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Oct 312013

Green Right Now Reports

A study published this week shows that men living in the industrial tar sands region of Alberta Canada appear to be at higher risk of leukemia and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Researchers looked at ten years of health records for men who lived in the counties surrounding heavily mined the oil and tar sands areas in central Alberta, and found that those who lived closest to the industrial operations were more likely to contract cancers of the blood than their counterparts living farther away from the heavily strip mined area.

Cancer rates rise in Tar Sands region

Cancer rates were higher for those living closest to the tar sands emissions (the green bar) and rose over time.

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that have been linked to various cancers were found at levels 6,000 times higher than normal in the region downwind of the tars sands zone. Air pollutants 1,3-butadiene and benzene, also were found at high levels. Benzene leels were found that were 322 times greater in the downwind region studied compared with the areas where cancer incidence was lower, according to a report in Think Progress.

The study’s scientist-authors, from the University of California Irvine and the University of Michigan, said their findings showing a correlation between air pollution and a rise in cancers demonstrates the need to reduce the toxic emissions.

“We’re seeing elevated levels of carcinogens and other gases in the same area where we’re seeing excess cancers known to be caused by these chemicals,” lead author Isobel Simpson told Think Progress. “Our main point is that it would be good to proactively lower these emissions of known carcinogens. You can study it and study it, but at some point you just have to say, ‘Let’s reduce it.’ ”

A report on the study in Treehugger noted that Port Arthur, Texas, home to many oil refineries and a similar sort of pollution already suffers from cancer rates that are 15 percent higher than normal.

See the video above for a look at oil refinery pollution in that Texas port city, the terminus for the Keystone XL pipeline which will carry millions of gallons tar sands oil daily from Alberta to Texas for delivery to the world market.

Sep 032013

Green Right Now Reports

The total tab for cleaning up Enbridge Oil’s Kalamazoo River spill is expected to be a whopping $1 billion, counting the costs of clean up and penalties for violating regulations.

All that and the cleanup isn’t even complete.

Enbridge pipe break at Kalamazoo, NTSB

The pipe break that leaked into surface water and the Kalamazoo River.

There’s still an estimated 180,000 gallons of oil believed to be oozing along the river’s bottom, with additional contaminated mud in lakes fed by the river. Enbridge expects to be dredging in those lakes until December.

Meanwhile, the pipeline operator continues to install new lines to carry Canadian crude to various points in the U.S. Midwest. An Enbridge line that will cross a swath of Indiana has worried some residents, who are asking  whether the company will provide all the safety measures necessary.

Compared with the record-shattering Deepwater Horizon/BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 workers and released around 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the Michigan spill a few months later in July 2010 was relatively small.

The Kalamazoo spill, emanating from a burst pipeline under a tributary of the river, gushed 1 million gallons of heavy crude oil into the stream and river before the pipeline was shut down, according to the EPA.

Here’s a summary of what happened from the National Transportation Safety Board, reporting two years later, in July 2012:

The oil saturated the surrounding wetlands and flowed into the Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Local residents self-evacuated from their houses, and the environment was negatively affected. Cleanup efforts continue as of the adoption date of this report, with continuing costs exceeding $767 million. About 320 people reported symptoms consistent with crude oil exposure. No fatalities were reported.

The NTSB cited the Enbridge for having an inadequate program to detect and respond to and repair leaks quickly; exposing a variety of shortcomings in its emergency systems.

But the incident also demonstrated that this type of spill, of diluted thick tar sands oil called bitumen, can be disproportionately damaging to the environment and difficult to clean up.


The Keystone XL pipeline route in green, orange and blue.

The heavy oil carried by the Enbridge line across Southwest Michigan didn’t float handily on the water’s surface where it could be skimmed or cordoned off, complicating and slowing the clean up effort.

The Enbridge mess just kept getting stickier and trickier as responding crews discovered that much of the heavy bitumen was submerged, drifting along the bottom.

Critics of tapping into Canadian tar sands say this elevated damage from spills is one reason they oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, set to bring Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas refineries in a 1,700-mile pipeline that will bisect the U.S.

Keystone XL so far lacks the presidential approval it needs (because it crosses an international border). Still, operator TransCanada received a permit to construct the Southern leg, laying pipeline across Oklahoma and East Texas.

So a portion of Keystone is already in place, despite fierce opposition from activists, coordinated by the Tar Sands Blockade, who clashed with construction crews and local law enforcement in several protest actions throughout 2012 and 2013.

The Keystone pipeline, like the Enbridge line, crosses numerous rivers and traverses land that rests over vast aquifers beneath Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. A leak of any significance could contaminate drinking water for millions, say opponents.

