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2013 SkS News Bulletin #14: Alberta Tar Sands and Keystone XL Pipeline

Posted on 31 May 2013 by John Hartz

  • Bitumen prices bubble up as glut melts
  • Canadian government withholds details of PR campaign
  • House passes bill to speed approval of Keystone XL
  • Keep climate change out of Keystone decision
  • Keystone ‘no’ could delay $9-billion in investment
  • Keystone resistance makes TransCanada more cautious
  • Keystone: what we know
  • Keystone XL's approval is a throw of the dice
  • Push on for petroleum coke study before Keystone gets OK
  • Southern Keystone XL pipeline nears completion
  • Warren Buffett doesn't care about Keystone XL

Bitumen prices bubble up as glut melts

Alberta called it the “bitumen bubble,” and warned earlier this year that low prices for its heavy oil would bleed billions from corporate and government bottom lines.

But only months later, bitumen is back, as trains help to clear export clogs and pipeline construction opens new avenues for crude to move to market. The changes have been reflected in a more favourable Canadian heavy oil price, which now stands at about $20 (U.S.) a barrel less than West Texas intermediate, compared with a $40-a-barrel discount late last year.

Bitumen prices bubble up as glut melts by Nathan Vanderklippe, The Globe and Mail, May 29, 2013

Canadian government withholds details of PR campaign

The Harper government is declining to explain how and where it is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising to promote oil, gas and pipeline companies as well as other Canadian natural resources.

Facing nearly four hours of questions from opposition MPs this week, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver also declined to provide specifics on a training program, worth up to $500,000, for his department’s scientists and other officials, “designed to help them communicate with the public and to do so in a way that is accessible to the public.”

Stephen Harper’s government withholds details of $16-million PR campaign for oil industry By Mike De Souza, Postmedia News, The Vancouver Sun, May 22, 2013

House passes bill to speed approval of Keystone XL

House Republicans pushed through a bill Wednesday to bypass the president to speed approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. Democrats criticized the legislation as a blatant attempt to allow a foreign company to avoid environmental review. 

House passes GOP bill to speed approval of Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada AP, Washington Post, May 22, 2013

Keep climate change out of Keystone decision

Two dozen Senate Republicans are warning President Obama not to link “wholly unrelated” climate change policies to approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Keep climate change out of Keystone decision, GOP warns in letter to Obama
by Ben German, E2Wire/The Hill, May 23, 2013

Keystone ‘no’ could delay $9-billion in investment

More than $9-billion of oil sands investment is at risk in the next seven years – of which $2.4-billion could disappear altogether – if the Keystone XL pipeline is cancelled or further delayed, says a report from RBC Dominion Securities.

The report, released Monday, builds on an earlier RBC analysis that warned that as much as a third of oil sands growth, or 450,000 barrels a day, could be put on hold between 2015 and 2017 if TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline is not approved by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Keystone ‘no’ could delay $9-billion in investment by Kelly Cyrderman, The Globe and Mail, May 28, 2013

Keystone resistance makes TransCanada more cautious

A senior TransCanada Corp. executive says the resistance to the approval of the proposed Keystone XL oilsands pipeline has made the company more cautious about future cross-border endeavours.

Alex Pourbaix, president of energy and oil pipelines at the Calgary-based pipeline and utility company (TSX:TRP), said the long delays getting Keystone approved in the U.S. has been an education.

Keystone resistance makes TransCanada more cautious about future U.S. forays by Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press, The Vanouver Sun, May 23, 2013

Keystone: what we know

Ever since the Keystone fight began, the smart money has insisted the pipeline will be approved. But so far: no pipe.

And the opposition got a serious boost this week, when Republicans in the House of Representatives forced a vote on a symbolic measure approving KXL. It passed, of course -- every Republican voted for it, and they control the lower chamber. But they found only 19 Democrats to go along with them, 40 less than a year before. As one commentator noted in the aftermath, "the little campaign that could" was still chugging along -- and with a greater head of steam than before.

At this point, the national fight over Keystone is closing in on two years old. There's one big thing we still don't know -- but there are lots of things we've figured out over that stretch of time:

Keystone: What We Know by Bill McKibben, The Huffington Post, May 24, 2013

Keystone XL's approval is a throw of the dice

An unscientific survey of one of the globe's largest novelty betting operations this week suggests that a variety of unorthodox and environmentally themed wagers are flourishing. Gamblers with money to burn can currently play the odds on whether Arctic sea ice will hit record lows this year, for example, or whether 2013 will prove to be the warmest year on record, as measured by the World Meteorological Organization (current odds on that: 7/2) 

Keystone XL's Approval Is A Throw Of The Dice In Much Bigger Gamble by Tom Zeller Jr., The Huffington Post, May 28, 2013

Push on for petroleum coke study before Keystone gets OK

A U.S. congressman is calling for a complete health review of petroleum coke before Washington approves the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Michigan Representative Gary Peters claims that one third of the cheap, combustible carbon byproduct, used mainly in overseas power plants, comes from the Alberta oilsands.

He announced Tuesday in Detroit that he intends to introduce legislation next week calling for a complete and comprehensive study of the environmental and health effects of petroleum coke, also known as pet coke.

Push on for petroleum coke study before Keystone pipeline gets OK, CBC News, May 28, 2013 

Southern Keystone XL pipeline nears completion

Yes, regardless of the earnest civil disobedience of groups and individuals protesting the 4th phase of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the reality is that within a month or two, tar sands oil from Alberta will be mainlining its way to Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. 

Keystone Pipeline Nears Completion This Summer as Carbon-dioxide Reaches Record Levels by Mark Karlin, BuzzFlash, Truthout, May 22, 2013

Warren Buffett doesn't care about Keystone XL

When TransCanada first announced its plan to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, I'm sure company executives never thought it would wind up as one of the most polarizing environmental symbols in recent memory. Nor could they have predicted that the approval process would take, well, forever.

The exceedingly long duration of that process has allowed the Keystone XL to grow from a large pipeline to a larger than life feedstock for environmental, political, and economic arguments, and even a conspiracy theory or two. Some have really taken to the notion, for example, that Warren Buffett has a hand in delaying the pipeline project in order to boost his railroad business. The theory is that Buffett is encouraging President Obama into stalling on his decision to approve or deny Keystone XL. If the President does deny Keystone XL, the thinking goes, that is only further proof of Buffett's hold on him. Some of us may think this is a ridiculous theory, but given the power of money in Washington, let's take a closer look anyway.

Warren Buffett Doesn't Care About Keystone XL by Aimee Duff, The Motley Fool, May 29, 2013

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Comments 1 to 3:

  1. Breaking news: 

    B.C. officially opposes Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline
    'Our questions were not satisfactorily answered,' environment minister says

    Although it is technically possible for the Canadian Federal Government to push this through, it is unlikely due to the extent of public opposition in BC, the strong position now taken by the recently elected centre-right provincial government and, not least, the firm stance taken by First Nations. There is no precedent for a large infrastructure project to be imposed on a Canadian Province against its will. (In many ways, Canadian provinces have more power than US states or even EU countries.)

    Over to you, President Obama...

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  2. Perhaps they should stop refining tar sands, ship them to roading companies, add a little gravel heat it up and pave roads with the stuff.  Long term sequestration and a useful purpose for tar sands.  I wonder what the relative economics would look like.

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  3. william: There is a small bitumen sand quarry in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador that I visited years ago; where, just as you suggested they quarry the sand and use it to surface the local roads. It's not exactly ideal as blacktop, but it is cheap and better than mud.

    There is a rather repetitive short video of the Ecuador tarsands that somebody posted.

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