Today President Barack Obama announced his decision, alongside Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.S. State Department, to nix the northern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The announcement was the culmination of a years-long nationwide grassroots and environmental group fight against the pipeline project which was set to carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of Alberta’s carbon-intensive crude across several heartland states and into Cushing, Oklahoma.
That’s because for years behind the scenes – as most media attention and activist energy has gone into fighting Keystone XL North – the Obama Administration has quietly been approving hundreds of miles-long pieces of pipeline owned by industry goliath Enbridge and other companies.
“Keystone XL Clone”
I’ve called one of these patchwork networks of pipelines the “Keystone XL Clone” in my reporting.
That pipeline system does the very same thing the rest of TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline System at-large also already does, even without the Keystone XL North piece in place. That is, it brings Alberta’s tar sands oil across the heartland of the U.S. and down to the U.S. Gulf coast.
This probably explains why Enbridge was so confident that it announced it would be spending $5 billion to build holding facilities down in the Gulf just two days before the White House’s Keystone XL decision.
“Enbridge’s Gulf Coast plan calls for three terminals stretching from Houston toward New Orleans at St. James Parish,” explained The Wall Street Journal. “Each could have crude storage tanks, ship docks, pipelines and other infrastructure to allow for both the import and export of U.S. and Canadian crude as well as processed condensate and refined products.”
TransCanada, for what it’s worth, also will have a new tar sands pipeline in place soon too that’s been lost in the celebratory shuffle. As the company announced in its investor call this week, the Houston Lateral pipeline that connects to the southern leg of Keystone XL will open for business during the second quarter of 2016.
“Today’s victory comes at a huge cost. Here in Texas and Oklahoma, we lost on KXL,” activist group Tar Sands Blockade stated over Facebook. “For almost two years now KXL has been pumping roughly 400,000 barrels per day of tar sands direct from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, bringing toxic emissions and daily insecurity to countless families across our region. Today is not a step forward, its more like slowing the rate of moving backwards.”
It’s easy to forget that Keystone XL North wasn’t only slated to be a tar sands-carrying pipeline. Indeed, 100,000 barrels of its capacity was intended to carry oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin.
Harold Hamm, 2012 Republican Party presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s energy adviser as well as the CEO and founder of Continental Resources, lobbied and eventually succeeded in getting this Bakken “on-ramp” inserted onto TransCanada’s line proposal. Last year, when Hamm saw which way the wind was blowing on the pipeline, he called Keystone XL North “irrelevant” in the big scheme of things in so far as pipelines and moving oil to market is concerned.
Insert the proposed Dakota Access pipeline owned by Energy Transfer Partners, which is owned by major Republican Party donor Kelcy Warren. That pipeline proposal, if approved, would be Keystone XL for Bakken fracked oil but on steroids, with the capacity to carry up to 750,000 barrels per day of that oil to market.
Dakota Access would connect to the Eastern Gulf Crude Access, slated to bring a combination of Bakken fracked oil and Alberta tar sands down to the Gulf.
A spokeswoman from Continental Resources told US Uncut that the company does not comment on contracts, so it is unclear whether Hamm’s company has a shipping contract signed with Energy Transfer Partners.
“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” remarked Obama at a press event announcing his nixing of the line. “Frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership and that is the biggest risk that we face.”
While a nice sentiment, the reality is that the Obama Administration has created a regulatory environment in which the building of every other pipeline besides Keystone XL North is streamlined by executive order. That executive order has paid dividends for the oil and gas industry.
“Between 2009 and 2013, more than 8,000 miles of oil transmission pipelines have been built in the past five years in the U.S.,”explained an article appearing in Canada’s National Post, utilizing new data released to the publication by the American Oil Pipelines Association (AOPL).
“By last year, the U.S. had built 12,000 miles of pipe since 2010,” AOPL spokesperson John Stoody said. “While people have been debating Keystone in the U.S. we have actually built the equivalent of 10 Keystones. And no one’s complained or said anything.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged the thousands of miles of pipes that have been constructed by Obama during his time in office during a press conference today.
Earnest also admitted he had never even heard of the Alberta Clipper pipeline, symbolic of the lack of public pressure on the White House on that particular line despite the fact the State Department secretly approved it behind closed doors.
A rush transcript of that has been provided to US Uncut.
“You do rightfully point out that there are thousands of miles of pipeline that have been built inside the United States since President Obama took office,” remarked Earnest. “In fact the southern segment of [Keystone XL] was built in the last couple of years while President Obama has been in office. So you know, the argument that we’re making here is very specific, but it is — does not mean that no more pipeline will be constructed in this country over the next 15 months.”
The Obama Administration and the White House will point to the Keystone XL North decision to bolster their diplomatic and geopolitical case as a “global leader” on tackling climate change at the forthcoming U.N. Climate Summit in Paris.
But as the pipeline track-record and an accounting of the rest of the track record clarifies, that’s far from the case.