TransCanada has said its pipeline will be safe and presents little risk to the public.


Jun 242013
Great Plains Tar Sands -- 4 locked to excavator

Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance members locked to an earth mover.

Nine protesters from the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance were arrested this morning, after at least eight members of the group locked themselves to construction equipment and a construction trailer at the site of a pump station being built in Seminole, OK, to service the Keystone XL pipeline.

The protesters locked themselves onto the equipment about dawn, a technique that’s been used by opponents of pipeline in Texas over the past nine months to try to slow construction of the controversial pipeline and express their concerns that the tar sands extraction is too environmentally costly to continue.

Within an hour, volunteer firefighters were sent in to unlock the protesters, using various tools, such as the Jaws of Life, protesters said.

Nine were arrested for trespassing and one veteran protester may have been injured in the scuffle. He was reportedly being treated in an ambulance at the site, protesters said.

The Great Plains group and another activist organization, Tar Sands Blockade, have staged several similar actions along the pipeline route, with has been cleared for construction on the southern leg through Oklahoma and Texas, but not through the Midwest. The groups, which include landowners whose property has been accessed for the pipeline, say the tar sands project risks too much ecological damage to be allowed to continue.

The pipeline, being constructed by TransCanada, is set to run 1,700 miles from tar sands fields in Alberta across the U.S. to refineries in the Houston region. It has not yet received a permit to cross the border from Canada, a contingency that requires U.S. State Department approval.

Actions against the pipeline are necessary to try to stop the damage it could bring to Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas, “an area that has been historically sacrificed for the benefit of petroleum infrastructure and industry,” said Eric Whelan, a spokesman for Great Plains Resistance.

“In this country, over half of all pipeline spills happen in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Looking at the mainstream keystone opposition, this fact is invisible—just like the communities affected by toxic refining and toxic extraction,” he said. “We’re through with appealing to a broken political system that has consistently sacrificed human and nonhuman communities for the benefit of industry and capital.”

According to the GPTSR, the Tar Sands “megaproject” will spread or threaten pollution in many areas across North America, including:

  • In Alberta, tar sands operations are destroying pristine boreal forests, which if fully realized, will leave behind a toxic wasteland the size of Florida. After the sticky oil sands are strip mined, they are diluted (converted to a thick mix of oil sands and chemicals called bitumen) and shipped out for further refining, in Oklahoma and Texas, before being  sold on the world market.
  • In Western Canada, where First Nations communities that live nearby the tar sands mines are left with poisoned waterways.
  • In the American heartland, where tar sands spills, like the one at Mayflower, AR (under contract to Exxon not TransCanada),  could damage farmland, communities and aquifers.
  • Lands belonging to the Sioux Nation in South Dakota, which will be traversed by the intercontinental pipeline.
  • Communities like Manchester, TX, in the Houston ship channel region, where residents already suffer respiratory ailments from industrial pollution related to ship channel activities.

“Tar sands infrastructure is toxic regardless of the corporation or pipeline. For that reason we are opposed not only to the Keystone XL, but all tar sands infrastructure that threatens the land and her progeny,” said Fitzgerald Scott, in a statement. Scott, who was arrested in April at a protest along the Keystone XL easement, and locked himself to an excavator today.

Monday’s action is part of a nationwide week of coordinated “anti-extraction action” under the banner of “Fearless Summer,” according to the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance.



May 172013

Green Right Now Reports

For those of you who’ve been following the Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Houston-area refineries, you know that the Oklahoma/Texas portion of the 1,700 mile route is nearly fait accompli.

The Obama Administration approved the southern section of the controversial pipeline late last year, clearing the way for construction, even as the upper portion remains in limbo, still needing a federal permit. That segment of the pipeline, from Montana through Nebraska, was held up when Nebraskans protested the pipeline’s threat to the Ogallala Aquifer. The initial planned path of the pipeline traversed a delicate section of the Sand Hills, where the aquifer is close to the surface and would be highly vulnerable should a leak occur.

Keystone XL bulldozers clear land at Julia T Crawfords, May 15, 2013

Landmovers arrived at Crawford’s farm this week.

Those opposing the pipeline have pointed out that a pipeline installed by the same operator, TransCanada, has leaked a dozen times since it opened in 2010.

The recent spill in Mayflower, AR, of a different pipeline carrying heavy oil from the same region in Canada, has raised worries.

