In 2012*, California’s Mendocino County contracted with Wildlife Services — the rogue federal agency responsible for killing 4 million animals last year — to “control” their wildlife. The result? 459 animals dead in just 365 days, including coyotes, black... Read More >
Groups Sue Mendocino County for Illegal Contract with Wildlife Services
In 2012*, California’s Mendocino County contracted with Wildlife Services — the rogue federal agency responsible for killing 4 million animals last year — to “control” their wildlife. The result? 459 animals dead in just 365 days, including coyotes, black bears, mountain lions, gray and red foxes, and numerous other species.
There’s no good reason for this killing. It’s done on bequest of private livestock owners and operators…although the public pays for it. It wreaks havoc on ecosystems by disproportionately targeting predators, which are at the top of the food chain. It’s often done by using indiscriminate methods, such as poisons and snares, that not only kill the animal(s) Wildlife Services is targeting but lots of others as well. And, if all that wasn’t enough, it’s inhumane.
For these reasons, today, NRDC, with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Welfare Institute, and Project Coyote, sued Mendocino County for renewing its contract with Wildlife Services back in June. Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors was required to examine the environmental impacts of renewing the contract and provide County residents with notice of its intentions. But it didn’t.
Instead, when the Board voted to approve the contract there was absolutely NO discussion of what it could to do the county’s wildlife and ecosystems — not to mention its impacts on Mendocino County residents who want to see and live with these animals.
To contract with Wildlife Services, Mendocino County must examine the environmental impacts of the agency’s actions on the county and that’s what we’re trying to ensure through this lawsuit. However, an even better solution would be for Mendocino County to follow the lead of California’s Marin County and cancel its contract with Wildlife Services once and for all. Like Marin, Mendocino could instead use the money they’d pay Wildlife Services to implement a non-lethal predator management program, helping livestock owners and operators pay for and learn to use methods such as guard dogs, fencing, and range riders to keep predators at bay.
If Mendocino County were to do all this — to cancel its contract with Wildlife Services and instead implement a nonlethal program — it would lead the way for other counties in California and across the nation in saying NO to Wildlife Services and YES to methods of livestock-carnivore conflict prevention that preserve the balance of nature.
As Congress takes up legislation that would force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, there are countless reasons why this is a bad idea starting with the fact that there is still no established route for the... Read More >
Keystone XL tar sands pipeline still doesn't make sense -- forcing approval...
As Congress takes up legislation that would force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, there are countless reasons why this is a bad idea starting with the fact that there is still no established route for the pipeline. This tar sands oil pipeline would allow some of the world’s dirtiest oil flows through the United States, threatening water supplies to hundreds of thousands of people. And burning the additional tar sands oil would needlessly worsen climate change. By forcing the pipeline’s approval, the law would override presidential authority and bypass the National Interest Determination process. In the wake of new polling just released by the Pew Research Center demonstrating support for the pipeline is waning, a rush to force approval is disservice to the American public who deserves an a final assessment of whether the pipeline is truly in America’s national interest.
In comments today, President Obama said he is not convinced of the value of the pipeline as a job creator or to provide America with energy security.
I have to constantly push back against the idea that Keystone is either a massive jobs bill for the U.S. or is somehow lowering gas prices. Understand what the project is, it will provide the ability for Canada to pump their oil and send it through their land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else.
Here is what we know:
- On Jobs: Operating Keystone XL will only require between 35 and 50 jobs. The State Department found that the construction of Keystone XL would generate 1,950 jobs for two years – giving the project the job creation potential of a medium sized mall.
- On Climate: The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would enable a significant increase in carbon intensive tar sands production and undermine efforts to address climate change. At a time when decisive action on climate change is urgently needed, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would make the problem of carbon pollution worse – enabling the production of some of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels.
- On Water: A spill of tar sands from Keystone XL would put nationally recognized water resources, such as the Ogallala aquifer, at unacceptable risks along the route. We already know the terrible consequences of tar sands pipeline. The tar sands spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan has become the most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history. After over four years and a billion dollars spent on clean up, large segments of the Kalamazoo River are still contaminated with tar sands.
