TransCanada’s Keystone Backup Plan

PipelineLast week, the Senate blocked another attempt at passing the Keystone XL pipeline. The vote fell short by only one vote. The House has already approved the measure and one might expect it will pass when the Republican majority takes over in January. The president has signaled his intention to veto the measure when it comes to his desk, but is waiting for a decision from Nebraska’s governor before committing.

The plan has been opposed by most environmental groups because the tar sands oil is extremely dirty and energy-intensive to extract. It requires all the tar to be heated before it can be extracted or made to flow through a pipe. That means enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the lifecycle of extraction, transportation and combustion. Furthermore, the proposed pipeline would be routed right over the massive Ogallala aquifer, a crucial source of water for Midwestern farmers. This elevates the risk of a toxic oil leak to one of potentially devastating consequences. All this is happening at a time when oil is at its lowest price in years because we have so much of it from fracking.

Be that as it may, according to documents leaked to Greenpeace, the Canadian company TransCanada has a backup plan in case Keystone fails to get approval.

The backup plan is called Energy East, and it’s a $12 billion pipeline that will run nearly 3,000 miles to the eastern shore of New Brunswick — where, according to plans, it will convey some 1.1 million barrels a day, about a third more than Keystone. It’s also expected to emit somewhere between 36 percent and 45 percent more greenhouse gases than Keystone which, as you’ll recall, former NASA climate chief James Hansen called “game over” for the climate. According to the Pembina Institute, that would be equivalent to adding 7 million cars to the roads.

The fact that it’s more than 800 miles longer than Keystone provides even more opportunities for leaks and spills.

An interesting side note to this story is the way that PR firm Edelman, which was reportedly paid $50 million to promote the project, had put forth a plan to organize an artificial grassroots movement — something they’re apparently very good at. It just goes to show that if you have the money to spend, you have a good chance of swaying public opinion. It’s yet another way that the power of money can distort the effective practice of democracy.

Edelman was recently in the news for being conspicuously absent from a group of PR firms that pledged not to work with climate change deniers, having represented both the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the past. The company did a quick reversal, making their own pledge not to represent deniers. The pledge clearly doesn’t apply to polluters. According to the leaked document, Edelman proposed building an artificial grassroots network, a practice called astroturfing, of 35,000 people, many of whom would be the company’s own employees. They also recommended working with “supportive third parties” to pressure opponents by “distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources.”

TransCanada spokesman James Millar said that while they did create a network of allies, they did not recruit third parties.

The document further discloses the fact that most if not all of the major oil companies have, “made key investments in building permanent advocacy assets and programs to support their lobbying, outreach and policy efforts. In launching a program like this, TransCanada will be in good company with a strong road map to follow.”

It’s useful to know what goes on behind the scenes in what we like to think of as the free market of ideas.

Of course, any decision about this pipeline will be out of our hands, though that doesn’t mean we won’t be affected by it. Not only will the resulting emissions affect all of us, but this PR-driven illusion of mass support can also potentially influence the debate in Washington at a crucial juncture in the international discussion over what actions need to be taken.

Image credit: rickz: Flickr Creative Commons

RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact:

46 responses

  1. The only “TRUE AMERICANS in this Country are the American Indians. They are going to do “EVERYTHING WHITHIN THEIR POWER” to “PROTECT” their Land and their People! I only “HOPE” the rest of us, the “IMMIGRANT AMERICANS, will “JOIN THE FIGHT” with the American Indians and save our Country from the “INVADING CANUCKS, THE DIRTY TAR SANDS OIL AND THE GREEDY DO NOTHING CONGRESS, WHO DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT OUR COUNTRY’S ENVIRONMENT AND ALL LIVING THINGS, INCLUDING PEOPLE!”

    1. Uh…. Canadian tar sands oil is extracted by heating the sands with natural gas piped in from the north and through Indian lands, with the permission of said Indians.