Keystone XL opponents say the Mayflower and other spills, such as one near Kalamazoo, MI, show that thick tar sands oil, which is mixed with chemicals to dilute it for transport, is difficult to clean up. They also contend that the corrosiveness of the diluted bitumen tar sands, known as “dilbit,” makes leaks more likely.

Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because it will pump vast amounts of fossil fuels out of the Canadian tar sands region into use around the world, raising greenhouse gases and worsening climate change.

Along the pipeline route, landowners have raised another question: Does or should a foreign company have the right to claim U.S. land for its own use?

TransCanada maintains it does have that right, because the U.S. will be a recipient of the increased oil on the market. (How much of the tar sands oil will be sold in the US, versus how much will simply pass through to lucrative foreign markets, remains a contested point. Some of the oil, according to the State Department, will be delivered to the Midwest.)

Opponents, however, question how much standing the Canadian pipeline operator has in the US, and particularly the Lone Star state, which brings us to one especially tenacious opponent, Julia Trigg Crawford, a Texas landowner who has challenged TransCanada’s right to claim her land.

Before construction of the pipeline began, TransCanada, like all the oil and gas companies that came before, had to apply for “common carrier” status in order to get clearance to operate in Texas. This was no problem, because the Texas Railroad Commission typically grants “common carrier” status requests.

Julia Trigg Crawford turned down a $20,000 offer for the Keystone XL easement, deciding instead to sue TransCanada.

Julia Trigg Crawford turned down a $20,000 offer for the Keystone XL easement, deciding instead to sue TransCanada.

This permit essentially says that an operator can claim the land they need through eminent domain (also known as condemnation) because they’re carrying fuel or electricity to be used by the public or the commons.  The product will benefit the public.

That didn’t stop several dozen Texans, reportedly around 90, from rejecting TransCanada’s initial payment offers. The company had to seize much of that land using eminent domain or condemnation procedures.

But over time, most of the rankled landowners took settlement offers instead of pursuing potentially expensive legal action. TransCanada was likely to plow ahead anyway, as it showed this past fall and winter when it pushed through several protests set up the the Tar Sands Blockade, a coalition of environmentalists and landowners that for a time featured an occupied tree village built in the pipeline’s path.

Crawford, though, went to court to try to keep the pipeline off her third-generation family farm in Northeast Texas.

She alleges that TransCanada cannot claim “common carrier” status because it is a foreign concern, set up to transport oil through Texas, but not necessarily to Texans.

And now for the kicker. The matter is still pending in 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, even as the bulldozers arrived this week to bore a path across Crawford’s family farm.

On Wednesday (May 16), she lamented the beginning of the “destruction on our place” and vowed to see the legal battle through.

We maintain, now more than ever, that they never had the right to take our land in the first place. Their claimed Common Carrier status? A rubber stamp handed out by the embattled Texas Railroad Commission. This pipeline? An interstate project, even the Railroad Commission says it is out of their jurisdiction.

Here’s her full Facebook post:

Crews from TransCanada/Michels/Universal Field Services and others I don’t recognize started arriving yesterday in preparation for the destruction on our place. Within hours of their arrival the pasture inside “their” fenced in area was shredded, road signs designating “work area” went up, hundred of timbers used to support heavy machinery were unloaded from 18 wheelers and stacked, and most gut wrenching was the “blading” of our land by a trackhoe in preparation for even more heavy equipment. Sorry for the quality, but I’ve attached a video of what I witnessed yesterday. I intend to share as much of this process with you as I can.

But just as the workers were really getting going, yesterday afternoon a monstrous wind and thunderstorm blew in, forcing all the men off their equipment, scurrying for cover in their nearby pickups. A sign perhaps?

I was told our place is the final link, the last piece of property needed to complete TransCanada’s conveniently uncoupled and renamed Gulf Coast Segment of their Keystone Project. Furthermore, they will work 7 days a week if needed to overcome any delays, weather or otherwise. All eyes are on us folks, we really are The Last Stand.

All this while our appeal is freshly delivered and active at the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texarkana. Unbelievable. TransCanada’s decision to move forward and initiate construction during our legal case just strengthens my family’s resolve to continue fighting. We maintain, now more than ever, that they never had the right to take our land in the first place. Their claimed Common Carrier status? A rubber stamp handed out by the embattled Texas Railroad Commission. This pipeline? An interstate project, even the Railroad Commission says it is out of their jurisdiction. The product to be carried? Tarsands, a product mined in Canada, and one of the most toxic and destructive products borne by Mother Earth. Just ask the residents in Kalamazoo and Mayflower what it did to their communities and waterways when it could not be contained. And sadly ask the First Nations in Alberta how is is destroying their lands and lives.