- On Energy Security: Keystone XL is an export pipeline through the United States, not to it
Over half of the crude from Keystone XL is forecast to be exported internationally after it is refined and the pipeline is not necessary to transport domestic crude. With only small quantities of tar sands crude reaching the Gulf Coast, tar sands producers have already filled several tankers of raw tar sands crude in Texas ports and exported it to be refined internationally.
Tar sands crude is significantly more carbon intensive than conventional crude. Just the additional emissions from the tar sands in Keystone XL — above average emissions from producing non-tar sands oil — are equal to Americans driving more than 60 billion additional miles every year when we need to be reducing our carbon emissions.
The U.S. doesn’t need Keystone XL or tar sands. Thanks to strong fuel economy standards, increasing access to alternative fuels and reduced vehicle miles traveled, U.S. demand has fallen by 4.5 million bpd relative to where it was projected to be in 2006. Keystone XL would significantly add to carbon pollution that’s driving climate change, undermine the nation’s climate leadership and imperil the health and drinking water of millions of Americans. With climate change already harming our communities and pocketbooks across America now is the time for clean energy, not expansion of dirty energy such as tar sands. There is substantial evidence that Keystone XL is not in our national interest but is a profit scheme for big oil that needs to be rejected.
This blog was co-written with Lorne Stockman, Research Director at Oil Change International In the summer of 2012, advocates of Keystone XL hailed Southern Pacific Resources’ announcement that it had signed a five-year contract to bypass pipeline bottlenecks and... Read More >
Tar Sands Train to Ruin: How tar sands producer Southern Pacific Resources...
This blog was co-written with Lorne Stockman, Research Director at Oil Change International
In the summer of 2012, advocates of Keystone XL hailed Southern Pacific Resources’ announcement that it had signed a five-year contract to bypass pipeline bottlenecks and ship tar sands by rail to the Gulf Coast as proof that tar sands projects would move forward with or without pipelines. Two years after becoming the first tar sands producer to attempt to rely entirely on rail to ship its production to the Gulf, Southern Pacific Resources’ stands on the brink of financial ruin. Rather than proving that rail can be an alternative to pipelines to the Gulf Coast, Southern Pacific Resources’ experience illustrates the profound economic obstacles associated with tar sands production. The poor performance of tar sands by rail to the Gulf has only proved why the industry needs projects like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to expand.
Southern Pacific Resources’ plan called for the production from its McKay project to be shipped 2,800 miles by rail over Canada National’s rail network to a terminal in Natchez, Mississippi, where it would be transferred by barge to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The first shipment of diluted bitumen was railed from Fort McMurray on December 22, 2012, arriving in Mississippi fifteen days later.
The plan involves hefty costs. Southern Pacific Resources estimated its shipping costs at $31 per barrel, over three times the $9.50 per barrel cost of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. However, Southern Pacific Resources noted that alternative tar sands pipelines weren’t available, citing opposition to Keystone XL and Northern Gateway. Moreover, Southern Pacific argued that the higher costs of rail would be partially offset by higher oil prices on the Gulf Coast, reduced diluent costs and the possibility of backhauling diluent to Canada.
The State Department looked to Southern Pacific Resources as an example of the feasibility of tar sands by rail to the Gulf. In its March 2013 environmental assessment of Keystone XL, State cited Southern Pacific Resources’ proposal five year contract as the first sign that tar sands companies were considering over the long term. Moreover, State cited Southern Pacific Resources plan to ship tar sands as railbit (reducing diluent costs) and backhauling diluent back to Alberta (reducing shipping costs) to conclude that tar sands by rail was an economically viable alternative to pipelines.
Unfortunately for Southern Pacific Resources, it hasn’t worked out. The combination of high transportation costs and poor performance at its main tar sands SAGD project have driven the company to the verge of bankruptcy. Southern Pacific Resources expected its tar sands by rail deal to improve its average operating netbacks (the difference between oil price received and both operating and transportation costs) once it started making deliveries in January 2013. However, the company’s financial records show that its 2013 operating netbacks had declined by 99%, from $34.75 a barrel to $0.27 a barrel. Despite receiving somewhat higher oil prices, Southern Pacific Resources paid about $20 per barrel more to ship its product. These higher transportation costs, combined with higher production costs, dramatically eroded its operating profit margins.
Since announcing its plan to rely on rail to ship tar sands to the Gulf, the company’s shares have lost 98% of their value and have been trading in recent weeks at just 2 or 3 cents a share. Even its bondholders have lost nearly half of their principle.
