By delaying a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until Nebraska devises a legally valid route across the state, the Obama administration may have pushed the question off for months—most likely until after the November mid-term elections. That lets the president ride out the hotly contested campaign for control of Congress without having to decide whether the controversial pipeline is in the national interest.
But the most important effects of the postponement might not be about politics at all. Rather, the passage of time may well highlight two substantive issues for all to see that will factor significantly into the national interest determination: the pipeline's significance for America's oil supply and demand and for the world's climate conundrum.
As rapid changes in the oil markets continue, and as developments occur in urgent international climate change negotiations, they could significantly influence President Barack Obama's ultimate decision on the project. The Keystone would carry diluted bitumen, or dilbit, from the tar sands of Canada toward refineries on the Gulf Coast.
A spunky little environmental organization, essentially a one-man show with a small supporting cast, continues to battle a Canadian company's effort to establish the nation's first sizeable tars sands strip mine on an arid plateau in eastern Utah.
The issue, as always, is water. And the oratories, as always, are impassioned.
John Weisheit, the conservation director of Moab, Utah-based Living Rivers, and his allies at Western Resource Advocates, a non-profit environmental law and policy organization with offices in seven states, are still trying to convince state officials that there is water in the Book Cliffs region—and that it should be protected from the planned tar sands mine.
Now they've got a new study that they say further supports their position.
Now it's official: ExxonMobil plans to fully reopen its idled Pegasus oil pipeline, including the 1940s-era segment that ruptured and dumped sticky tar-like Canadian dilbit into an Arkansas neighborhood. The Monday news ends the uncertainty over the pipeline's fate that has hung over people along the Pegasus route since the spill one year ago—though why it happened remains unknown.
Exxon's intentions are laid out in a one-page summary of how it plans to fix and verify the safety of the 650-mile northern section of the Pegasus, which includes the part that failed. The company intends to spend well into 2015 examining possible problems, completing repairs and running more robust tests on the pipeline, according to Exxon's fact sheet.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's leading climate science body, declared in a new report that global warming is wreaking havoc "on all continents and across the oceans," with the worst yet to come. But by far the most severe impacts will strike the poorest countries that bear little or no historical responsibility for causing climate change, the report said.
"Those countries who have contributed least to the manifestation of this problem are in jeopardy of being the most vulnerable to it," said Gary Yohe, an economist at Wesleyan University and a coordinating lead author of the IPCC report. "The poor, the young, the old and the people who live along the coasts will be hit the hardest."
The message of "climate justice" comes through in the 2,500 pages of the IPCC's new report released on Monday in Japan. The hot-button concept frames global warming as an ethical issue and involves developed nations financing poor nations' climate-related losses, damage and adaptation efforts.
Sometime before April 7, ExxonMobil will finally tell regulators and the public why its 1940s-era Pegasus oil pipeline split open in Mayflower, Ark. last March, spilling thick Canadian dilbit into a neighborhood and nearby cove.
Will Exxon just send out a statement announcing its conclusions about the cause or causes of the Pegasus spill? Or will it also make public the details and supporting evidence behind its determination? If Exxon doesn’t provide those details, will they be made available by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which regulates most U.S. pipelines?
Actions to date aren’t encouraging, according to some pipeline experts and Arkansas officials. "It's been a constant process of trying to get information, trying to get data, trying to evaluate the tools and technology and processes that Exxon uses to ensure the integrity and safety of this pipeline," said John Tynan former watershed protection manager for Central Arkansas Water (CAW) and now its director of public affairs.
Environmentalists who spent a month analyzing public comments on the Keystone XL linked more than half the pro-pipeline comments they examined to people in the oil industry. As the U.S. State Department considers whether to approve the project, the activists want those remarks to carry less weight than those written by people without a vested interest in the outcome.
Out of a random sample of more than 1,000 comments in support of the Keystone, the environmentalists connected about 60 percent of the commenters' names to oil and pipeline company employees, investors, lobbyists, attorneys and others working for the industry—all of whom could potentially benefit from the construction of the pipeline, the activists said. If built, the pipeline would carry diluted bitumen from Canada's tar sands region to the Texas Gulf Coast.
"We don't want to accuse anyone of wrongdoing ... but to me this raises a red flag," said Terra Friedrichs, a volunteer at the environmental group 350MA who led the analysis. 350MA is a Massachusetts grassroots organization that advocates for sustainable energy. It often collaborates with, but is not affiliated with the national group 350.org.
Regulations.gov, the website used to collect public comments, doesn't require people to disclose their names, nationalities, occupations or financial interests.
A Ukrainian youth climate activist was reportedly apprehended by Russian military forces on Sunday, Mar. 9, while trying to enter Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian republic that has been under siege by Russia since late last month.
Kateryna Butko, 25, is involved with AutoMaidan, a movement within the EuroMaidan that is seeking a pro-European Union government to replace ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who was closely aligned with Russia.
Butko has been a vocal proponent of climate action in Eastern Europe and is a volunteer member of 350.org, a climate advocacy group started by activist Bill McKibben that has attracted young people around the world.
She attended several climate meetings and workshops in Europe and recently helped organize a youth forum on global warming in Ukraine. According to information provided by AutoMaidan, Butko was last seen on Sunday by witnesses who saw her get detained by "men in unmarked military uniforms" in the town of Armiansk on the border between Crimea and mainland Ukraine.
As the deadline for public comment on the Keystone XL pipeline arrived on Mar. 7, environmental groups told the Obama administration that the State Department's analysis of the project was based on flawed assumptions that clash with the nation's commitment to mobilizing global action against climate change.
In its final environmental impact statement (EIS) issued on Jan. 31, the State Department asserted that no single project would have much effect on the growth of Canada's tar sands industry. It based its conclusions partly on business-as-usual projections that oil demand and prices would rise amid continued worldwide inaction on global warming.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said in wide-ranging comments that the EIS "makes a fundamental error by relying on energy consumption scenarios which assume a global failure to address climate change."
If the State Department stuck with its predictions that energy consumption and prices were destined to remain high, it would "undermine the nation's credibility" during United Nations talks aimed at heading off the worst effects of global warming, the advocacy group said.
For U.S. homeowners and citizen investors, going solar—right now—is becoming increasingly within their grasp.
Solar startups are offering new ways to both pay for rooftop solar installations and invest in the sector—from solar loans and leases for houses, to crowdfunding, debt securities and bond issues for small-time financiers. With solar panel prices at historic lows, companies are pushing to reduce costs even further by reimagining the way that projects get financed.
The latest example is in Connecticut. There, Sungage Financial is launching a two-part program. First, homeowners can get loans that are structured specifically for buying and installing solar panels. The initiative is the first to base the terms of the loans on the customer's projected energy-bill savings—typically about $25,000 over three decades for Connecticut homeowners.
A new study has underscored just how little is known about the health consequences of the natural gas boom that began a decade ago, when advances in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and directional drilling allowed companies to tap shale deposits across the United States.
"Despite broad public concern, no comprehensive population-based studies of the public health effects of [unconventional natural gas] operations exist," concluded the report published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Last week, InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel reported on the health data gap in the Eagle Ford Shale, where a lack of air monitoring and research is aggravated by a Texas regulatory system that often protects the gas and oil industry over the public.