05/02/2012 America and The Tar Sand Baby: The Pipeline that WON’T GO AWAY


This looks like one of those fables we heard when we were kids about getting stuck with something we really didn’t want to be involved with and were unable to wrest ourselves from, but sadly America’s new Tar Sands Pipeline Baby, is REAL! This is not some children’s scary fairytale or Grimm Brothers’ story (though grim it is).

Unmentioned by most of the media just a couple of weeks back was the news that the House had found a way to reintroduce and pass (with the help of Oil Slick representatives and big business interests) the Keystone Pipeline plan. This is an unbelievably bad idea that flies in the face of so much good science and economics even those few multinational corporations that will make money should have the sense to drop this for good. Of course the bill hasn’t cleared the Senate yet and faces a potential Presidential Veto if it does, it is clear that until we drive the stake of unanimous pubic option into the walls of this ill-conceived scheme, it will not die.

Following is a news recap of the House action and David’s comprehensive Keystone Pipeline article pointing out all of the basic reasons this plan is totally unacceptable.

Please keep this issue in mind. Ignoring it won’t make the pipeline go away. We need to write our Senators and Congress people, enlist the support of our friends and neighbors everywhere and make sure if all else fails the President does veto this disastrous legislation. With the bad ideas out of play we can focus on positive and proven ideas we should be investing in that will give us abundant fuel, food and jobs locally and sustainably (well yes, like appropriate scale alcohol fuel).

Keystone pipeline passes, again. By: Darren Goode,April 18, 2012

It’s the issue that simply refuses to die.

House Republicans wrote a new chapter in the long-running debate over the Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday by approving it as part of a 90-day extension of surface transportation law.

Wednesday’s 293-127 vote on the transportation extension was the fifth time the House voted on the proposed oil pipeline project in the last two years.

It was the third time House Republicans adopted the language authorizing the FERC to approve the pipeline — and there’s no indication either side will let up.

“We keep fouling them off,” said Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), lead author of the FERC plan. “We’re going to keep swinging until we finally hit it.”

Here is what David wrote about the debacle in December:

Energy Policies: They’re all about the money and the waste!

by David Blume – Executive Director - IIEA

Five years ago, I wrote in my book, “Alcohol Can Be a Gas!” that the oil companies don't want any part of renewable fuels. I also warned back then that the Oilygarchy has plans for a transition that makes crude oil look like Mr. Clean. One of my warnings was about costly and toxic tar sands being used to substitute for conventional oil as the world demand for energy outstrips our production.

By now anyone paying the least bit of attention to the news has heard about the (now stalled) plans for the Keystone Pipeline XL (extra long). The Pipeline’s lead advocate/beneficiary, TransCanada and its US dupes want to build this oil aqueduct even if it requires cutting through six states and scratching across 1661 miles to reach east Texas. We are told that is where refineries want the opportunity to turn tar and sand into gasoline. Forget the obvious hazards, concerns and costly challenges they face to “make it so”, magic tar sands are now considered “conventional” oil and can be had for a price. But let’s be honest, tar sands goo is anything but conventional oil.

What is the water impact in this process? I’m glad you asked.

Let’s look at water requirements first. Up to 4.5 barrels of fresh water are used per barrel of tar-based oil produced.  90 percent of the water used in this process is contaminated and toxic yet it winds up in slimy tailing “lakes,” where propane cannons and floating scarecrows are used to try and keep ducks and other migrating waterfowl away. Birds unfortunate enough to land on the ponds sink into the oily morass like a Canadian version of the La Brea tar pits.  

These ponds regularly leach pollution into the Athabasca River watershed, the third largest in the world.  A watershed that provides breeding habitats for up to 3 million boreal songbirds that are going to be sacrificed to enable pumping toxic and finite gasoline resources to the US for processing. Thefive active oil sand mines released around 100 million pounds of harmful pollutants in waste lakes between 2006 and 2009, according to preliminary (which translates to, “give them time, they will find more”) records in Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). 

Also endangered by this project is the US Midwest Ogallala aquifer. This water table provides 30 percent of the nation’s irrigation water for farms as well as drinking water for people in every state supported by the Ogallala and crisscrossed by the Keystone pipeline plan.  It would be tragically easy for even the smallest pipeline spill to contaminate the aquifer as some portions are very close to the surface.

How about energy used for processing? Thank you again, let’s consider that now.

10 percent of Canada’s TOTAL natural gas consumption goes to creating heat for extracting and upgrading the bitumen.  176 cubic meters of natural gas are required to liquefy, extract and purify each cubic meter  -- this is enough to heat 3 million homes a day.  Another way of looking at it is that it takes 4 barrels of natural gas energy to make one barrel of tar oil.

Keystone’s corporate daddy TransCanada has been knocking on farmers’ doors in Montana, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  “Mind if we run a pipeline under your property?  A couple thousand bucks for you if it’s okay.  If it’s not, we’ll pull eminent domain on you,” and yes they can. TransCanada has set up a corporation in Delaware to facilitate this. A lot of these states are ethanol producers but for all the talk of the ethanol lobby, it is the oil companies who rule the roost and get what they want.