Two years after Southern Resources CEO Byron Lutes hailed its tar sands by rail arrangement as significant “because it demonstrates that alternatives to conventional pipelines are available to market bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands,” he would blame the lack of export pipelines for his inability to find new investors.
As we noted last week, shipping tar sands by rail to the Gulf has proven an unprofitable business for rail terminal companies. Southern Pacific Resources’ slide to insolvency demonstrates that it’s not a profitable alternative for tar sands producers either. That’s why volumes of tar sands by rail to the Gulf haven’t reached a fraction of the levels forecast by Keystone XL advocates or the State Department. Two years ago, the Southern Pacific Resources tar sand by rail business model may have appeared compelling to outside observers. That’s not the case today.
Southern Pacific Resource’s example demonstrates exactly why the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is so critical for the tar sands industry’s expansion plans – and the substantial carbon emissions associated with them.
This blog was co-written with Lorne Stockman, Research Director at Oil Change International Update: October 23, 2014 News from Canexus today indicates that it is only getting worse for the Bruderheim terminal. A major customer has terminated its contract. Now... Read More >
The tar sands train that couldn't
This blog was co-written with Lorne Stockman, Research Director at Oil Change International
Update: October 23, 2014
News from Canexus today indicates that it is only getting worse for the Bruderheim terminal. A major customer has terminated its contract. Now only 40% of capacity is under contract. But not even that is being used. Last week, the 100,000 bpd capacity terminal loaded only 13,200 bpd.
The issue of whether significant quantities of tar sands crude will move by rail if projects such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline are not built is a major part of the ongoing debate about tar sands expansion. The assertion that rail is a viable alternative to pipelines to the Gulf Coast is important for tar sands proponents because any claim that Keystone XL passes the President’s climate test rests on the weak argument that carbon intensive tar sands crude will be developed at the same rate with or without the massive pipeline.
This is the first in a series of blogs discussing and building upon the evidence presented in the Oil Change International report ‘Wrong Side of the Tracks’. The report details the challenges the Canadian tar sands industry faces in getting its dirty product to market via rail in the face of ongoing pipeline delays caused by rising public opposition to tar sands production and related pipelines.
In today’s blog we look at the ongoing underperformance of the first unit train loading terminal in Alberta with access to tar sands crude. It is a tale of budget overruns, missed targets and operational failures.
Many observers hailed the beginning of unit train shipping for tar sands crude as a new era in which tar sands producers could use North America’s existing rail network to circumvent opposition by environmentalists and indigenous communities. But almost one year after the first tar sands unit train facility was completed, tar sands unit trains are limping along and the rush of tar sands crude they are supposed to deliver is yet to materialize. Far from proving the economic viability of tar sands by rail, the first companies to experiment in this sector have encountered operational issues, high costs and low returns.
The crude-by-rail boom started in North Dakota, where producers demonstrated the economic feasibility of shipping light crude by rail via unit trains. Unit trains are loaded as a single unit, generally of between 80 and 120 cars, delivering their cargo to a single destination with lower costs than having a train carrying a variety of freight cars pick up and deliver those cars via various switching yards. By 2013, North Dakota’s oil producers had built fifteen crude-by-rail terminals with over one million barrels per day (bpd) of capacity.
By comparison, the tar sands industry had been very slow to adopt crude-by-rail. However, in the face of severe pipeline bottlenecks and delays, companies began looking for ways to replicate the crude-by-rail boom in North Dakota and ship diluted bitumen (dilbit) by unit train.
In mid-December 2013, a little known company – Canexus Corp. – got ahead of the game by opening the first unit train terminal with access to tar sands crude in Bruderheim (near Edmonton), Alberta.
The week the terminal began loading its first train vice president Jamie Urquhart told Platts Commodity News, “our aim will be to transport about 62,400 barrels per day diluted bitumen during the first phase and increasing to 98,100 bpd by July 2014 through increasing the number of trains to 11 a week”. In its environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline, the State Department claimed that Canexus had contracts to ship 150,000 bpd of diluted bitumen and used the company’s estimates to support the low end of the Department’s estimate of the cost of tar sands by rail (see Section 1.4 pages 85 and 102).
