Snap Fact #238
"Double, Double, Toil and Trouble" President Obama Decides What to do With a Witch’s Brew in a Cauldron of Oil
Yesterday we promised to elaborate on the withdrawal of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from the Jobs Bill. This issue has been a political, financial, and ecological troublemaker for the President. As the pot’s been stirred with lies of newts and poison'd entrails thrown in along with a chunk of Swelter'd venom boiling in the charmed pot; (My apologies to Shakespeare.) this issue was causing the President a double serving of toil and trouble. 

Suddenly, as with gas prices, Governor Romney’s Bain record, and other centerpieces of the Republican campaign, the contentious Keystone KL issue has receded from its lofty position. A major indicator of this happened last week when the Republican Congress withdrew their insistence to include the pipeline approval as amended to the Jobs Bill. What has happened here? Why have they backed off ? Read on… 

Keystone XL Background Primer: Some noteworthy info about the Keystone XL pipeline:

∙ “I’ll get us that oil from Canada,” Mitt Romney said in his victory speech after the Michigan primary. He was referring to Keystone XL, the crude-oil pipeline from Canada that has vaulted from a low priority, footnote level issue, into a top-tier campaign feature for Republicans. The Keystone XL pipeline has become just another example of Republican hype. Like the false claim that Obama is hostile to oil leasing (in truth, he has greatly expanded it) and intent on putting the industry out of business (so why the record profits?), this debate feeds dangerous myths about our energy future.

∙ WASHINGTON, June 27, 2012 (Reuters) - A massive transportation funding bill that the U.S. Congress is trying to pass by week's end will not include a Republican proposal forcing quick approval of the Canada-to-U.S. Keystone oil pipeline, a senior Democratic aide said on Wednesday.

The Keystone XL is a 36 inch diameter pipeline ("extra large") intended for transport of oil produced from tar sands in Alberta, Canada 1,959 miles to Nederland, Texas. 

Under the forest in northern Alberta, Canada lie the world’s largest deposits of so-called “tar sands,” sand mixed with thick, tar-like oil (a/k/a Bitumen). This is what it looks like:
This gooey stuff will become the gas in your tank

To produce one barrel of heavy crude oil from tar sands requires strip mining the forest, extracting four tons of earth, contaminating two to four barrels of fresh water, burning large amounts of natural gas, and creating vast holding ponds of toxic sludge. Production of this oil is increasing and since 2010 is being shipped to the US via the Keystone I pipeline (a smaller 30" diameter). 

The 2150 mile long pipeline carries the same tar-like crude oil from Alberta, Canada's tar sands to refineries, storage tanks, and distribution facilities in Patoka, Illinois, and Cushing, Oklahoma. The bitumen is so thick, that it has to first be diluted with very toxic solvents (hence the process is called "dil-bit" for short) before pumping it, under very high pressure, into the Keystone I pipeline. 

The pipeline capacity is nearly 600,000 barrels/day. The safety record, over two operational years, has been dismal. TransCanada predicted that the Keystone pipeline would see one spill in 7 years. In fact, there have been 12 spills in 1 year. The company was ordered to dig up 10 sections of pipe after government-ordered tests indicated that defective steel may have been used. Keystone XL plans to use steel from the same Indian manufacturer.

The exact composition of the chemicals that are added to dilute the bitumen, collectively called diluents, is considered a trade secret. The diluents vary depending on the particular type of dilbit being produced. The mixture often includes benzene, a known human carcinogen.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would travel 1,800 miles from Alberta, Canada, all the way down to the Gulf Coast. The controversy over its impact — environmentally, politically and economically — makes it a prime election issue.

Canada has the potential to produce more than six times the amount of oil it now makes. Because the existing pipeline ends in Oklahoma, however, Canada can't deliver the oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast and, from there, to the lucrative global oil market. The Keystone XL was supposed to help resolve that issue.