I hear the beeping of heavy equipment being moved, I guess they’re back at it already today, so I’m headed out to watch and take more photos. If you thought I was a mad and motivated landowner before, well, you’re about to see me hit a new gear. Stay tuned.

Apr 292013

From Green Right Now Reports

Two Texas residents, acting as part of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, locked themselves  to machinery today to protest construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma.

Spaulding protest of Tar sands stefan Warner photog

Protesters hold up a “Water=Life” sign as two others have chained themselves to earth-moving equipment. Authorities later removed and arrested the two men who locked themselves to the equipment.

The two, Benjamin Butler and Eamon Treadaway Danzig, said they are trying to protect the Cross Timbers bioregion from being harmed by the tar sands that will flow through the pipeline, designed to carry diluted bitumen oil from tar sands mines in Canada to refineries in Texas. Both men were arrested about 9 a.m. and were expected to be charged with trespassing.

The protest action, just outside Spaulding, OK, is one of several that have taken place in Oklahoma and Texas along the southern segment of the pipeline, which has been permitted. Northern sections of the route have yet to received federal endorsement, though that approval could be imminent, based on favorable impact studies by the State Department.

Keystone protesters say the pipeline is too risky, because its carbon emissions would accelerate climate change and its hot, thick bitumen would contaminate land and water in the event of a leak.

TransCanada, the pipeline operator, maintains that the tar sands oil is best shipped from Canada via the pipeline, and petroleum interests say that world demand for oil makes the pipeline a necessity.

Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance has staged several protest actions, as has the Tar Sands Blockade, which actively fought construction of the pipeline in Texas over the winter.

In a statement, the coalition noted that the recent oil spill in Mayflower, AR, demonstrates how pipeline accidents ruin the land, contaminate lakes and cause human sickness.

“People in Mayflower experienced fainting, nausea, and nosebleeds from the benzene gas which separates from the diluted bitumen in a spill and hovers above the ground. Leaks, ruptures, and other accidents on tar sands pipelines are so commonplace and inevitable that I can’t let this pipeline be built through the Cross Timbers,” said Eamon Treadaway, of Denton, TX.

The Great Plains group also cited a desire to protect the Muscogee Creek Nation lands.

“This pipeline is essential for continued tar sands exploitation which poses an imminent threat to the health of indigenous communities near the point of extraction, fence-line communities around the toxic refineries, and ultimately the health of every living being along the route,” said Benjamin Butler, who was born at Tinker Air force Base in Oklahoma.

“I believe in a more beautiful world, one where the profits of a corporation don’t outweigh the health of the people and the planet.”

Apr 182013

(Update: A new report by Oil Change International in collaboration with FOE and other environmental groups shows how the scope of carbon pollution from the Alberta tar sands production and use dwarfs any other single fossil fuel program, and is equivalent to the emissions from 50 coal plants. The report is called Cooking the Books: How the State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline.)

From Green Right Now Reports

Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups are urging their members to register their comments against the Keystone XL pipeline, in the waning days of a required public comment period.

Pipeline for Keystone story“It’s up to you and me to make sure the president gets the message: It’s impossible to fight climate change while simultaneously investing in one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuels on the planet,” FOE says in its appeal to members. The group reports that there are already 800,000 public comments against Keystone XL, and it hopes that there will be 1 million by the deadline of April 22 for public comment on the State Department’s “Impact Statement” on the pipeline.

FOE and many other environmental groups are fighting the pipeline because it will enable expanded tar sands oil production, exacerbating climate change through increased carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel dependence around the world.

Friends of the Earth has closely tracked the approval process for the pipeline. Two years ago, it reported that pipeline operator TransCanada had hired a lobbyist who had previously worked closely with State Department officials, and had been a key manager on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid. Those dealings cast doubts on the credibility of the State Department’s first major impact statement on Keystone XL.

After President Obama called a delay in the project in late 2011, over concerns about the pipeline’s route through the Ogallala Aquifer, the State Department undertook a second review.

FOE says that this second impact report,  released on March 1 and favorable to the pipeline, has been similarly beset by influence-peddling. On Monday, FOE filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to bring to light the special ties and lobbying that TransCanada has brought to bear in Washington D.C.. to win approval for the 1,700-mile pipeline that would stretch from tar sands mines in Alberta to Houston.

From FOE’s report on its efforts:

The FOIA request identifies more than two dozen Washington lobbyists, lawyers and consultants helping to push the pipeline who have close ties to Obama, Kerry, Clinton or other elected officials with a stake in the outcome.