Since then, the terminal has faced dramatic cost overruns and has operated at only a small fraction of its capacity. Construction ran 60 percent over budget jumping to CAD$360 million. Only 60 percent of capacity is under contract – less than half of the volume assumed by the State Department. Even then the project has yet to operate at even 50 percent of designed capacity.
From December to late June, loading averaged a little over 19,000 barrels per day, around 30 percent of the figure touted by Urquhart, and the highest ever weekly recorded rate was 31,000 bpd. By July, which was when the company had predicted it would be raising throughput to nearly 100,000 bpd, the terminal was shut down for a three-month overhaul. Average loadings since it restarted in September are at a paltry 9,000 bpd compared to the facility’s maximum 100,000 bpd capacity.
In addition to overhauling malfunctioning equipment, another reason that Bruderheim shut down was to connect it to a pipeline coming from the Cold Lake tar sands region. The pipeline is part owned by tar sands producer MEG Energy. MEG Energy signed a deal with Canexus to ship its dilbit by rail from the Bruderheim terminal. However in August, when Canexus attempted to connect to MEG’s pipeline as it prepared to restart the rail terminal, MEG refused access. Canexus took MEG to court claiming it was violating contractual commitments and the connection went ahead in early September
The question of why MEG initially refused permission for Canexus to connect to its pipe remains a mystery. Could it be that MEG is getting cold feet over sending tar sands by rail? Given that throughout 2014, traders have reported that shipping tar sands to the Gulf Coast by rail is unprofitable because low prevailing oil prices do not cover the high costs of rail, this would not be surprising. The ruinous economics of shipping tar sands by rail to the Gulf Coast is described in the Oil Change report Wrong Side of the Tracks and will be the subject of a future blog in this series.
What is clear is that far from proving the feasibility of tar sands by rail as an alternative to pipelines, the company pioneering this activity has proven it to be a highly risky business. Canexus’s share price is down nearly 50 percent since the beginning of the year, it has cut dividends and replaced its CEO. It is also considering selling Bruderheim in order to revive its balance sheet and support its other core businesses.
It remains to be seen whether Bruderheim will be able to ramp up loadings to anywhere near the touted figures of 60,000 to 90,000 bpd or 10 to 14 trains a week. Thus far it has only rarely loaded a single full unit train per week.
Whatever the reason for MEG’s action against Canexus, it is clear that the tar sands industry’s first foray into large scale crude-by-rail has gotten off to a shaky start. It stands in stark contrast to the bubbling optimism for the trade projected in the Department of State’s analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline, which concluded that shipping tar sands by rail would be a viable alternative to the pipeline and therefore not permitting the pipeline would not achieve any net environmental benefits.
The experience so far at Bruderheim clearly contradicts that conclusion.
 Figures from Genscape Petrorail Report, a subscription only publication that monitors activity at various North American crude-by-rail terminal including Bruderheim. Figures are reported weekly so weekly totals are averaged to barrels per day.
Today the EPA approved the use of a new pesticide that is a combination of both glyphosate (better known as Roundup) and 2,4 D for use on genetically engineered corn and soy. Glyphosate, the most widely used weed killer in... Read More >
EPA approves new pesticide combination Enlist Duo, NRDC files suit
Today the EPA approved the use of a new pesticide that is a combination of both glyphosate (better known as Roundup) and 2,4 D for use on genetically engineered corn and soy. Glyphosate, the most widely used weed killer in the country, is the chief cause of the decline of the monarch butterflies, and scientists have raised serious questions about 2,4-D’s impact on human health. This short-sighted move by the EPA opens the door for the ever increasing use of pesticides that will only further endanger both wildlife and people which is why NRDC will challenge the decision in court.
Since the creation in the late 1990s of crops that are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate (Roundup Ready crops), the amount of glyphosate used in agriculture has skyrocketed. As a result, some weeds, like milkweed – which monarchs depend on – have plummeted and so have the butterflies. Other weeds, however, have evolved resistance to the chemicals making it even harder for farmers to manage these unwanted ‘superweeds.’ Instead of recognizing the unsustainable path of this escalating weed war, the EPA has gone ahead and approved the addition of 2,4 D even though it will only lead to more problematic superweeds that would eventually require, yet again, a more powerful pesticide.
