Energy Superpower Ambitions of US and Canada
Carol Linnitt of DeSmog Canada and Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog discusses oil spills, pipelines and train bombs associated with transporting oil between Canada and the Untied States
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Last week, President Obama took a jab at the Republicans by vetoing the acceleration of the Keystone XL pipeline bill. While that has been getting a lot of media attention, other pipelines are being approved without much oversight or deliberation. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s records show that at least 73 pipeline-related accidents took place in 2014, 87 percent of an increase over 2009. Now, the figure for 2014 might actually be much higher, as companies are lagging in their reporting, says the department.
But even without pipelines, oil transportation is causing much havoc in our environment. Bitumen oil, which is also continuing to be transported by rail in large quantities, as it turns out, this is highly explosive and has caused accidents that resulted in the explosion, for example, in West Virginia, in what local media called the train bomb incident, which dumped a bunch of oil into the Kahnawa River on February 16.
We should also note that Bakken oil from North Dakota was also being carried by train tankers that exploded in Lac-Mégantic disaster that killed 47 people.
To discuss all of these issues and more, we’re joined by two guests.
From Victoria, British Columbia, is Carol Linnitt. Carol is managing editor and director of research for DeSmog Canada and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Victoria.
Joining us from Madison, Wisconsin, is Steve Horn. Steve is a research fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist whose work has featured in The Guardian, The Nation, and Truthout.
Thank you so much for joining us.
STEVE HORN, RESEARCH FELLOW, DESMOGBLOG: Thanks for having me.
CAROL LINNITT, DESMOG CANADA MANAGING EDITOR: Thank you.
PERIES: So, Carol, let me get begin with you. What are the energy initiatives going on by way of pipelines to begin with that we should be seriously concerned about, given all these disasters?
LINNITT: Well, up in Canada we have quite a number of currently proposed pipeline projects. One in particular has been approved. That’s the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline that will carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the West coast of British Columbia. A second pipeline is the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline. That pipeline has already been built, but the company, Kinder Morgan, is applying to twin the pipeline, and nearly tripling its capacity. So those are two pipelines that are heading to the West Coast of Canada.
Heading to the east is a massive proposed project by TransCanada, also the proponent of the Keystone XL Pipeline. This pipeline is called Energy East. It would carry an estimated 1.1 million barrels a day of oil from Alberta and the oil sands, also Saskatchewan, to refineries and export terminal facilities off the east coast of Canada.
There is news, you know, sort of rumored early news, of another proposed pipeline. It’s called either the Mackenzie Valley Oil Pipeline–others are calling it the Arctic Gateway Pipeline–that actually travels from the Alberta oil sands north all the way north to Tuktoyaktuk. And this is obviously a climate change opportunist pipeline, the Northwest passage being open now with sea ice melting so early in the summer. So that’s another potential pipeline that’s on the project. So we’ve got one heading in pretty much every direction. Of course, south is the northern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
PERIES: So, why are all these pipelines necessary, Carol? Now, there are other means of transportation, like rail, and also it’s not like Canada’s without ports. They could be shipping it out directly from Canada. Why are the pipelines necessary?
LINNITT: Well, that’s a good question. Canada has a mandate right now given to the nation from our prime minister, Stephen Harper, to increase energy exports. He wants to make the country into an energy superpower. And in order to do that, Canada is really hoping to capitalize on the need for fuel and Asian markets. So the Northern Gateway pipeline, for example, was to be a gateway to these Asian markets. And there’s this complaint of a sort of bottleneck. There’s a lack of export facilities and things like pipelines to carry crude from the oil sands, which has been increasing. Like, the production in the Alberta oil sands has been increasing steadily for a number of years. So they’re looking for new export routes.
The argument for pipelines is that they are safer than what you’ve mentioned, these tanker trains, which, of course, are really hazardous and quite dangerous for carrying oil. No one prefers these tanker trains. But at the same time, all across Canada, communities are really fighting back sort of aggressively against pipelines in their communities, which, of course, come with their own set of concerns, everything from oil spills, of course, to climate impacts. Do communities want to have pipelines that carry these risks running through their towns and over their waterways when, of course, Canada should be scaling back its production of oil if we are to get serious about meeting our own climate agreements?
