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Keystone XL Pipeline: Everything You Need to Know in 23 Stories

An ICN reader on the nation's biggest energy and climate fight.

Nov 18, 2014

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is back in full force.

The U.S. House tried for the ninth time Friday to approve the project. It succeeded, though not by enough to override a presidential veto. The Senate's turn is this week.

Here are 23 stories, from an ebook to primers, that will help you navigate the polarized Keystone debate as it heats up—and all the issues on which it touches: our changing energy fortunes, global climate change, pipeline safety, activism and more.

Keystone and the U.S. Oil Boom

1.) Keystone XL: Bush's No-Brainer, Obama's Dilemma (Ebook)

"Keystone and Beyond provides the most definitive account yet of the Keystone XL pipeline saga. It also upends the national debate over the pipeline by tracing its origins to policy decisions made by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the first months of their administration, and to expectations about energy supply and demand that have turned out to be wrong."

Pipeline Alert From Federal Regulator Is First of Its Kind

Reversing oil and gas pipelines or changing the product they're carrying can have a 'significant impact' on the line's safety and integrity.

Nov 17, 2014

Reversing oil and natural gas pipelines or switching the product they're carrying can have a "significant impact" on the line's safety and integrity—and "may not be advisable" in some cases, federal regulators told pipeline companies in a recent advisory.

The alert is the first time the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has officially cautioned the industry about potential safety threats from restarting, reversing or reworking pipelines to handle Canadian tar sands oil and the surge in U.S. oil and natural gas supplies. If not handled properly, those changes can increase the risk of pipeline leaks and ruptures, the Sept. 12 notice said.

The PHMSA bulletin validates the concerns of communities and pipeline safety experts who have pressed for more details and assurances about pipeline reversals and other changes. The proliferation of those changes has also frustrated environmentalists because they have provided routes for tar sands headed to the Gulf Coast in the absence of the Keystone XL pipeline.  

PHMSA said the advisory was triggered in part by last year's oil spills involving two reversed pipelines, ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands line in Arkansas and the Tesoro Logistics line in North Dakota. Those accidents, as well as "other information PHMSA has become aware of" led the agency to issue the alert, the bulletin said. 

Worldwide Effort on Clean Energy Is What's Needed, Not a Carbon Price

OP-ED: 'Displacing fossil fuels won’t be easy. But it will be profitable once governments intervene.'

By Carl Pope

Nov 17, 2014

Carl Pope, a veteran leader of the environmental movement, is the former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club.

The joint announcement between the U.S. and China of ambitious national commitments they plan to lay on the table for the Paris climate summit in December 2015 could indeed generate  momentum and reverse the climate tragedy—but only if governments and climate advocates shift their framing of the climate challenge.

The dominant story line remains that reducing emissions will be an economic burden, because fossil fuels are cheap, and clean replacements are expensive. This was true when the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. Climate diplomacy therefore focused on who would bear the burden of a more costly low-carbon economy. Environmentalists' main climate solution was to raise the cost of fossil energy by pricing carbon—and that argument gave coal and oil interests all the ammunition they needed to block climate progress.

Poor countries argued, reasonably, that the rich had created the problem, and therefore should pay for any expensive solution. But the rich nations were unwilling to make the needed sacrifice, fearing higher energy prices would favor their economic rivals, China and India. So climate diplomacy stalled—the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 failed to reach a meaningful deal, and things were not looking much brighter for Paris next year.

The U.S.-China announcement signals a potential thaw, and has rightly been hailed.

But if you look at the numbers that Presidents Obama and Xi laid on the table, a huge problem emerges.

House Votes for Keystone Approval in Symbolic Act

The vote is hardly the last word on what remains one of the hottest fights in Washington.

Nov 14, 2014

House Republicans, joined by a few dozen Democrats, voted once again on Friday to push the Keystone XL pipeline through without presidential approval.

The action, choreographed with a vote in the Senate next week, was freighted with political symbolism but hardly the last word on what remains one of the hottest fights in Washington.

The vote was 252 to 161, with just 31 Democrats joining the practically unanimous Republicans in favor of the bill.

That means enough Democrats voted against the pipeline to uphold a presidential veto if it comes to that. It takes 146 votes in the House to uphold a veto.

The Senate is expected to vote on Nov. 18, but it is not yet clear whether the necessary 60 votes are there to send a final bill to President Obama. It takes 67 of 100 Senators to override a veto.

Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World

This is the story of seven American hikers who went on an adventure into Canada's Arctic—polar bear country—and came back with a tale of terror.

Nov 13, 2014

With shotguns slung over their backs and radios strapped to their belts, Maria Merkuratsuk and her older brother Eli hiked to a ridge and looked down at the clearing. They were perched at the edge of Nachvak Fjord on the Arctic tundra of Labrador, on the lookout for polar bears.

The view was at once familiar and new. It was the same bountiful land they remembered from their childhood, when their family of 12 spent summers there with other Inuit families, hunting, fishing and foraging during the months when the sea ice melted and allowed their fishing boats to enter the fjord. And yet, it wasn't the same...

Click here to finish reading the excerpt of the e-book Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World.

Click here to read the full story.

Climate Action Pledged by U.S and China, but What About India?

'We cannot make the same commitment [to tackling climate change], or even a similar one.'

Nov 13, 2014

This week's climate pledges from the United States and China are aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the world's two largest sources. What about No. 3?

India—the world's third-biggest producer of carbon pollution—has not announced how it plans to help limit global warming. As part of ongoing United Nations-led climate treaty negotiations, however, every nation must offer something.

One thing is already obvious: India's offer probably won't resemble what the U.S. and China just announced. As an unidentified senior Indian negotiator told the Thethirdpole.net, "We cannot make the same commitment, or even a similar one. India and China are not in the same stage of development."

The Arctic Sea Ice Meltdown in Maps

Part of a new ICN ebook, these maps based on satellite images bear witness to the man-made Arctic meltdown happening before our eyes.

By Sabrina Shankman and Paul Horn

Nov 13, 2014

One of the indisputable facts of climate change is the rapid melting of the Arctic. Since 1979, satellites have captured images that show the sea ice disappearing right before our eyes.

Every decade since 1979, between 173,000 and 196,000 square miles of ice have disappeared—a loss larger than the state of California. In the southern parts of the Arctic, it’s disappearing even faster—between 280,000 square miles (California plus Arizona) and 410,000 square miles (California, Arizona and Colorado) per decade.

U.S.-China Climate Deal: Reactions in Tweets

Twitter erupts after surprise move by U.S. and China to jointly commit to deeper carbon cuts ahead of climate treaty talks.

By InsideClimate News

Nov 13, 2014

U.S. and China, World's Biggest Carbon Polluters, Announce New Climate Goals

The U.S. makes a commitment to deepen its existing carbon-cut pledge by 2025, while China says its emissions will peak by 2030. Both target coal.

Nov 12, 2014

The United States and China announced new goals for reducing their global warming pollution in the coming decades, with the U.S. ramping up its rate of decarbonization in five to 10 years and China promising that its carbon emissions will peak in the next 15 years.

The announcements, which came at a multinational summit in Beijing Tuesday, made clear for the first time the commitments that the two biggest sources of greenhouse gases will make as part of the urgent United Nations negotiations. The talks aim to reach a comprehensive climate change treaty that could be signed in Paris at the end of 2015.

The U.S. and China produce about a third of the total annual emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. Both have set out plans to reduce emissions, especially by using less coal in the production of electricity. Their new pledges would deepen those commitments.

Finalized Behind Closed Doors, Illinois Fracking Regs Face Further Challenge

'I think in many ways the battle is about to get a lot worse,' says one environmental leader.

Nov 12, 2014

The fight against hydraulic fracturing in Illinois will go on even after a panel of lawmakers approved regulations last week that could jumpstart the controversial drilling practice in the state, environmental activists said.

The state's action is expected to accelerate development of one of the last major, largely untapped American fossil fuel reserves, the New Albany Shale. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the underground formation may hold as much as 3.79 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas and 142 million barrels of oil. Until this point, fracking in the state has been allowed, but slow to develop. The industry has reportedly been hesitant to commit to drilling without knowing the regulations they face. Meanwhile, the state Department of Natural Resources has held off approving permits until the final draft of its regulations were accepted.

Environmentalists spent nearly two years trying to shape the rules, advocating the inclusion of strict environmental and health-safety measures. But the groups—both mainstream organizations that helped developed earlier versions of the regulations and grassroots ones that fought to strengthen them—were left out of final, closed-door negotiations between the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the oil and gas industry.

Now the fracking opponents vow to carry on the fight at the local level, attack mistakes in rulemaking and watch the department's implementation of the rules closely.