        1. Dan, I haven’t forgotten your question. Unfortunately, I don’t recall which tribe is at issue here and I have been unsuccessful in efforts to ID the tribe. Or tribes. I based my original post on what I recalled from earlier reading on the subject, but don’t recall the source. And now I can’t seem to find info even on the natural gas itself used to heat the oil-bearing sands scraped out of the ground, let alone how the gas arrives at the tar sands and from where. And via which tribal lands.

          So I can’t support my claim. My bad, and mea culpa.

    1. Not so, nobody would truck tar sands and trucks could not meet the refinery needs. Remember this is 700,000 BBLs per day being shipped to a Kock brothers refinery to produce jet fuel for export to Venezuela. That would require 27,000 trucks hauling nothing else.

  2. The oil is going to be transported one way or another to the refineries. Why not do it the safest way possible. To me, the pipeline is safer and cleaner, than by railroad. There is already a network of pipes throughout the US, what is the harm of one more?

    1. Much like saying lets support the gun being held to our heads because we have confidence the barrel will keep the bullet on target and with Keystone or other pipe schemes it means the next generation of automatic several bullets.

    2. That opinion may be because you know little about oil pipelines, I worked laying pipelines for over 20 years. IT IS NOT IF THERE IS A SPILL BUT WHEN.
      Go visit the beaches in the gulf side of Mexico and you will be bathing in oil, this is because there are many leaks on those pipe lines, I have been there, I know what I am talking about. Just imagine hot oil and sand traveling under very high pressure in a circular motion at a tremendous speed hitting the walls of steel pipe thousands of times per minute, eventually the pipe will be sanded off and will rupture.

      1. Roger that. However, sending it to St John has its own problems. Canada has a lot cheaper electricity to do the refining, but won’t allow the leftover sand to be dumped on public land. Texas allows anything to be dumped on public lands in Texas – look at that company making a fortune spreading nuclear waste from all the US reactors on the desert land in western Texas. Cheap waste disposal reduces cost a lot because this slurry has about 20 times the waste of a normal refinery feedstock. Also, the Kock brothers refinery has a deal with Venezuela, they refine it all into jet fuel, and Venezuela buys 100% of the output. You can do that in Texas but the Canucks are likely to not let Venezuela buy it all for political reasons, plus it’s a LOT further from St. Johns to Caracas than from Port Arthur, and finally, Canadian safety standards won’t allow them to use the tankers that are allowed in Texas and Caracas.

    3. It’s really only possible via pipeline (financially). Technically, anything is possible, but it’s also got to make sense financially. Remember this is 700,000 BBLs per day being shipped to a Kock brothers refinery to produce jet fuel for export to Venezuela. That would require 27,000 trucks or about 100 trains, hauling nothing else. The cost would be so high Venezuela would just buy from Saudi.

  3. For me, this is simple. Exxon is heavily invested in this project. Mammon’s disciple, the great Warren just invested in Exxon, so this will go through. And even more telling, this Canadian corporation has gotten to use the power of Imminent Domain on American citizens! All Congressmen should be disgusted by this, but their greed allows even the rights of their own countrymen to be trampled. Lincoln was right, our destruction will come from within, and these greedy old men will take joy in watching it as they stack their coins.

    1. It’s “eminent domain,” genius, and the words are not capitalized. Eminent domain in the United States by definition means the project at issue benefits local residents, normally in the form of enhanced local services, jobs, and/or increased tax revenues.

      1. Except the pipeline in no way benefits “local people”. In this case Eminent Domain is used to enable state issued permits to be executed. That’s the other use of it, in fact the main use. Eminent domain rarely benefits the people directly affected, it mostly is used to help huge investment groups prevent the locals from stopping a major interstate project.

        1. No way? Eminent domain normally is, and I should have used this word earlier, a means for expanding infrastructure, such as roads and public facilities which are not taxed. In the case of the pipeline, its benefit is in the form of an expanded tax base, an expansion which in this case will be significant. Farmland brings in far less tax revenue per acre than an acre of farmland converted to space needed for an oil-bearing pipeline. And such taxes, for all jurisdictions all along the line, benefit local people.

