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Keystone Advocates Inject Ukraine into Pipeline Debate

ANALYSIS: Controversial project included in wish list of actions industry says would send more oil and gas to vulnerable Ukraine and Europe.

Elizabeth Douglass

Apr 15, 2014
Vladimir Putin

Russia's brazen move into Ukraine has triggered a reaction from supporters of America's oil and natural gas industries. To diminish Vladimir Putin's clout in Europe and pressure him on Ukraine, they want the Obama administration to fast track a host of U.S. energy industry priorities. By doing so, they say, the United States can increase fuel supplies to Ukraine and much of Europe, which depend heavily on Russian oil and natural gas.

The industries' priorities include quickly approving more facilities to export liquefied natural gas, removing restrictions on domestic crude oil exports, and approving the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would carry Canadian crude oil to the Gulf Coast.

Energy—and especially oil—has a long history of being at the forefront of foreign policy and territorial conflict. But in this case, many analysts question whether the energy industry's wish list of policy actions would have a timely and meaningful impact on Russia, Europe or the situation in Ukraine.

The most curious item on the list is the Keystone XL pipeline.

Report Offers Grim Predictions for South Texas Air Quality Amid Eagle Ford Oil Boom

State-funded study projects dramatic increase in emissions from oil and gas development by 2018.

Jim Morris, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer

Apr 11, 2014
Flaring in the Eagle Ford Shale's Karnes County

What might the oil- and gas-rich Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas look like in 2018?

A newly released but largely unnoticed study commissioned by the state of Texas makes some striking projections:

  • The number of wells drilled in the 20,000-square-mile region could quadruple, from about 8,000 today to 32,000.

  • Oil production could leap from 363 million barrels per year to as much as 761 million.

  • Airborne releases of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) could increase 281 percent during the peak ozone season compared to 2012 emissions. VOCs, commonly found at oil and gas production sites, can cause respiratory and neurological problems. Some, like benzene, can cause cancer.

  • Nitrogen oxides—which react with VOCs in sunlight to create ground-level ozone, the main component of smog—could increase 69 percent during the peak ozone season.

Ruptured Michigan Pipeline to Restart, Now New and Double the Capacity

Enbridge is weeks away from starting its replacement of 6B, the line that ruptured in 2010 and spilled a million-plus gallons of Canadian tar sands.

Apr 10, 2014

There will be a lot on the line in a few weeks when Enbridge Inc. hits the start button on its new 6B oil pipeline across southern Michigan.

The company is banking on the line to more than double the amount of oil it pumps from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

Residents along the pipeline's 285-mile path also have a stake in the project. They're counting on it to be safer than the old 6B that it replaces—the one that spilled more than a million gallons of oil from Canada's tar sands region into Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010.

"We have to live with the pipeline and all of the what-ifs," said David Gallagher, who lives in the town of Ceresco. "We hope everything is going to be everything they say it will be, but we just don't know."

The new line runs just 14 feet from Gallagher's house, so close that Enbridge had to take special precautions to make sure his foundation wasn't damaged during construction. Gallagher captured dramatic video of huge pieces of equipment rumbling by his living room windows.

EPA Loopholes Allow Biomass to Emit More Toxic Air Pollutants Than Coal, Study Says

Study finds air emissions from biomass facilities could be dramatically improved if so-called loopholes are closed in power plant regulations.

Apr 9, 2014

A new study charges that government regulations for biomass plants are riddled with loopholes that allow wood-burning facilities to spew more toxic emissions in the air than coal-fired power plants.

The findings are refueling a controversy over whether biomass should be treated as a renewable energy fuel and able to qualify for green incentives, or as a fossil fuel like coal.

The study, conducted by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), found that biomass facilities release as much as 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal plants per megawatt-hour, and as much as 100 percent more than other air pollutants. The contaminants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Biomass plant emissions "could be dramatically improved," said Mary Booth, the study's author who is the director of PFPI, a nonprofit environmental consultancy critical of biomass plants. She pinned the problem on so-called loopholes in federal and state environmental laws, which she said give biomass operators a way out of meeting strict standards.