Heading the list is Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director and senior advisor to the president’s re-election campaign and the former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. Dunn is now a principal with the lobbying firm SDKnickerbocker, which represents TransCanada. According to The New York Times, Dunn has met with top White House officials more than 100 times since leaving the Administration in 2009.

“Release of these records will shed more light on lobbyists’ influence on the State Department’s Keystone review, but it is already clear that State can not be trusted to manage the review process objectively,” said Damon Moglen, energy and climate director at Friends of the Earth. “Sec. Kerry has been a champion of bold action on climate change. His response to the State Department’s scandalous conduct will signal whether a new era of transparency has arrived at the department, or whether the insider clout and money of the oil industry will prevail once again.”

Oddly, the public comments being collected have not available to the public as they are in many cases when public comment is sought, which has drawn criticism from advocacy and journalism groups. InsideClimate News has reported on this closure of public access, and filed its own FOIA to open the process. Today, Bloomberg News is reporting that the State Department will open the comments to the public online.

Friends of the Earth has offices in Washington DC and in Berkeley and claims to work with 2 million activists around the work. It advocates for a cleaner, healthier work, a task that sometimes involves “speaking uncomfortable truths to power and demanding more than people think is possible.”



Apr 082013

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

As ugly pictures of the grimy, tarry aftermath of the oil spill in Arkansas continue to emerge, ExxonMobil is calling “time out” on some of the media coverage.

The oil giant says the spill has wrongly been portrayed as involving tar sands oil or diluted bitumen. In a blog entitled Five Lies They’re Telling You About the Mayflower Pipeline Spill, Exxon says that the oil was not from tar sands but conventionally drilled Canadian oil.

“. . . The crude that spilled is Wabasca heavy oil and it’s from Alberta near the area where there is oil sands [tar sands] production. It’s produced by conventional production methods – in other words by drilling a well into the ground through which the oil flows – and diluted by a light oil to help it flow through the pipeline.”
Tar Sands Mayflower AR 2 ... EPA
If that’s the case, the media spin-up over this spill has gone over the top. Many groups are citing the Mayflower, AR, spill as an example of how dangerous it is to transport tar sands oil, because it is mixed with many chemicals and will corrode pipelines. If the oil had been tar sands, then the Mayflower spill would be an example of the risks posed by this type of fuel; raising questions about the safety of the controversial Keystone XL, which is under construction in Texas but still awaiting permits for northern legs that would complete the 1,700 mile pipeline from the tar sands region of Alberta to Houston.

So was it tars sands or diluted conventional oil that spilled in Arkansas? Let’s guess that Exxon knows its oil, and that it was heavy crude or “regular” oil.

Also a check of an EPA report from the weekend of the spill, corroborates Exxon’s point, referring to the oil as “Wabasca Heavy Crude.”

This heavy oil comes from Alberta, near where tar sands oil is mined, but it’s not tar sands oil.

I’m wondering how the word got started that the spill involved tar sands. Reporters who’re asking that question say  that officials initially referred to the oil as “dilbit,” which stands for diluted bitumen. Bitumen is the tarry, thick oil  that’s literally scraped from the earth in tar sands extraction. It is then diluted with chemicals so it’s more fluid and can be transported. Hence dil-bit.

Pipeline Network Map

Existing and planned oil pipelines.

The fact that the Keystone pipeline is much on the minds of climate activists also may have hastened a rush to judgment. Someone said dilbit, and pretty soon, in the absence of anyone correcting them, the Arkansas spill was placed in the tar sands disaster column. And the error was repeated as the blogs tumbled across social media. Even on this site, we referred to the spill as involving diluted bitumen after checking normally authoritative sources. Turns out these sources didn’t really know. We regret the misinformation.

Dil-bit or not, though, the Arkansas spill still stands as an example of what can happen when oil pipelines fail near populated areas. This event was too close for human comfort. As we look at the pipelines increasingly zigzagging the nation, it seems obvious that the joules in/joules out equation is changing. Fossil fuels are costing more and more to extract and convey; taking a toll on the land and water, while simultaneously setting us up for a fall when the oil runs out.

Tar Sands  - Nutria dead - Mayflower Spill -- Tar Sands Blockade photo

An “oiled” nutria, a small swamp mammal, killed in the Mayflower spill. (Photo: Tar Sands Blockade)

We’re playing an endgame without a good B plan, even though the technology to lift us out of the mire is available today in the form of solar panels, wind turbines and smart building. (Yes, it’s pretty much that simple; with a little more technology needed to bring the transportation sector up to speed.)

