State Department

Post image for Keystone XL Pipeline: Alleged Conflict of Interest Much Ado about Nothing?

Blocking the Keystone XL Pipeline — the $7 billion, 1,700-mile project that could create 20,000 construction jobs and eventually transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil from friendly, stable, democratic Canada to hubs in Oklahoma and Texas — has become the environmental movement’s top agenda item.

This is not surprising, because Canada’s booming oil sands industry demolishes two popular narratives of green ideology — the claim that oil is a dwindling resource from which we must rapidly decouple our economy before supplies run out, and the notion that most of the money we spend on gasoline ends up in the coffers of unsavory regimes like Saudi Arabia. In reality, more than half of all the oil we consume is produced in the USA, and we get more than twice as much oil from Canada as from Saudi Arabia.

Much of the anti-Keystone agitation is vintage ’60s stuff. In late August, during a weeks-long protest rally outside the White House, 800 demonstrators (including celebrities Margot Kidder and Daryl Hannah) were handcuffed and bused to local police stations. In late September, more than 100 demonstrators were arrested trying to enter Canada’s House of Commons. In October, 1,000 protesters showed up outside President Obama’s $5,000-a-head fundraiser in San Francisco, and organizers claim 6,000 demonstrators will encircle the White House on Sunday, Nov. 6.

Meanwhile, oil bashers on Capitol Hill are engaging in some political theater of their own. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), two other senators, and 11 congressmen requested that the State Department’s inspector general (IG) investigate an apparent conflict of interest in the preparation of State’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Sanders et al. point out that Cardno/Entrix, the firm State commissioned to conduct the EIS, listed TransCanada, the corportion proposing to build the pipeline, as a “major client.” This “financial relationship,” they suggest, could lead Cardno/Entrix to low-ball the project’s environmental risks. They even insinuate that Cardno/Entrix may have understated oil spill risk just so it could later get paid by TransCanada to clean up the mess.

Earlier this week, State responded to Sanders et al. As far as I can see, there’s no there, there.

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Post image for My Excellent Journey to Canada’s Oil Sands

The United States imports almost half of its oil (49%), and about 25% of our imports come from one country — our friendly neighbor to the North, Canada. Today, Canada supplies more oil to the USA than all Persian Gulf countries combined. [click to continue…]

Post image for Hate Success? Apply Here!

If you hate success but love long meetings, and even longer plane trips, then the State Department is looking for you: Become a climate diplomat.

As I explain here, here, and here, negotiations for a legally binding, multilateral treaty to address the supposed problem of “global warming” are futile. According to the International Energy Agency, it would cost $45 trillion to de-carbonize global energy production to the liking of global warming alarmists. There is simply no precedent for international burden sharing of this magnitude, short of war, and the threat of winters gradually warming doesn’t galvanize interstate cooperation quite like the threat of, say, the Nazis.

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Post image for ‘Fracking’ in Europe: Who’s in, Who’s out

Two days ago, the New York Times reported that the French Parliament is “leaning” towards a ban on hydraulic fracturing, the American-made technological revolution in production that has vastly increased the known economically recoverable global reserves of natural gas. According to the article,

French lawmakers opened debate on Tuesday on proposals to ban a method for extracting oil and gas deposits from shale because of environmental concerns, throwing up the first serious stumbling block to firms that want to use the practice.

Looking with alarm at the experience in the United States, where shale gas is booming, even members of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s governing conservative party have come out against the practice, known as hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped deep underground under high pressure to free scattered pockets of oil and gas from dense rock formations.

The article, while interesting, misses the big picture. For starters, it’s unclear why French lawmakers would look “with alarm” at the U.S. experience. While there is some evidence that poorly built “fracking” rigs could lead to the escape of methane into local groundwater wells, this isn’t as disturbing as it sounds. Methane (ie, natural gas) does not make water poisonous, and there is no evidence that the fluids used in the process, which could be toxic, have leaked into well water. Much more importantly, there is ZERO evidence that the process affects water tables used for utility scale water supply, although environmentalist special interests are quick to try to conflate well-water methane contamination with water table contamination. The upshot is that hydraulic fracturing has been used in this country for fifty years, without harming public health and environment.

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There has been a technological revolution in the natural gas industry over the last decade. In that time, a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has become economically viable, thereby allowing for the exploitation of huge natural gas reserves that had been too expensive to recover. As a result, America’s natural gas supply has roughly doubled.

In his post-election address last Wednesday, President Barack Obama indicated support for the fracking revolution. His administration’s record, however, is decidedly mixed on the issue.

On the one hand, the State Department is a big proponent of the technology, which it sees as a long term deterrent for Russia. As I’ve noted elsewhere, environmentalist policies in some European countries-but especially Germany-have rendered them increasingly reliant on Russian natural gas, even as Russia has proven willing to use its energy resources as a geopolitical bargaining chip. By exporting the fracking revolution to continental Europe, the State Department hopes to weaken Russia’s influence.

Moreover, Obama’s EPA has kept away from regulating fracking, although it easily could. Indeed, with the Clean Water Act precedent set by the its assault on mountain top removal mining, the EPA could shut down whatever industry it wants to in all of Appalachia, which is home to the largest and most promising natural gas resources made available by fracking-the Marcelus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York.

On the other hand, different agencies within the Obama administration are cracking down on fracking. The Bureau for Land Management (within the Department of the Interior), for example, refuses to grant leases to drill natural gas along the Rocky Mountains. Under a new Interior Department instruction memo for implementing the 1987 Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Act, the BLM can (and is) withholding scores of millions of dollars of leases, pending completion of National Environmental Protection Act litigation. Contemporaneously, the Council of Environmental Quality is making NEPA challenges even easier.

So what to make of these conflicting signals? At first I thought that Obama saw himself as a visionary problem solver, and that his vision was to address supposed global warming by embracing gas at the expense of coal. Now, I’m not so sure. It looks like he’s being jerked around by people who know better how the executive branch works.