Infographic: A Field Guide to the U.S. Environmental Movement

The 10 organizations leading the environmental movement collectively have 15 million members and an annual budget of more than $525 million.

Apr 7, 2014

The 120-year-old U.S. environmental movement has undergone a tectonic shift and resurgence over the last several years, spearheaded by the failed legislative effort to cap carbon emissions in 2010. In the aftermath of that debacle, some the biggest environmental groups reshaped their missions—supplementing inside-the-Beltway campaigning with grassroots organizing and civil disobedience action not seen in this country since the 1970s. New groups from the hyperlocal to the national and global were born.

Today the 10 organizations driving the modern green wave—profiled in the infographic below—collectively have 15 million members, 2,000-plus staffers and annual budgets of more than $525 million to advance environmental agendas at the local, national and international levels.

Toxic Emission Spikes at Fracking Sites Are Rarely Monitored, Study Finds

Gas drilling facilities have sporadic emission spikes that spew toxins harmful to human health, but states rarely monitor these fleeting events.

By Lisa Song and Jim Morris

Apr 3, 2014

People in natural gas drilling areas who complain about nauseating odors, nosebleeds and other symptoms they fear could be caused by shale development usually get the same response from state regulators: monitoring data show the air quality is fine.

A new study helps explain this discrepancy. The most commonly used air monitoring techniques often underestimate public health threats because they don't catch toxic emissions that spike at various points during gas production, researchers reported Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health. The study was conducted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit based near Pittsburgh.

A health survey the group released last year found that people who live near drilling sites in Washington County, Pa., in the Marcellus Shale, reported symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, breathing difficulties and nosebleeds, all of which could be caused by pollutants known to be emitted from gas sites. Similar problems have been reported by people who live in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, the subject of a recent investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel.

Exxon to Reopen Ruptured Arkansas Pipeline, but Cause of Its Failure Remains Unknown

Exxon laid out its intentions Monday to reopen the 650-mile northern section of the Pegasus, saying the investigation into the Arkansas spill is complete.

Apr 1, 2014

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.



Climate Impacts Are Going to Hit the Developing World Hardest, IPCC Says

'Those countries who have contributed least to the manifestation of this problem are in jeopardy of being the most vulnerable to it.'

Apr 1, 2014

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.



One Year After Exxon's Arkansas Spill, 8 Crucial Questions Still Unanswered

What caused Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline to split apart while the line was running well below maximum pressure? It's still anyone's guess.

Mar 28, 2014

It's been a year since a broken oil pipeline sent an estimated 210,000 gallons of Canadian dilbit into an Arkansas neighborhood, but there's still a long list of unknowns about the spill.

The most critical mystery yet to be resolved for the public: What caused ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline to break apart March 29 while the line was running well below its maximum approved pressure?

All the public knows now is that a metallurgical report concluded that substandard pipe-making methods left tiny cracks near the lengthwise seams on the 1940s-era northern Pegasus pipe. Those micro-cracks grew and merged during service to become dangerous "hook cracks," and then something—or a combination of things—caused at least one hook crack to open up a 22-foot gash in Mayflower, Ark.   

The report didn't determine what caused long-dormant manufacturing defects to awaken and expand, and didn't say whether the way the Pegasus was being operated, or the properties of the dilbit had a role in promoting crack growth on the pipe.

The metallurgical report was completed in July. There's been no news about the cause or the pipeline's condition since. Exxon has only said that it was conducting additional tests on the line to ferret out all the factors that contributed to the failure.

Keeping Secrets Has Been Exxon's Default in Ark. Oil Spill Case

From the time Exxon's Pegasus ruptured one year ago, there have been difficulties with getting spill-related information to the public.

Mar 28, 2014

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.