Rather than expanding the use of these chemicals, we believe that we should be restricting their use. NRDC filed a petition with EPA earlier this year asking them to evaluate and limit the use of glyphosate in light of the drastic impact it has had on monarch butterflies. We asked the same of their evaluation of Enlist Duo, yet EPA failed to address the effect of these herbicides on the monarch decline. We also pointed out flaws in their evaluation of the human health risks of Enlist Duo.
This escalating cycle of more and more powerful pesticides is just not a winning solution for anyone – including farmers. In fact, the environment, our health and our iconic species are already losing. It’s EPA’s responsibility to protect our health and the environment – and its time that they were held accountable.
You can send EPA a message asking them to protect monarchs by restricting the use of herbicides by going to LetMonarchsFly.org.
This blog was co-drafted with Josh Axelrod, NRDC policy and legal consultant It is good news that the European Commission has finally published measures that will implement the European Union’s 2009 Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) – a policy that requires European Union member... Read More >
The European Fuel Quality Directive: Despite a weakened stance on tar...
This blog was co-drafted with Josh Axelrod, NRDC policy and legal consultant
It is good news that the European Commission has finally published measures that will implement the European Union’s 2009 Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) – a policy that requires European Union member states to lower the carbon intensity of their transport fuel mix by 6% before a 2020 deadline (as compared to a 2010 baseline). If adopted by member states and the European Parliament, these measures will help set Europe on the right direction toward decarbonizing its transport fuels and cutting its greenhouse gas emissions. Sadly, the measures introduced last week weren’t as strong as they could have been because the pro-tar sands Canadian government and international oil industry managed to strike certain provisions that would have discouraged increased use of dirty, carbon intensive fuels like tar sands. Despite this setback in keeping tar sands oil out of Europe, the FQD and its implementing measures are still a solid step forward for European transport and climate policy.
Despite the fact there will not be a mechanism to discourage the use of dirty fuels like tar sands, there will still be a final Fuel Quality Directive that will go before the European parliament. Passed in 2009, the FQD, which is akin to the California or British Columbia low carbon fuel standards, is one of the many tools developed by the EU to help it meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emission targets. Since 1990, transport emissions have continued to rise while emissions from other economic sectors in the EU have achieved substantial cuts.
In 2011, the European Commission introduced draft implementing measures for discussion. Under these earlier draft measures, the FQD’s 6% emissions reduction target could be achieved via several methods, most notably by allowing crude oil suppliers to prioritize low carbon crude oil feedstocks over high carbon feedstocks (like tar sands). This was far from a “ban” on using tar sands oil in Europe, but it would have discouraged heavy use of one of the world’s most carbon intensive fuels. Given the FQD’s emission reduction goals, a method for prioritizing cleaner over dirtier fuel sources appeared to make sense. But intense lobbying by the Canadian federal government, Alberta’s provincial government, trade representatives from the U.S. and Canada, and the oil industry significantly delayed and stalled the development of the FQD and so the Commission went back to the drawing board.
Last week, the latest implementing measures were finally made public. Unfortunately, there was no longer language requiring suppliers to differentiate among crude oil feedstocks like lower carbon conventional oil or higher carbon tar sands. In place of this tracking method, the new measures instead put forth a single default carbon intensity value for fossil fuels that captures the carbon intensity of the EU fossil fuel mix as it was in 2010. Though the use of this default value does little to discourage the import of tar sands to the EU, the possibility of review of the value’s accuracy over time could push suppliers to avoid tar sands and other high carbon fuels (as their use would lead to a higher default value and require increased use of electricity or lower carbon renewables to meet the 6% emission reduction goal).
Despite this, the new FQD measures require major fuel suppliers to disclose the trade names and volumes of the crude oils they import. This is still a good step and will provide a level of transparency to the public that does not currently exist in the EU. In addition, because trade names are associated with crude oil types, the tracking of this information will allow for simpler updating of the EU fossil fuel mix’s carbon intensity in the future.
Looking ahead to 2020, these new measures represent a major first step in transitioning the transport sector of the EU and other regions to cleaner and more renewable fuels. The threat of climate change, and the sheer scale of the domestic transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, will require the serious commitments of governments and policymakers to address these challenges head on. The FQD’s adoption in 2009 signaled the EU’s willingness to lead on this issue. While the final measures (which still need to be fully adopted by the European parliament) aren't as strong as they could have been, it remains a step forward on combatting climate change.
