the Keystone XL pipeline is either the lynchpin of U.S. energy security or the path to certain environmental destruction, depending on whom you talk to. Advocates say there is no evidence that it is any more harmful than other types of oil; critics say there is insufficient evidence that it is safe. There is little information to support either side.

The oil that would flow through the pipeline is known as diluted bitumen, or dilbit, and it has become a lighting rod for controversy in the debate over the pipeline, which would send as much as 830,000 barrels every day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries as far as Texas. The pipeline would cross six states, sometimes passing through environmentally sensitive terrain where spills would be of special concern.

While bitumen has long been refined into oil, regulation of diluted bitumen has been slow to follow. Federal safety officials, for example, don't know precisely which chemicals shippers mix with bitumen to create dilbit. And even industry groups can't say exactly how corrosive dilbit is. Research is spotty and outdated; there have been no independent scientific studies exploring the relationship between dilbit and pipeline corrosion.

Here's a primer on what is—and isn't—known about dilbit.

U.S. May Miss Year-End Goal for Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

By Arshad Mohammed, Reuters

Oct 26, 2011
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

The State Department may miss a year-end target to approve TransCanada Corp's Canada-to-Texas Keystone oil sands pipeline, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, risking a further delay to the most important new crude oil conduit in decades.  

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the State Department still hoped to make a decision by the end of this year, which has been its target, but that its highest priority was to carry out a thorough, rigorous review. The decision has already been pushed back once.

A further delay would not only be a blow to TransCanada, it could also prolong a massive gap between U.S. and global oil prices because oil traders are counting on Keystone's 700,000 barrel-per-day capacity to relieve a build-up of crude in the Midwest, which doesn't have enough pipelines to ship growing Canadian output to Gulf Coast refineries for use around the United States.

The ruling, which falls to the State Department because the line crosses national borders, is forcing President Barack Obama into a decision that effectively pits environmental safety against job creation and energy security.

"While we still hope to make a decision by the end of the year, we are first and foremost committed to a thorough, transparent and rigorous review process," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"So we're carefully reviewing all of the information we've received, including the many comments from the public, and will make a decision only after we have weighed all of the facts," the official added.