Such A Deal: New Pipelines for Tar Sands Oil Bad for the Environment And Will Raise Gas Prices

Sep 4, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Anyone who follows CLF’s work knows about plans being pushed to move oil derived from tar sands in Canada through pipelines that would cut across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.  The purpose of the these pipelines is simple and clear: to allow this oil to reach the sea and foreign markets that can only be reached by oil tanker.

It is easy to understand why the Canadian oil industry, and the multi-national petroleum companies with big Canadian investments, want to move the oil extracted from the Tar Sands of Western Canada out to the larger world markets: doing so will mean they make A LOT of money.  The Canadian petroleum industry has explained this for us all very helpfully in an ad found on page 2 of the June-July 2013 issue of the Canadian Public Policy and Politics magazine with the zippy name of “Policy” that we reprint here.

The ad confirms the tar-sands-oilpurpose of the wave of pipeline building being pushed by the Canadian petroleum industry (and ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, the owners of leading Canadian companies like Imperial Oil/Esso and Flint Hills Resources): to raise the price of Canadian oil up to the levels found on many global markets.  As the ad shows, using little prices tags, the price of oil in the North American market hovers around $85 a barrel at times when the same barrel of oil sells for $110 elsewhere in the world. If the producers, refiners and sellers of that oil have access to world markets they can demand that North American customers pay them the higher price if they want to buy this oil.  This reality is especially stark when you look at the fact that oil refining companies with operations in the United States just don’t care if these pipelines get built – they are fully occupied with oil extracted right here at home.  It is just Canadian companies (and the multi-national companies like ExxonMobil and Koch who own Canadian operations) who profit from the push for these pipelines.

So we know who wins if new pipelines carry Canadian oil to reach global markets: the petroleum companies who reap the higher prices found beyond the United States and Canada. But who loses?

The answer to that requires us to think both about the short-term in which we all live our day-to-day lives and the longer-term world in which future generations will have to live.

When we think about immediate and short-term concerns for our families and businesses it doesn’t get any more real than gasoline prices.

Supporters of building pipelines to move Canadian oil to market generally and the highest profile project, the Keystone XL pipeline that would move oil through the middle of the United States from Canada to the Gulf Coast, invoke gas prices as a reason for taking that step, at least implying that the new pipelines will drive down gas prices.

However,  it is well documented in a number of reports and studies that Midwestern drivers would see gasoline prices rise on the order of 42 cents a gallon if that pipeline is built. And this is not surprising – if the oil used to make gasoline is being sold (and bought) at higher prices then gasoline prices will rise.

So in the short term – the losers in this equation? Anyone who buys gasoline or relies upon goods or services that rely on gasoline or diesel fuel that are transported by car, truck, ship or airplane – in short all of us.

And that doesn’t even get into the critical longer term issue: that tapping into the tar sands oil, bringing them to market and burning them would be a large step towards the devastating climate disaster that is unfolding around us and that we need to stop.

There are those who disagree with this assessment. Some politicians argue that tar sands oil from Canada is needed to free ourselves from dependence on oil imported from volatile (and often hostile) nations overseas.  They suggest that these pipelines will simply bring it that oil to markets we, here in the U.S., draw upon, oddly ignoring the stated purpose of the pipelines to bring the oil to higher-priced offshore markets.

And there are thoughtful and detailed analyses that disagree with the climate argument about this oil.  This analysis argues that if the tar sands oil is not brought to market that it will simply be replaced by slightly-easier-to-access Venezuelan oil with a very similar carbon footprint.

That climate impact analysis, and the political argument for building pipelines to tap into tar sands oil, however ignore one important, essential and difficult option: use less oil instead. The advent of electric vehicles, smarter urban development and increases in transit use all converge to show us a way forward and off of oil. The increase in fuel economy standards, a process that is well underway, is a step on that path.

Getting off oil will not be easy.  As the social critic, songwriter and bicycle enthusiast David Byrne has noted, “From the age of the Dinosaurs, cars have run on gasoline.”  Changing something so fundamental will be hard but it is what we need to do; that is what in all of our interests, not laying new pipelines to bring ancient oil derived from the cracking and boiling of tar sands to foreign markets where it will be burned and released into the atmosphere.



