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Monday, October 3, 2011

Graft, Potential Catastrophe and The XL Extension

Oct 3rd, 2011
by F. Grey Parker

Throughout this past Summer, environmentalists protested the construction of an oil pipeline. 

So what? Right?

Most major media outlets portrayed the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline extension and the controversy surrounding it in just such an innocuous manner.

The failure to communicate with our citizens the scope of the project, the lack of transparency among the decision makers involved and the actual dangers posed by this industrial scheme run amok is staggering.

For months, thousands of Americans opposed to the project pleaded with the President and Secretary of State Clinton to intervene using petitions, letters and phone calls. Hundreds more were arrested over a period of weeks in front the White House. Among those willing to face jail were respected NASA scientist James Hansen, activist Bill McKibben and Gus Speth, founder of the NRDC.

By that time, the State Department's Final Environmental Impact Statement had already been issued.

That report gave TransCanada a great, big green light. All that prevents their moving forward now is a single required procedural motion from the President. This is due in December.

Flash forward to a little over a week ago. The environmental group Friends of the Earth issued this press release. It opens:

"We have received a new round of documents from the State Department in response to our Freedom of Information Act request. These documents are deeply disturbing in that they provide definitive evidence of pro-pipeline bias and complicity at the State Department -- including one “smoking gun” email in which State Department employee Marja Verloop literally cheers “Go Paul!” for pipeline lobbyist Paul Elliott after he announces TransCanada has secured Senator Max Baucus' support for the pipeline."

The stink is bad. The Washington Post picked it up.

"In lobbying for a presidential permit to construct a massive oil pipeline stretching from Canada to the Gulf Coast, TransCanada’s Paul Elliott has tried nearly every angle.

Elliott — who served as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s national deputy campaign manager in 2008 — sought to broker multiple meetings between senior State Department officials and TransCanada executives. He offered to enlist Trans­Canada officials’ aid in helping State officials forge an international climate agreement. And he deluged administration officials with letters testifying to the virtues of the Keystone XL expansion project, which would ship crude oil from Canada’s oil sands region to American refiners."

The article pulls back a curtain and gives us a view into one of the most corrupt lobbying fixes in recent memory.

"The e-mails are almost all between Elliott and a special assistant to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s chief of staff. All three knew one another from working on Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Damon Moglen, who directs Friends of the Earth’s climate and energy project, said the e-mails also show a State Department official giving inappropriate “coaching” to TransCanada’s chief executive about how to respond to arguments against the pipeline."

As details continue to emerge, some behaviors may rise to the level of criminality. At least, they ought to. I have every faith and confidence that most of this activity is merely "un-ethical." You don't really get a good prosecution going in the Capital without a briefcase full of money being handed over on video.

There is actually a different and much larger crisis here and that is the pipeline itself. As has been the case with almost all other major media coverage of the project, the Post's article contains blatantly incorrect scientific information. There are crucial facts that every American needs to know and still does not.

First, the XL extension is not meant to carry "crude oil," as the authors state. It is meant to carry bitumen intermixed with and bonded to a muck of clay, sand and water. This is tar sand. To use the terms interchangeably is irresponsible.

To transport tar sand through a pipeline requires toxic and corrosive hydrocarbon additives, high heat and pressure at levels far more extreme than crude. This is a perfect recipe for rapid metal degradation, particularly at weld-seams.

When crude oil spills, it is disastrous. It is also comparatively manageable. When tar sand material seeps into a body of water, it immediately settles. There is no surface sheen. Booms are of no use. It gets better. In a spill,  the clay in the settled material couples with the heat to form a very nearly permanent bond with the floor. This glue, embedded with the hydrocarbons, renders the water unfit for human consumption for decades.

As I have written before, the XL extension would pass over the Northern American hemisphere's largest, shallowest and most fragile water table.

The International Business Times is one of very few outlets to report this. They describe the situation as follows:

"On one side is the state of Nebraska, which will be impacted by the pipeline, which will cross the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground water supply that is the No. 1 water source to the nation's farmland, including eight states. Nebraska has been joined by environmental groups, such as Friends of the Earth. Nebraska wants the $7 billion, 2,000-mile, 36-inch proposed pipeline that runs from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico re-routed away from the aquifer.

The Keystone XL pipeline will have a transporting capacity of 510,000 barrels per day (bpd)."

510,000 barrels per day. That's more than 28 million gallons every 24 hours. In the event of a serious rupture, in remote territory, this could wipe out 30 percent of the United States' agriculture as well as drinking water for tens of millions of Americans in a matter of days.

The damage would last for generations. It risks forcing millions of our own citizens to flee into other parts of a suddenly crippled country as internal refugees. It would mean the immediate collapse of our economy on a scale that would render both the current crisis and the Great Depression as wistful memories.

It is insane.

The Clinton State Department is now utterly compromised. Their entire review process must be discounted. The President, who only recently sent a tremendous shock wave through the environmental community with his decision to overrule the EPA's new smog regulations, has until December to sign off on the deal. He is now the only thing standing between this country and the potential for one of the worst man-made, humanitarian disasters in history.

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