Whenever Big Oil comes up with a scheme to save the U.S. from high gas prices, you know it will not only produce the opposite outcome, creating astronomically-high collateral damage and expenses as well as higher prices at the gas pumps. The truth is Big Oil could not make this tar crude if they didn’t have the US taxpayers picking up the tab for it. These are the costs our politicians will bend over backwards to ensure we don’t see. 

Before the invasion of Iraq I saw an estimate that with all the tax breaks and subsidies and funds for military protection dirty energy gets, we were actually paying $15 a gallon for gas. Of course today’s price would far outstrip this estimate as we are paying for war costs that will carry over for generations of American workers to come. This is absolutely unwarranted and I’ll get back to this thought shortly.

Tar sands impact on Green House Gases, oh yeah, let’s look at that!

The tar sands are under 50,000 plus square miles in the Canadian province of Alberta,roughly an area the size of Florida.  Most of them are under boreal forest, including 37 percent of Alberta’s Boreal Forest Natural Region. Boreal forests are the largest and most important storehouses of carbon in the world.  At risk over the next decade are 740,000 more acres of boreal forest.  While most statistics on the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) released by tar sands development refer to emissions from processing, for the most part they completely omit data on the GHGs released through the destruction of boreal forest, a “one time” massive release of carbon dioxide. Somehow they also neglect to include data on GHGs released in refining and using the petroleum product itself.  When you add the next century of loss of the forest’s ability to absorb the gas out of the air we breathe, you are looking at a massive human intervention in our planet’s climate management. 

Well you can’t have an economic omelet without breaking a few eggs eh?  Proponents throw a lot of rosy numbers around:  Keystone will bring $20 billion in revenues to the economy, $5.2 billion in property taxes to states, 20,000 high wage construction and manufacturing jobs.  Oh that we could actually realize the fantastic spell they weave in these financial forecasts, but let's take a look at how they fall short of reality.

Consider the promise of Jobs. These represent a very real and emotional issue. Our own TransCanada-friendly State Department says their numbers are fantasy. No more than 6,000 direct jobs over three years will be provided and most of them will not be local and they will primarily be temporary positions. The Cornell Global Labor Institute thinks that with rising fuel prices, numerous spills (14 times within a year of Phase 1’s completion) and the health impact, the project could kill more jobs than it creates.

With a project of this magnitude you would think that pipeline safety would be the number one concern right? Well let’s see how it actually stacks up. The state of Nebraska's reluctance to see this pipeline crisscross virgin territory has included Democrat and Republican leaders.  47 percent of the steel for the just completed phase used untested and defective steel.  Pipelines generally average more than 100 “significant” spills a year.  Additionally, diluted bitumen, which runs through Keystone pipelines, is harder to clean up than conventional oil.  Look at what happened on this year's Kalamazoo, Michigan spill of 843,000 gallons, which was 30 miles long.  It took twelve hours to get to it and high levels of benzene forced evacuations of homes and even the Kellogg’s factory had to stop making cornflakes.  

The cost of anything remotely associated with tar sands is stunning even to Big Oil. Consider that a Shell executive recently stated that Tar sands petroleum is as expensive to produce as any form of oil. For a company run by bean counters you think they would understand that growth at any cost doesn’t pencil out. However, as we saw in a recent expansion effort Shell made, that cost them $14 billion, it was only able to add 100,000 barrels per day of tar crude capacity for its efforts, literally a drop in the bucket. Our daily use of oil in the US is more than 100 times this amount. Big Oil can only make this work if oil prices are very high and if they are able to use governments to subsidize their desperate bid to extend the life of fossil fuels.

Clearly, heated tar pipelines are the most expensive to build in the world, even if you cut corners on materials. Pipelines don’t have to last forever, rather just as long as it takes to extract the cost effective resource (in the case of tar sands, no more than a couple of decades).  Even if they have the lowest bidder building it, the construction and operation of something like the recently proposed Keystone pipeline will cost a fortune. Think how much energy and atmospheric emissions it takes to keep tar liquid in a North Dakota winter even with global warming.

Who will be hardest hit?  Those who live closest to the pipeline and are least able to complain, Midwest farmers – analysts have said the amount they pay for fuel will rise from $12.4 in 2009 to $15 billion plus if the pipeline was to be built.

Like our own, the Canadian government is very generous to oil companies.  How does $2.84 billion a year (2008 numbers) in subsidies to the Oilygarchy sound to you? As a new International Energy Agency report stated in 2010, $409 billion was spent by governments worldwide subsidizing fossil fuels, up 36 percent from the year before. But wait; didn’t Senator Diane Feinstein D-CA enter into a convenient marriage with Senator Tom Coburn R-Oklahoma to eliminate the comparatively tiny subsidies for alcohol fuels (about 1%) this year?   Several studies now show that unlike black hole oil subsidies, every dollar of subsidy given to alcohol fuel generates $3 or more in tax revenues for local, state, and the federal government due to huge local economic activity.