CLF Scoop’s Top 10 Blog Posts of 2011

Dec 30, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

It’s been a great year for CLF — and a great year on CLF Scoop. We’ve had lots of great posts by our advocates, staff and volunteers. See below for the most read 10 blog posts published in 2011.

1. Northern Pass: The 5 million ton elephant in Massachusetts’s climate plan 
By Christophe Courchesne

“The Northern Pass transmission project is being pitched by its developers as a clean energy proposal for New Hampshire. As I’ve pointed out before, Northern Pass is aregional proposal with dubious benefits in the Granite State. Unfortunately, the developers’ hollow promises have found an audience further south, in Massachusetts.”

2. RGGI results good for our climate, economy and consumers 
By N. Jonathan Peress

“If you listen to the word on street, or read the headlines, you’ll have heard that our times are hard times. Joblessness remains stubbornly high, markets remain volatile and credit is tight. Most people agree that what we need is a program to creates jobs, generates money, and reinvests each of those in our communities to make them stable, healthier and happier.”

3. My NY Times letter to editor 
By John Kassel 

“It would be hard to find “a tougher moment over the last 40 years to be a leader in the American environmental movement” only if your sole focus is the national debate. All the rest of us — at the local, state and regional levels — have known for years what the nationals are only now realizing: we’ve got to engage people closer to where they live.”

4. Countdown to Shark Week 2012
by Robin Just

“I really do love our New England sharks. But I also love to surf. And as the water temperature at my favorite break is going down, the great whites are heading south. One less thing to worry about as I struggle with frigid water, thick head-to-toe neoprene, and my own personal resolve to surf all year long.”

5. We Can Get There From Here: Maine Energy Efficiency Ballot Initiative 
by Sean Mahoney 

“Maine has a new motto: We can get there from here… As Washington has failed to advance clean energy legislation, and Governor LePage has expressed open hostility to the state’s renewable portfolio standards (RPS), I am reminded of that famous quip from Bert and I: “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah.” For Mainers concerned about Maine’s dependence on expensive, dirty fuels, and sincere in their interest in building a sustainable economy for the years to come, this quip has become a frustrating reality – a reality we can change, with your help.”

6. Love That Dirty Water: Massachusetts Lacks Money, Needs Clean Water 
By HHarnett 

“Massachusetts lacks money and needs clean water. This bind – one in which the state found itself following a June report – has forced a discussion policies that are raising the hackles of Massachusetts residents.”

7. Would Northern Pass Swamp the Regional Market for Renewable Projects? 
By Christophe Courchesne

“With the Northern Pass project on the table, as well as other looming projects andinitiatives to increase New England’s imports of Canadian hydroelectric power, the region’s energy future is coming to a crossroads. The choice to rely on new imports will have consequences that endure for decades, so it’s critical the region use the best possible data and analysis to weigh the public costs and benefits of going down this road. To date, there have been almost no objective, professional assessments of the ramifications.”

8. CLF Negotiates Cool Solution to Get Kendall Power Plant Out of Hot Water (And To Get Hot Water Out of Kendall Power Plant)
By Peter Shelley 

“Today marks a new milestone for CLF in our efforts to clean up the lower Charles River. Concluding a five-year negotiation, involving CLF and the other key stakeholders, the EPA issued a new water quality permit for the Kendall (formerly Mirant Kendall) Power Plant, a natural gas cogeneration facility owned by GenOn Energy. The plant is located on the Cambridge side of the Longfellow Bridge.”

9. What the Keystone XL decision should mean for Northern Pass
By Christophe Courchesne 

“Last week, a major disaster for our climate and our nation’s clean energy future was averted – at least for now – when the Obama administrationannounced that it won’t consider approving the Keystone XL pipeline’s border crossing permit before it reconsiders the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts and the potential alternatives to the proposal on the table.  For all the reasons that my colleague Melissa Hoffer articulated in her post last week, the Keystone XL victory was a resounding, if limited, triumph with important lessons for environmental and climate advocates across the country as we confront, one battle at a time, the seemingly overwhelming challenge of solving the climate crisis.”

10. When it comes to river restoration, haste makes waste
by Anthony Iarrapino

“In their rush to exploit recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Irene, ideologues who perpetually fight against regulation and science and who posture as the defenders of traditional “Yankee” values are forgetting two important rock-ribbed principles.”