Facts – for example, numbers -- have never been a friend to the Pebble Mine. By now, some of these are familiar to all of us: 10 billion – The number of tons of mining waste laced with toxics that the... Read More >
The Numbers Continue to Crunch the Pebble Mine
Facts – for example, numbers -- have never been a friend to the Pebble Mine. By now, some of these are familiar to all of us:
- 10 billion – The number of tons of mining waste laced with toxics that the Pebble Mine as proposed would generate – about 3,000 pounds for every person on Earth.
- 80% -- The level of overwhelming opposition to the Pebble Mine among residents of the Bristol Bay region, where the mine would be located.
- 25-50 million –The number of wild salmon in a typical annual run of the Bristol Bay fisheries.
- 1.5 billion – The annual revenue generated by the Bristol Bay fisheries if they are protected.
Last month -- September 2014 – added some new numbers to this list, and once again none of them was good news for the Pebble Limited Partnership (or its sole partner Northern Dynasty Minerals).
604,395 – The number of public comments filed and processed as of today in response to the U.S. EPA’s proposal to restrict the Pebble Mine under federal Clean Water Act section 404(c) – before the close of the comment period on September 19. Of these comments, approximately 600,089 support EPA’s proposed restrictions. Although not yet a final count, this virtually unanimous response in support of EPA’s proposal is an extraordinary mandate for protecting the Bristol Bay region from large scale mining – and yet another indictment of the Pebble Mine project.
330,000 – The dollar amount of the payment from the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) and its agents to Pebble Mine opponent Renewable Resources Coalition (RRC) pursuant to a settlement announced in early September. Together with an apology to RRC, PLP made the payment to settle RRC’s lawsuit alleging, in essence, that the Pebble Limited Partnership and its agents had paid former RRC fundraising consultant Robert Kaplan for confidential, proprietary information obtained by him from RRC and others in the course of his work as a consultant to RRC.
1 – The number of PLP lawsuits against EPA – and requests for an injunction -- rejected so far by U.S. District Judge Russell Holland, based in Anchorage. PLP’s lawsuit filed last summer (together with the Alaska Peninsula Corporation and joined by the State of Alaska) challenged EPA’s authority to use Clean Water Act section 404(c) to protect the Bristol Bay region from large scale mining of the Pebble site. In late September, in response to motions to dismiss filed by EPA and by a coalition of tribes, village corporations, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and environmental groups (including NRDC), Judge Holland rejected PLP’s argument for court review and dismissed the case. Expect PLP to sue again . . . and again.
0.54 – The share price in cents on September 30 for Northern Dynasty Minerals (“NDM”), the sole remaining partner in the PLP and the 100% owner of the Pebble Mine project. Today, five days later, the share price has dropped an additional 5 cents to 0.49. Since February 2011, when the value exceeded $21.00 per share, the price for a share of NDM stock has almost disappeared.
O – The number of reasons for EPA not to finalize its proposed 404(c) determination – and stop the Pebble Mine.
It’s time for EPA to finish the job. Take action now.
Photo Cred: Robert Glenn Ketchum
Under a warm September sun, thousands spread out across the cornfield on the Tanderup family farm in Neligh, Nebraska. We sang along with Neil Young and Willie Nelson to honor the beautiful Nebraska farms and ranches, waters and traditional... Read More >
Neil Young, Willie Nelson and 8,000 in Nebraska Stand Up to the Keystone XL...
Under a warm September sun, thousands spread out across the cornfield on the Tanderup family farm in Neligh, Nebraska. We sang along with Neil Young and Willie Nelson to honor the beautiful Nebraska farms and ranches, waters and traditional lands. Willie Nelson and Neil Young both have a long track record of standing up for the family farmers. And the threat to their farms these days more and more comes from the oil industry. The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a double-threat whammy: it hits Nebraska livelihoods with the dangers of both oil spills and climate change. This concert comes at a time when the fight against tar sands is gaining momentum and showing real results on the ground with postponement and cancellation of tar sands projects. It also comes at a time when some in Congress are pushing for approval of Keystone XL over the head of the President even before a route has been legally identified in Nebraska. And it comes on the heels of the 400,000 strong climate march in New York City, making it clear that people are joining forces across the country to defend their land, water and climate. Keystone XL is a project that should never happen and it needs to be rejected.