  4. The Tar Sands oil is going to be brought to market, thats a given. It is already presently being transported by both rail and existing pipeline to the USA and the sky has not fallen. The controversy being stirred up by groups that have their own agendas is pure spin and is only delaying the inevitable, while costing the USA jobs. Lets just get on with it.

    1. Those jobs might be the highest capitalized in history. $12b for the eventual full time employment of less than 20 people. The 400 or so employed to lay the pipe are temporary sub-contractors, only good for a couple of years..
      The only good thing about this tube is the ROI – and that’s not guaranteed. All alternatives are catching up to hydrocarbons, even with the latest dip in crude cost.
      I don’t have anything against oil. But to just burn it is stooopid.

  5. What are the names of these American Indian’s Tribes you “TALKING ABOUT?”
    The Rosebud Sioux Tribe whose “TERRITORY” in South Dakota lies along the proposed route of the Pipeline. They don’t “WANT” the Keystone XL Pipeline to go through their Land. The American Indians even “PROTESTED” in front of the White House against the Keystone XL Pipeline.

  6. Well, Next time before you make a comment about something you should have “INFORMATION” to back what you are saying! I have been “RESEARCHING AND SIGNING” Petitions against the Keystone XL Pipeline and now this “CLONE” Pipeline they want to “SNEAK” through for over 5 years!
    I live in Venice, LA. about 50 miles SouthEast from B.P.’s Deepwater Horizon rig that “BLEW UP” killing 11 Rig Workers and “SPEWING” 4.9 Million Barrels into Gulf Of Mexico. B. P. also “DROPPED” by air 1,84 Million Gallons of Corexit 9500 a Despersant that is “ILLEGL” in UK’s water. This accident occured April 20,2010. A recent study was done and Scientist have found that there is 10 Million Gallons of Crude Oil on the Bottom of the Gulf of Mexico
    Now, I “APOLOGIZE FOR SCREAMING” but what the Coast of Louisiana, the Wildlife, and the People of Louisiana have gone through I will continue to “SCREAM” my feelings!

  7. United States has long been receives of the Canada a heavy oil.
    And the pipes of TransCanada most secure in the World.
    Into Canada is displaced the ice cap, and cold pole.
    The Canadian oil must be exhausted first.

  8. The Most persistent PR Astroturf lie lately is that it will get to market anyway. Most willing politicians simly say, I’ll Buy That, not even knowing their own language betrays their corruption. Like the commercials showing endless pipes across America it is meant to make the people think therefore the Keystone and others are just a few more. Never mind the new and dirtier brew being a toxic chemical known cancer causing one.

  9. KEYSTONE IS AN ECONOMIC FAILURE WITH oil, quality oil, not Tar Sands at about $ 75.00 per 42 gal barrel … the monster could not be remotely competitive with real Crude Oil and …. Texas gets ALL THE DANGEROUS RESIDUE from the Tar, which they truly deserve …Al in Ventura Ca.

  10. Economics and common sense plus lower crude prices killed the pipeline. The pipeline does not lower the cost of anything. Let the blue eyed Arabs in Alberta pay for it. They have sold their soul for oil. Hockey pucks one and all.

    1. He may have winked at S. Leg and may build it with his own hands like Romney for the bags of money but something in the back of his mind reminds him of democracy, the common good, his promisies, and decency. That is before the evidence of eco and genocide and before global warming.

  11. i quote “All this is happening at a time when oil is at its lowest price in years because we have so much of it from fracking. Natural gas comes from fracking not oil.

    1. In addition to natural gas, fracking also produces 7.4 million barrels of oil per day. That’s about 10% of total world oil production.It also puts the US on track to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil sometime next year.

  12. I am happy to have this intelligent discussion of the Key Stone pipe line, those who have invested in this venture will seek to interpret the law of imminent domain in their favor and force the land owners to allow it.
    On the other hand there will be civil disobedience in the part of the natives and ranchers, plus many people that will travel there to oppose it.
    Considering the danger to the aquifer and our environment, as patriots-lovers of our land we must oppose the construction of this dangerous project, it is madness.

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