What the Keystone XL decision should mean for Northern Pass

Nov 17, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Protesters against Keystone XL - November 6, 2011 (photo credit: flickr/tarsandsaction)

Last week, a major disaster for our climate and our nation’s clean energy future was averted – at least for now – when the Obama administration announced that it won’t consider approving the Keystone XL pipeline’s border crossing permit before it reconsiders the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts and the potential alternatives to the proposal on the table.  For all the reasons that my colleague Melissa Hoffer articulated in her post last week, the Keystone XL victory was a resounding, if limited, triumph with important lessons for environmental and climate advocates across the country as we confront, one battle at a time, the seemingly overwhelming challenge of solving the climate crisis.

The Keystone XL decision also hits home in another way. It sends an unmistakable signal that the federal government’s review process for New England’s own international energy proposal – the Northern Pass transmission project – needs the same type of new direction.

The parallels between the State Department’s Keystone XL environmental review and the mishandled first year of the U.S. Department of Energy’s review of Northern Pass are striking. In both cases, we saw:

  • Troubling, improperly close relationships between the developer and the supposedly independent contractors conducting the environmental review, with unfair and inappropriate developer influence on the review’s trajectory, undermining the public legitimacy of the review process;
  • An extraordinary grassroots uprising against the proposal from diverse groups of residents, landowners, communities, businesses, and conservation and environmental groups;
  • Massively expensive lobbying and public relations campaigns by proponents designed to confuse and mislead lawmakers and the public
  • Repeated failures by permitting agencies to ensure fair, open, and truly comprehensive review of the full range of impacts, including climate impacts, and the reasonable alternatives for meeting our energy needs in other, less environmentally damaging ways.

With all the legal, procedural, and substantive deficiencies our national advocate colleagues have been pointing out for years, the Keystone XL review (before last week) is a dramatic example of what we can’t allow to happen with Northern Pass. Right now, things don’t look good – it appears that the Department of Energy is engaging in an “applicant-driven,” narrow review of a few potential project routes, not the broad, searching analysis CLF and many others have demanded again and again (and again).  Last week’s decision to conduct a wide-ranging new review of Keystone XL shows that there is still the opportunity (and now a clear precedent) for the Department of Energy to bring the same spirit of renewed scrutiny and public responsiveness to its review of Northern Pass.

New Hampshire and New England deserve an impartial, comprehensive, and rigorous review of the Northern Pass project – and all reasonable alternatives – by the permitting agencies entrusted with protecting the public interest. Indeed, what we need now is a serious regional plan that addresses whether and how best to import more Canadian hydropower into New England and the northeastern U.S. With huge projects like Keystone XL and Northern Pass on the table, our nation’s energy future is at stake, and it has never been more important – for our communities, economy, natural environment, and climate – to get it right.

For more information about Northern Pass, sign-up for our monthly newsletter Northern Pass Wire, visit CLF’s Northern Pass Information Center (, and take a look at our prior Northern Pass posts on CLF Scoop.

Yes, We can Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline!

Nov 11, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

CLF's Melissa Hoffer at the No XL Rally Washington DC

And we did—at least for now.

The Keystone XL pipeline, proposed to be constructed by TransCanada, would bring 900,000 barrels per day of toxic tar sands oil 1,702 miles across six states and through the Ogallala Aquifer—which supports $20 billion in food and fiber production in the U.S. annually—from Alberta, Canada to Texas refineries.

On Thursday, the State Department announced that it would be delaying its decision on whether to grant a key permit that would allow the Keystone XL pipeline project to proceed, stating that alternative routes that would avoid the Sand Hills in Nebraska must be studied in order to move forward with a National Interest Determination for the Presidential Permit.  The State Department also announced that it will be examining “environmental concerns (including climate change), energy security, economic impacts, and foreign policy.”  Nested in that parenthetical is a big victory for all of us who have been urging the federal government to review the project’s potential to contribute substantially to global warming pollution.

President Obama issued a statement supporting the decision noting that the permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment.  Today’s decision will push back completion of the additional environmental review process until at least early 2013. Following the announcement, spokesperson, Bill McKibben, declared, “It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end…A done deal has come spectacularly undone.”  Spectacularly undone, indeed.