When Neil Young joined Willie Nelson on stage and they sang “I went out walking, in the beautiful Sandhills...this land is made for you and me. Let’s walk together and raise our voices, we’re gonna stand together for the world to see.” The sold-out crowd of 8,000 stretched across the field to the teepees in the far back and sang along, standing tall.
Neil Young has said: “For our grandchildren’s survival we must begin to live differently. The Keystone XL pipeline is a large step in the wrong direction for the health of the earth. America must lead the world again and stop the Keystone XL.” Tar sands oil is the dirtiest around. It is strip-mined or heated out from under Canada’s majestic Boreal forest and from under the traditional territories of Canadian First Nations. The Keystone XL pipeline project would carry raw tar sands oil across America’s heartland, through Nebraska farms and ranches and the great Ogallala Aquifer to the Gulf coast where most would be destined for export overseas. It is a risky project with all the reward going to the big multi-national oil companies and the Canadian pipeline company TransCanada.
I was honored to stand with the landowners and indigenous leaders in Nebraska fighting for their land and water in the same way we all marched in New York City for action on climate change a week earlier. Come to Nebraska and talk to the farmers and ranchers. It makes it clearer than ever that President Obama should protect our precious land, water and climate by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Our gracious hosts Art and Helen Tanderup invited us onto the farm that their family has stewarded for 100 years. Art’s corn towered above my head, but he spoke about how the changing climate has already affected other crops like soybeans and he is concerned for the future of his farm. BoldNebraska, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Cowboy and Indian Alliance - a group of ranchers, farmers and tribal communities from along the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route - sponsored the concert. They’ve been strong fighters for a long time now to protect their lands, the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer that nourishes their lives.
TransCanada, the Canadian pipeline company that has been pushing this project on landowners, responded to the project with tired arguments about the relative safety of pipelines versus rail. The bottomline is that both pipelines and rail are not safe when it comes to tar sands oil. Safe is getting energy from the wind and the sun.
We also hear lots of mistaken arguments that the development of tar sands is inevitable. The truth is that companies are finding tar sands risky and expensive while communities are saying “no” to tar sands pipelines. The Norwegian oil company Statoil just shelved one of their in situ tar sands drilling projects for at least three years due to a lack of pipeline. This means that stopping the pipelines is keeping carbon in the ground and tar sands out of our farms. In fact since Neil Young launched the Honour the Treaties concert tour in Canada to help fight tar sands expansion, three major tar sands projects have been cancelled or postponed – Total’s Jocelyn mine, Shell’s Pierre River mine and Statoil’s Corner in situ drilling project.
Stopping the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline makes a difference for communities in Nebraska and along the pipeline pathway. Real jobs are stake, jobs on many farms and ranches - more than a quarter of a million of them just in the five Great Plains states the tar sands pipeline would cross through. Those are the jobs that drive this region and feed the country and much of the world. And it also makes a difference for communities in Canada suffering from tar sands extraction and communities around the world feeling the impacts of climate change to their health, homes and wallets.
The outpouring of opposition in Nebraska serves as a reminder to our nation’s leaders that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline still has no route through the state. Lawmakers in Washington DC should not try to take the decision away from the President and force Keystone XL on Nebraska’s farmers, ranchers, landowners and indigenous communities. And President Obama has an opportunity to do the right thing and listen to the people in Nebraska.
Neil Young ended with his new song. He sang, “Who’s gonna stand up?” and the crowd sang back, “WE ARE.” Stand up for the Sand Hills, for the Ogallala Aquifer and for the climate on which we all depend. As Neil says, “Stand up and save the earth.”
Photos used with permission. Credit SCL at NRDC.