Mayflower, where we discovered what an oil spill looks like when we are the life forms caught in the mess, probably won’t be the only little neighborhood to win its own Wikipedia page as collateral damage in the oil endgame.

Let’s just hope that next time it’s not the Ogallala Aquifer that gets splattered with crude.

Copyright © 2013 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Apr 022013
Anthony Swift, NRDC atty International

Anthony Swift, NRDC Attorney

On Friday afternoon, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured, spilling between 80,000 and 420,000 gallons of tar sands diluted bitumen in a suburban neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas. In 2010, a similar tar sands diluted bitumen spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River watershed demonstrated that diluted bitumen spills were significantly more challenging to clean up and damaging to the environment, particularly water bodies, than conventional crude. Moreover, tar sands diluted bitumen pipelines typically operate at significantly higher temperatures than conventional crude pipelines, increasing their risk of rupture due to external corrosion and other factors.

While details regarding the cause of the rupture and the magnitude of the spill are still coming in, the Mayflower tar sands spill is yet another demonstration of the risks that tar sands pipelines pose to the communities and sensitive water resources they cross. At about a tenth of the full capacity of the Keystone XL tar sands pipelines, the 90,000 bpd Pegasus pipeline rupture offers us a small sample of the risk that tar sands pipelines pose to American communities.

Tar sands diluted bitumen is substantially different from the conventional crude historically moved on the U.S. pipeline system. It is a combination of heavier than water bitumen tar sands and light, toxic natural gas liquids or other petrochemical diluents. Together, this mix is called diluted bitumen, a substance that is fifty to seventy times thicker than conventional crudes like West Texas Intermediate (North America’s benchmark crude) and moves at higher pipeline temperatures. High temperature pipelines have been demonstrated to be at a substantially higher risk of rupture due to external corrosion – a study of a small network of high temperature pipelines in California showed they were 23 times as likely to rupture due to external corrosion than conventional pipelines.

The Pegasus tar sands pipeline rupture adds to growing evidence that tar sands poses additional risks to our nation’s pipelines and communities. Canadian diluted bitumen tar sands was first moved on the U.S. pipeline system in the late nineties – primarily on pipelines in the northern Midwest. While U.S. regulators don’t differentiate between tar sands pipelines and conventional crude pipelines, States with pipelines that have moved the largest volumes of tar sands diluted bitumen for the longest period of time – North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan – have spilled 3.6 times as much crude per pipeline mile as the national average. And until late last year, Exxon’s 90,000 bpd Pegasus pipeline was the only pipeline to move Canadian diluted from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast.

Arkansas Exxon oil spill PROMO

A resident of the subdivision affected by the oil spill posted this backyard view.

Spill responders in Arkansas are making every effort to keep the tar sands out of nearby Lake Conway, an important drinking water source and recreational area. It is important that they do, because nearly three years after the tar sands spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, neither industry nor regulators have developed effective methods to contain tar sands spills in waterbodies. When diluted bitumen spills, the light natural gas liquid diluents evaporate, leaving the heavier that water bitumen to sink into the waterbody. Once it is under the water’s surface, conventional spill response methods are largely ineffective. After nearly three years and a billion dollars of cleanup activities in Kalamazoo, almost 40 miles of that river and a nearby lake are still contaminated.

The Mayflower tar sands spill is another warning of the potential costs of the tar sands industry’s reckless expansion plans. Nearly three years after the Kalamazoo river spill and tar sands pipeline companies are pushing ahead with major expansion plans without doing due diligence of the risks associated with tar sands diluted bitumen transport on pipelines.

(This blog first appeared on the Switchboard website of the Natural Resources Defense Council, where Anthony Swift is an attorney with the International Program, Washington, DC. )

Apr 012013

Several homeowners in a Little Rock suburb were evacuated over the weekend  after a pipeline spilled an estimated 2,000 barrels (84,000 gallons) of tar sands bitumen in their neighborhood.

The oil, which is much heavier and more corrosive than regular crude, puddled in the streets and flowed along the gutters to a drainage ditch leading to Lake Conway. But booms and emergency clean up crews were able to contain the spill from contaminating the recreational lake.

Mayflower Arkansas bitumen oil spill Easter 2013

Mayflower, AK, bitumen oil spill Easter weekend 2013, (Photo: KARK-TV)

The spill left a sticky residue and emitted a strong odor in the subdivision in Mayflower. Clean up by pipeline owner ExxonMobil is continuing; EPA officials say they’ll determine when it’s safe to allow homeowners to return.