In Alcohol Can Be A Gas!, I presented a common sense food and fuel production system that makes the most out of an acre of land. I demonstrated how this would financially outperform 2,000 acres of corn, producing alcohol and food while eliminating oil products from agriculture. Replacing oil with smaller scale domestic alcohol production will create 26 million permanent non-exportable jobs. Integrated alcohol fuel production cropping also reverses global climate change since crops suck in carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the soil in the form of carbohydrates and biomass.

If its such a good idea to use alcohol instead of tar sands why aren’t we taking the cheaper, cleaner, profitable, job creating, low tech path?  After all, if its profitable wouldn’t the corporations that sell fuel want to make alcohol?  It all has to do with who gets the money from energy.  If you are the handful of transnational oil companies with stranded refineries in sucked dry Texas you need a new source of black goo to refine.  Alcohol can be made by anyone and in particular the people who own the land the sun falls on and therefore the crops.  So it’s a choice of whether we give our energy money to domestic farmers and entrepreneurs or do we give it to the same giant corporations that have been running our energy system badly for the last 100 years?

With decentralized locally produced alcohol fuel, we can free ourselves from energy companies like TransCanada.  Actress-activist Daryl Hannah, who is running her 1979 “Kill Bill” Pontiac Trans Am on moonshine made from food processing waste feels great about not using any dirty energy.  Before she was arrested at the recent Keystone XL protests in Washington, she said, “We want to be free from the horrible death and destruction that fossil fuels cause and have a clean energy future.” 

Alcohol provides us with a democratic, decentralized energy anyone, almost anywhere can make and use. In the US alone we have 11 billion tons of annual food waste surplus and any entrepreneur worth his kale chips can make all the fuel he wants from that resource alone.  Any farmer can produce appropriate-scale alcohol fuel from more than 20 crops that are far more productive per acre than corn. 

The fuel-injected car you drive now can run on alcohol now with minor modifications and in 2012 every other car that Ford makes will intentionally run on both alcohol and gas.  Your home can be electrified, heated and cooled with alcohol now. The reason Big Oil doesn’t want you to know about the alcohol alternative to oil that’s always been here, is that it only costs about $40 a barrel.

How much $150/barrel tar sands oil are you going to want to buy when there’s a clean, low cost local fuel alternative? The answer is none! That is why it takes massive media manipulation and government intervention campaigns to condemn the land for a 1600-mile pipeline that only a Texas oilman could love while taking away the few cents that alcohol earned for providing the only competition at the pump for gasoline.

Right now the official pipeline approval is in abatement. Your Congresscritter did not even get to vote on this pipeline since it only needs a presidential approval for the Canadian company to ram it deep through the fertile farmland of our country using eminent domain.

Here’s what to do to help ensure we don’t see a Keystone pipeline Phoenix rising.

1) Tellyour state representative  (https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml) you don’t want more Canadian tar.

2) Tellthem that what we should be doing is helping our farmers reclaim energy production for the American people by supporting renewable alcohol fuel.

3) Startusing American-made alcohol fuel today! Use our website station finder (www.alcoholcanbeagas.com) to locate an alcohol station near you and add a gallon or two of super premium 105 octane alcohol (E-85) to your tank every time you fill up, (you can easily get to a point where 50% of your tank is e85 with no mechanical modification required). There’s already some alcohol in your fuel and the EPA tested and approved a 50% increase in the amount of alcohol with which you can run your car.  That will be two gallons of cash you gave to farmers instead of oily transnational corporations. 


Nothing speaks louder than our dollars. For 2012 let’s make a pact to not give them to Big Oil. Instead, let’s put that money where it can work for us. Pay yourself or pay your local alcohol fuel producer and presto, the transformation is on!

Article sources:

National Wildlife Federation - http://www.nwf.org/

TransCanada- http://www.TransCanada.com/

Jeremy  Brecher and Brendan Smith, Common Dreams- http://www.commondreams.org/tim-costello-jeremy-brecher-and-brendan-smith

Pembina Institute- http://www.pembina.org/climate

Los Angeles Times- http://www.latimes.com/

Alberta Energy Research Institute- http://www.aeri.ab.ca/sec/proj_db/proj_db_001_1.cfm

Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker- http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/bios/elizabeth_kolbert/search?contributorName=elizabeth%20kolbert?Environmental Defence- Canada - http://environmentaldefence.ca/

New York Times


The Tyee- http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2011/12/01/Reeled-In-Preview/

NBC News/Daryl Hannah


Agence France Presse- http://www.afp.com/afpcom/en/

Ellen Cantarow TomGram Dispatch- http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175376/ellen_cantarow_energy_is_ugly

NRDC and Switchboard blog - http://switchboard.nrdc.org/

Oil Change International - http://priceofoil.org/

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