PERIES: Alright. Steve. And why are the environmental movements focusing so much on the Keystone XL Pipeline? I understand that the Republicans in senate are having a vote this week, on Thursday, on the Keystone XL Pipeline once again. So, first, what will that allow to happen in terms of that bill? What is that about? And second, why so much of a focus on the Keystone XL Pipeline?
HORN: Well, the vote on Thursday, I think, is a vote on cloture. It’s another procedural thing in the Senate and about the terms of debate on the floor.
In terms of the final decision, it still comes down to President Obama and his State Department and what they’re going to do about this pipeline. In he press conference, after President Obama vetoed the bill, his spokesman, Josh Earnest, said he was against–that the administration was against what the Republican Party wanted to do and Senate bill wanted, based on procedural grounds, but they didn’t take a position on what they’re going to do about the northern leg of Keystone XL.
That said, when we talk about procedural grounds, we have to acknowledge–and of course the spokesperson for President Obama is not going to acknowledge this, but we can do this on The Real News Network. The procedural grounds were violated many times by this administration for several pipelines carrying diluted bitumen or tar sands extracted from Alberta, including the southern leg of Keystone XL, which was just basically handed an Executive Order in March, 2012, including the Enbridge Flanagan South, including a recent pipeline called Enbridge Line 78 that runs from North-Central Illinois to the BP Whiting Refinery in Indiana. And the list goes on, including one that crosses the border that would normally go through this procedure that’s owned by Enbridge, called Line 67 or the Alberta Clipper. It was already approved by President Obama in August 2009 through the normal procedure that it has a presidential permit [incompr.] and State Department approval.
What Enbridge is looking for now is to triple the capacity of that pipeline, basically, from about 400,000 barrels to about 2.2 million barrels a day. It would carry tar sands across the state from Superior [incompr.] across the border to Superior, Wisconsin, to connect to something called Line 61, which is also being debated here in Wisconsin, especially in Dane County. This is the last holdout for this Line 61.
Long story short is that they’ve also usurped the process there. If you look at recent court documents [incompr.] just unearthed last week in a case the Sierra Club filed. The State Department was basically openly and brazenly usurping the process that President Obama and Josh Earnest cited, that is, not going through any public hearings, not going through any public meetings, and behind closed doors sending emails back and forth with Enbridge’s corporate counsel, just giving them backdoor entry to do what they wanted to do, which is triple the capacity of the pipeline, but without having to go through any of the Democratic process. So the thing, the stuff that Josh Earnest said at that press conference basically rings hollow when it comes to many of the actions that the Obama administration has taken on several other pipeline projects that collectively bring tar sands down to the Gulf Coast.
PERIES: Now, I know both of you are quite involved in the fightback, Carol, you in Canada, and Steve, you in the United States. And why are there so little opportunities to be heard and to have discussions with the communities that are affected by these pipelines? And from what I understand, with the oil prices the way they are, stranded assets continue to be an issue that is being brought to the attention of these people that are constructing them or companies that are constructing them. Yet it seems to be falling on deaf ears.
Let me go to you, Carol, first.
LINNITT: Yeah. Well, when you bring up the issue of why is there a lack of venues for communities to voice their concerns about pipelines, this is a major concern in Canada right now. With the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, people came out in droves, individuals and organizations, to participate in our federal hearing process about that pipeline.
The federal government, who was interested in a probably expeditious approval of this pipeline, was disheartened to see so many people coming out to voice their opposition to the pipeline. Our then federal resources minister, Joe Oliver, actually wrote an open letter to all Canadians condemning this level of participation, calling these individuals radicals intent on hijacking the regulatory process, so really mischaracterizing, maligning these people as if they were sort of fringe radical extremists intent on sort of delaying and making this process difficult for industry and government.