Last week, a train derailment in Minnesota led to a similar tar sands oil spill of an estimated 26,000 gallons. Thanks to frozen ground, that spill did not threaten waterways and clean up was expected to be easier as a result.

Trains are used to transport oil because pipelines aren’t always available.

Experts worry that tar sands oil spills will become commonplace in the US as oil companies rush tar sands oil from Canada — which is heated and more corrosive than regular crude — onto existing pipelines ill-equipped to handle it. (The Natural Resources Defense Council has posted on blog on the risks from stressed pipeline infrastructure.)

The pipeline that ruptured outside of Little Rock dated to the 1940s.

Tar sands spill in Mayflower ARK, KARK-TV image

Oil spill in Mayflower, AR. (Photo: KARK-TV)

Jan 072013

From Green Right Now Reports

Tar Sands Blockade, the group that’s been fighting the progress of the Keystone XL pipeline through Texas, fanned out across the country on Monday, launching protests in corporate offices of TransCanada, the operator of the tar sands pipeline.

Keystone protest in TransCanada lobby in Houston.

Dozens of protesters gathered in Houston, congregating in the lobby of TransCanada’s Texas offices and shouting about how tar sands oils are toxic to land and the climate and use large amounts of water. They continued the demonstration outside after police escorted them from the lobby.

In the Boston are, Keystone XL opponents, locked themselves together to form an immovable human protest group at TransCanada’s offices. In Portland, Maine, and in Detroit, groups of protesters gathered at TD Bank, a financier of the transcontinental pipeline, to express their displeasure with the project, which they say causes more harm to the environment than even regular oil extraction.

Tar Sands Blockade, which has been protesting the pipeline at various points in East Texas where it’s being constructed and installed, said more than 100 blockaders protested at the TransCanada offices in Houston. They “danced, spilled black ‘tar sands’ balloons and hung neon orange hazard tape to highlight the deadly effects of TransCanada’s corporate greed on communities and ecosystems.”

Protesters included members of the blockade group, known for the occupied treehouse village it built in the path of the pipeline this past fall, as well as members of Idle No More, Earth First and other groups, according to Tar Sands spokespeople.

Keystone protest in Maine at TD Bank.

“It kicks off a new phase of Blockade organizing, targeting the corporate, political and financial infrastructure behind the Keystone XL pipeline with solidarity actions planned across the country this week, including in Austin, Detroit and New York City.”

“From the Texas backwoods to the corporate boardrooms, the fight to defend our homes from toxic tar sands will not be ignored,” said Ramsey Sprague, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson. “We’re here today to directly confront the TransCanada executives who’re continuing on with business as usual while making our communities sacrifice zones.”

The 1,700 mile pipeline is slated to carry bitumen, or diluted tar sands oil, from mines in Alberta, Canada, to refineries near Houston. The southern leg of the pipeline has been approved, though TransCanada still needs final permitting for the northern portion, which will cross the international border.

Opponents point out that tar sands oil requires fossil fuels to extract (it must be heated) as well as large volumes of water (to sluice it from the earth). Then it is mixed with chemicals to increase its fluidity so it can be transported by pipeline. It all adds up to a process that’s inefficient and takes a high toll on land, forests and the atmosphere (producing more carbon pollution because extraction is so difficult). Protesters have chanted “game over,” invoking the words of climate expert James Hansen, who has argued that tar sands extraction will push the planet into a climate shift that cannot be controlled or reversed.

Keystone protesters lock themselves together at TransCanada office outside Boston

TransCanada has argued that it has a right to pursue its business and that the oil from the tar sands region will help the U.S. by providing jobs and oil. It also has claimed that forests destroyed by tar sands mining can be restarted.

Opponents counter that the tar sands oil appears to be destined for the world market, via Houston, which would not necessarily help the U.S.. The State Department must permit the final leg of the pipeline for the project to be completed.


Nov 192012

From Green Right Now Reports

Tar Sands Blockade, a coalition of landowners and environmentalists opposed to the tar sands pipeline, reported that police have arrested 12 protesters in East Texas for trying to stop the construction of the intercontinental pipeline.

The clashes between police and protesters involved a police action that removed a protester from a tree platform in the path of the pipeline work. Authorities employed a cherry picker, a truck with an extension ladder, to remove the young woman who was staging an aerial sit-in, which has become a hallmark of the protesters. The equipment driver maneuvered into position despite being blocked by protesters on the ground, to remove tree sitter Lizzy Alvarado, a 21-year-old cinematography student at Stephen F. Austin University.