The movement that has built up around Keystone holds lessons for climate and environmental advocates.  This is not the environmentalism of the 70s.  Last Sunday, I traveled with a group of friends to Washington DC where I joined thousands of other Americans to form a human circle around the White House and ask President Obama to deny the Keystone XL pipeline permit.  The event was organized by, and at the pre- and post-circle rallies, we heard from Roger Toussaint, international vice president of the Transport Workers Union, who reminded us that this is not a labor versus environment issue.  Tom Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, asked us to take heart in the fact that all races and men and women alike were joining together to fight this battle.  Naomi Klein (see her recent article Capitalism vs. the Climate) passionately relayed how hard people are working in Canada to stop the pipeline and its destruction of indigenous lands, and promised that if we work together and stop it here, our Canadian compatriots would stop it there; her thoughts were echoed by her countrywoman, Maude Barlow.  NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, who has for decades urged action to control greenhouse gas emissions, again called for action to reduce dangerously high levels of global warming pollution before it is too late.

Physicians for Social Responsibility warned that the human health impacts we already are experiencing from climate change are significant and growing—the World Health Organization estimates that there are 160,000 additional deaths annually around the world attributable to climate change.  John Bolenbaugh, a union worker who has blown the whistle on the failed Enbridge Energy oil spill “cleanup” in Michigan, cautioned that we should not believe TransCanada’s assurances of safety, pointing out the nation’s dismal record on pipeline spills.  (Enbridge, by the way, is proposing to construct the Trailbreaker pipeline that would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to Portland, Maine via Montreal.)

Farmers in the region where Keystone is proposed to be constructed called on us to help them protect their land and the Ogallala Aquifer through which the pipeline will run, placing this precious water source at great risk of irreversible contamination.  Cherri Foytlin of the Gulf Coast spoke movingly about just how wrongly things can go—she reported that dead wildlife, including fish, dolphins, and birds, continue to wash ashore there on a daily basis, coated with oil from the BP spill, and that fresh, wet oil is washed in on the waves, while people continue to get sick from exposure to the oil and chemicals used to control it.  “Our divers who dove into the spill, “she said, “are on their deathbeds.”  Representatives of the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and NRDC founder John Adams, each spoke about Keystone’s impact on the environment, and the potential for climate change to bring about the next, and sixth greatest, extinction event in the planet’s history.

The scale of the climate emergency is paralyzing for many.  Now, we can actually see what climate change looks like, in the form of record-breaking Spring floods in 2010 throughout New England, a tornado that killed four people this spring in Western Massachusetts, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irene (especially in Connecticut, Vermont, and Western Massachusetts), and just days ago, a record breaking late October snowstorm that left millions without power (again) as heavy wet snow snapped tree trunks and limbs, many still bearing green leaves.  These weather patterns, as msnbc recently reported, are consistent with the predicted trends for our region as the climate warms, and extreme weather is already costing us billions in response costs.  Everywhere people are talking about these unprecedented weather events, yet many still do not understand or acknowledge that climate change is the cause.  For those who do, the realization is accompanied by a bewildering sense of both the urgency and enormity of the problem, for every aspect of our modern, energy-dependent lifestyles contributes to planet-warming pollution.

But like most very difficult problems, we will solve this one step at a time, and killing Keystone is a very good step, since it will make it that much harder for TransCanada to tap and sell one of the largest remaining oil reserves in the world.  Keystone XL is the poster child for what we should not be doing.  Transportation sector emissions, for example, constitute about a third of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and in New England, that sector is the fastest growing source of GHG.  We need to be moving away from high carbon fuels, like tar sands, to low carbon fuels.  Because it is such a dirty fuel source, according to NRDC, replacing three million barrels per day of conventional oil with tar sands oil would be equivalent to adding more than 22 million passenger cars to our roads. The environmental impact statement for Keystone (which did not adequately account for lifecycle GHG pollution) estimated that the project would emit in the range of 12-23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually—on par with the emissions from two to four coal fired power plants, according to Quite simply, that is obscene.

The Keystone movement is a model of what we will need to do if we are to succeed in the fight to take back our environment and restore the climate.  We will need to work together, across political lines, across the borders real or imagined that often separate us, finding and holding that common thread that weaves us together:  our knowledge that we are in the fight of our lives and our commitment to win it, whatever it takes.  Climate change is not in the national interest.