The Norwegian oil company Statoil has announced it is postponing the development of its 40,000 barrel per day (bpd) Corner in situ tar sands project for at least three years due to rising costs and a lack of pipeline space.... Read More >
Citing pipeline constraints, Statoil postpones tar sands expansion project
The Norwegian oil company Statoil has announced it is postponing the development of its 40,000 barrel per day (bpd) Corner in situ tar sands project for at least three years due to rising costs and a lack of pipeline space. Statoil’s announcement is the third major tar sands expansion project to be cancelled or postponed this year due to rising costs and a lack of pipeline capacity, following the cancellation of Shell’s proposed 200,000 bpd Pierre River tar sands mine and Total’s 160,000 bpd Josyln mine. In addition to the cancellation of three major tar sands expansion projects, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) have substantially reduced their forecasted rates of tar sands expansion, and rising costs have caused an investor exodus from the sector. In the face of these announcements, it’s time to abandon the tattered argument that major pipelines like Keystone XL would not enable substantial tar sands expansion and associated carbon emissions. Industry doesn’t believe it – and neither should policy makers. Keystone XL fails the President’s climate test and should be rejected.
Statoil’s announcement demonstrates just how economically marginal tar sands expansion projects are. In fact, in situ projects like Statoil’s Cromer are the lowest cost tar sands projects. According to CERI’s most recent estimates, breakeven prices for new in situ projects are now $85 per barrel. Breakeven prices for stand-alone mines are even higher at $105 per barrel. And these estimates assume the availability of cheap pipeline capacity. Based on these figures, it’s easy to see why Statoil has postponed its Corner tar sands project for at least three years – long enough to see whether or not tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL move forward.
As these facts come in, we simply cannot continue to pretend that decisions our nation makes about major energy infrastructure will have no upstream impact. It’s clear that State’s January 2014 conclusions vastly underestimated the importance of Keystone XL to the tar sands industry’s expansion plan and the carbon emissions associated with it. If we build Keystone XL, we’ll see many of the tar sands projects that are being cancelled and postponed become viable once again. At a time when decisive action on climate change is urgently needed, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would make the problem of carbon pollution worse – enabling the production of some of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels.
Today, the Endangered Species Coalition released its annual Top 10 report – this year’s theme is Vanishing Wildlife: the top 10 species our children may never see. Among the species in their report is whitebark pine – the high-elevation pine... Read More >
The Ghosts of Whitebark Pine
Today, the Endangered Species Coalition released its annual Top 10 report – this year’s theme is Vanishing Wildlife: the top 10 species our children may never see. Among the species in their report is whitebark pine – the high-elevation pine tree in the western U.S. that is threatened with extinction from a combination of factors, including an invasive fungus called blister rust and a climate-driven infestation of mountain pine beetles. This important foundational tree – that helps create the conditions that allow other plants and animals to occupy the harsh high-elevation habitat – could be gone by the end of the century.
Entire mountainscapes that once glowed green first turned red as the trees began to die and now stand gray as all of their needles have fallen. In some areas, all that is left are ghosts of trees that once blanketed the northern Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest forests. The loss of whitebark pine has the potential to affect its entire ecosystem, as whitebark pine provides food and shelter to all kinds of critters and shades the winter snowpack for later in the spring. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, whitebark pine has been an important food source for grizzly bears – providing a high fat food source that keeps them up high in the mountains – out of harm’s way – in the late summer and fall.
Because of their important role in the West, NRDC has long worked to highlight the decline of this little known tree. In 2008 and 2009, NRDC collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service to fund a groundbreaking study surveying the status of whitebark pine mortality throughout the entire 20-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that documented and mapped their widespread mortality. And in 2011, in response to a petition filed by NRDC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that whitebark pine is endangered throughout its range and placed it as a candidate for the Endangered Species List.
But in spite of the grim circumstances, there are actions that can be taken now to give whitebark pine a fighting chance for survival. Scientists have developed a number of restoration techniques that will help buy some time for whitebark pine. For example, researchers have found that some trees have natural resistance to the blister rust fungus and have begun propagating these resistant seedlings for use in restoration efforts. Additionally, because of fire suppression practices over the last several decades, some whitebark pine are being encroached upon by other types of vegetation. By removing these competitors through a process called ‘daylighting,’ still-healthy whitebark pine will be able to thrive longer.
Of course the ultimate threat to whitebark pine is a warming climate, and, until we can curb climate change, whitebark pine will continue to face an uncertain future. For now, however, these various restoration techniques offer promise for this threatened tree. Several projects are already underway throughout different parts of the whitebark’s range. How successful these efforts will be remains to be see, but, at the very least, they provide hope that whitebark pine could be one of the vanishing species that hangs on for our children to see.
Photo courtesy of Jane Partiger of Ecoflight