Tar Sands Blockade group has forced work stoppages along the pipeline’s construction path through Texas several times over the past two months, typically by members chaining themselves to forest-clearing equipment and also by building tree houses in the pipeline’s path. Others walked to the scene in a show of solidarity at least 30 strong, according to Tar Sands Blockade.

Today’s arrests by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s officers came after some protesters had latched onto work equipment while others formed a human chain to stop the path of the clearing equipment. Three others set up a new tree blockage at the crossing of the Angelina River by suspending themselves from pine trees with life lines attached to heavy machinery “effectively blocking the entirety of Keystone XL’s path,” the group reported.

The protesters oppose the 1,700-mile pipeline — set to run from Alberta to Houston area refineries — because it will carry oil from tar sands, a particularly destructive form of oil that is corrosive and requires the destruction of vast landscapes to expose deposits. Tar sands mining is also water and energy intensive, making it among the least efficient forms of energy. Many environmentalists say it will ratchet up carbon emissions to dangerous levels world wide.

Over the weekend, hundreds of people protested the pipeline in Washington D.C., as part of the “Do the Math” tour. Organizer Bill McKibben says the math for allowing tar sands oil doesn’t add up, because it will contribute to raising the global temperate two degrees above normal, forcing unrecoverable changes in Earth’s atmosphere, ocean levels and weather patterns.

Read more about the East Texas protests here.



Oct 312012

(Update: Wednesday p.m.: Dr. Stein has been released from Wood County Jail after being charged with Class B Misdemeanor Criminal Trespass for helping resupply the tree sitters participating in the Tar Sands Blockade.)

From Green Right Now Reports

Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president, has been arrested in Texas while helping protesters of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Stein, who was being detained at the Wood County Jail, was helping resupply members of the Tar Sands Blockade who’re encamped in the trees trying to stop the path of the pipeline through East Texas.

Before being detained by local authorities — joining dozens of protesters who’ve been arrested for civil disobedience against the pipeline project — Dr. Stein issued a statement linking Keystone XL to the climate change that’s causing havoc with the U.S. economy and environment.

“The climate is taking this election by storm, breaking the silence of the Obama and Romney campaigns that have been bought and paid for by the oil, coal and gas companies,” Dr. Stein said in a statement issued by the blockade group. “Hurricane Sandy is just a taste of what’s to come under the climate destroying policies of Romney and Obama. We must stand up now and call for climate solutions and green prosperity. The blockaders are heroes. They are on the front line of stopping even worse climate storms in the future.”

Dr. Stein, a Massachusetts resident, arrived to the protest site two hours due east of Dallas, near Winnsboro, Texas. Two other New Englanders also joined the tree sitting protest today, but at another location further south.

The two women, Pika and Lauren, have set up tree houses with ropes attached to nearby tree-clearing equipment, in a plan to bring pipeline work to a stop at their location north of Nacogdoches, Texas.

They say they’re joining the protest because they experienced the destruction of the extreme weather that scientists say is accelerating because of climate change.

“Just a year ago, Vermont was hit really hard by Hurricane Irene. I spent months helping friends and family clean out basements and rebuild houses that were completely destroyed by flooding,“ Pika said. “I have extended family in Arizona and Colorado who have been just crushed by the drought and the forest fires that have been happening in the last few years. I came here because this is one of the foremost campaigns against the most destructive resource extraction industry at the root of the climate crisis we are living in today.”

The site of the tree village, which has been in place for several weeks,  is about two hours due east of Dallas.

The protesters are trying to stop progress on the pipeline because it will carry toxic tar sands bitumen from mines in Canada. The bitumen can be refined into gasoline, but the protesters believe the environmental cost is too high. Tar sands oil is extracted by clearing land and using large volumes of water to extract the tarry oil from the sandy rock deep beneath the surface.

Climate activists say the use of tar sands creates at least twice the carbon emissions of traditional oil.

The Tar Sands Blockade is a coalition of Texas and Oklahoma landowners and climate activists who’ve been using civil disobedience to try to stop the Southern leg of what is panned to be a 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta to Houston.

Many landowners in Texas have joined the protest because they don’t want the pipeline, which they see as risky in the case of a spill, on their land.

“From the protesters defending the coast in British Columbia to the coastal residents of New England, Tar Sands Blockade stands in solidarity with communities across the continent threatened by climate change,” said Cindy Spoon, lifelong Texan and spokesperson for the Blockade.

“Texas continues to suffer from the consequences of extreme drought and record setting wildfires. Defending our homes from destructive corporations like TransCanada is the best way to guard against a future of runaway climate change. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will only exacerbate the extraordinary climate challenges we face today.”