When TransCanada proposed running the XL pipeline through the Sandhills of Nebraska, a delicate ecosystem, it hit a snag. All pipelines — even the most advanced like TransCanada's — eventually leak, and a few years ago, cattle ranchers said they were concerned the new pipeline would destroy the Ogallala aquifer. The Ogallala is one of the largest aquifers in America, and a primary water source for farmers and ranchers in seven states who raise cattle, wheat and corn.
Here’s the update:
On April 3rd 2012, and after much research, The Rational Majority issued Snap-Fact #150, which addressed the Keystone XL Pipeline. It addressed the many problems associated with the pipeline, including,
∙ Delivery of highly pressurized Dilbit (Bitumen + toxic diluting mix) through the pipeline.
∙ Pipeline failure- breakage, leakage; toxic spills; land pollution; aquifer pollution; air pollution; watershed and sanctuary destruction; defective material.
∙ Past pipeline spills that show accidents do happen, which seriously impact water quality, wildlife, greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystems, and neighboring communities. Trans Canada's 2010 projection that the Keystone I would have a manageable spill rate of 1 per 7 years, was wrong. In one year alone, they experienced 12 spills. 
∙ We saw how much these issues influence the final decision of approval or rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project, and how much of it is just plain politics.
∙ After all the arguments are made on both sides of the issue, the bottom line that emerges is that the Keystone XL pipeline benefits the oil companies, not the American people. The pipeline brings the tar sands dilbit directly to non-American owned refineries at Gulf of Mexico ports where it is refined for export, within a Foreign Trade Zone, giving them special tax breaks for shipping gasoline and diesel out of our country. We just own the pipeline transport risk.
∙ That the profits go to international "Big Oil" players, and political pals as the product goes anywhere but American gas tanks.

Thankfully, presidential permits are required for the construction, connection, operation, and maintenance of certain facilities at the borders of the United States with Canada and Mexico. In January of 2012, President Obama denied this key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. He said the decision was not based on the merits of the project, but on a GOP-backed demand for a rushed permit approval before completion of an important environmental study. Previously, the Republican leadership threatened to filibuster a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, backed by the President, unless he approved the pipeline permit. They backed off on that threat due to public pressure.
In the passing months since early April 2012, much has happened to "dethrone" Keystone XL and other Republican issues from the top tier of campaign issues. 

1. President Obama has held firm on his decision to complete the Keystone XL safety studies.

2. There were three major Dilbit spills, just in just the month of June! They all took place in Alberta. 

3. Dilbit, unlike normal crude, is not buoyant. A Dilbit leak in a river or lake can do much dirty damage before being detected.

4. According to the US Department of Environmental Protection, the greenhouse gas emissions from Canadian oil sands crude oil will be more than 80% greater than oil refined in the US. Independent estimates run up to three times more global warming pollution than conventional oil.

5. The Pipeline infallibility myth has lost credibility.

6. Congress finally passed the Presidents Jobs Bill largely because of $105 billion in transportation spending over the next 27 months that would create or save about 3 million jobs, a key issue in the Nov. 6 congressional and presidential elections.

7. The Presidents "balanced" energy policy is working. Lower gas prices have silenced the Republican untrue and unethical anti-Obama blame game while gasoline prices drop dramatically.

8. Global warming, despite the claims of a political faction that it is a myth, is more apparent as evidenced by an ever-increasing number of extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and heat waves, and consequences like forest fires and species extinction. Each year brings record breaking global conditions. Scientists calculate that the safe level for carbon in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million. But we are already significantly over that level — which is why we are already facing devastating climate change. Only by drastically limiting our carbon emissions can we limit still greater devastation.

9. Republicans have been forced to abandon some of their obstructionist positions.

Conclusion:
This is an interim report. As of this writing there is no conclusion to this story. The President is still gathering relevant information so he can make his usual informed and intelligent final decision. 

In the meantime, we can rest assured that in the end, if the pipeline is approved, it will be done in a responsible manner that takes all the factors into consideration and is done in the best possible manner – just like the assassination of Bin Laden was executed; just like the war against terrorism is being conducted; just like the auto industry was saved. 

These and so many more good decisions have given those who examine the facts, the confidence that the president has the experience, intelligence, humanity, and common sense to lead this country over the next 4 years.