Since then, the Canadian government has actually introduced legislative changes that drastically limits the people who are allowed to participate in these hearings. So with these other pipelines that we have sort of on the menu right now, like Kinder Morgan’s expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline, the amount of people who are actually able to engage in that federal review process is dramatically reduced. The new laws require people to demonstrate that they are, quote, directly affected by the pipelines in order to participate. And so, in the wake of that, people like climate scientists, economists, policy experts, environment organizations have all been denied the ability to participate. So, clearly this is becoming a very big issue. Communities are becoming very frustrated with the lack of so-called democratic ways to be dissipated in pipeline review processes.
HORN: Yeah. In the United States, something similar’s happened. If you look at several pipeline projects that I just cited, they were all passed by–you know, shoved through by the United States Army Corps of Engineers through something called the Nationwide Permit 12 Process, which is basically a process that before was used for tiny infrastructures projects, about half an acre in size or smaller.
What the industry has gotten through this process is basically calling their huge pipeline projects, in some cases one or two thousand single or complete projects, and they get away with writing a three- or four-page environmental impact statement rather than a large, robust, hundreds of pages review that can be looked at by the public, examined, critiqued, commented on in public hearings. So there’s no public hearings. And I would say this is all an outcome of this–the big debate out of the Keystone XL northern leg, I think the legacy of it, unfortunately, will be a large gutting of the National Environmental Policy Act in the United States, or NEPA, which is what all these lawsuits are about that the Sierra Club has been filing, whether it’s for the Flanagan itself, whether it’s for the southern leg of the Keystone XL, whether it’s for the Alberta Clipper. All of those are NEPA cases. NEPA has been completely–it’s completely gutted and usurped by these tar sands-carrying pipeline companies since the northern leg of the Keystone XL debate has begun. So it’s a really troubling precedent, and it’s one that continues, and it’s one that federal courts continue to issue decisions that basically go in favor of the industry. So this is becoming a new legal precedent in the United States.
PERIES: Now, Carol, last week there was a RCMP document that was released targeting environmental activists. Tell us more about that.
LINNITT: Yeah. So at the same time as we have this growing frustration with an inability to democratically participate in public forums on pipelines, there’s been an increase in things like protests that are happening at potential drill sites and those types of things.
What’s been really interesting is, as you mentioned, there is a leaked RCMP document. It’s an intelligence report that is an assessment of what we call critical infrastructure. I think it’s the same term in the U.S. to refer to things like pipelines and oil and gas infrastructure. What this report highlighted was a new threat from what the RCMP termed violent anti-petroleum extremists, and also First Nations extremists. So the groups and organizations and First Nations that are blockading or protesting or organizing against pipelines are being termed behind the scenes in these intelligence reports as basically violent, akin to terrorist threats that present a threat to Canadian security. It was really troubling for a lot of people in the environmental movement, of course, very troubling to First Nations, that legitimate opponents, climate activists, people who are not interested in building infrastructure for pipelines in the oil and gas industry but are interested in a clean-energy future, are being treated as if they are radical extremists that our security apparatus needs to get more serious at surveilling, monitoring, and curtailing.
PERIES: And they are considered a national security threat, from what I understand, from the leaked document.
LINNITT: That’s exactly right. And that language is even more significant when you know that in Canada right now we are currently–there’s been a new bill tabled in Parliament. It’s called the Bill C-51. It’s a new antiterrorism legislation.
Now, the language in this antiterrorism legislation perfectly dovetails with this language that’s being used in this RCMP document, and basically there’s now an expanded definition of threats and terror threats and security threats in Canada under this new legislation that really opens up the door to expanded surveilling, monitoring, and disruption powers by our security apparatus in Canada that many people see right off the bat are going to be used to target pipeline opponents, environmentalists, people who are looking to slow the growth of the oil sands, for example, or First Nations who are blockading fracking companies on unceded territory.
So it’s become very, very troubling. People are condemning this bill as very undemocratic. Debate in Parliament has been restricted to less than three days. It’s become a really significant problem right now. And this is something we’re facing right now, proposed amendments to that bill are actually being decided upon today.
PERIES: Steve, Carol, I want to thank you so much for joining us today and shedding light on the Keystone XL Pipeline and much more. You can see the threads, connecting threads that steep into all sorts of other areas like national security. Thank you both for joining us.
LINNITT: Thank you.
HORN: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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