Second Canadian Company Completing Tar-Sands Pipeline into the U.S.

State Department agrees to 800,000 barrels per day

 

For six years, TransCanada has negotiated federal and state laws, and contended with the opposition of environmental organizations and landowners, to build the Keystone XL: a 36-inch-diameter, 1,700-mile pipeline that, if completed, would transport 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Canadian tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast.

The U.S. State Department has not issued the required presidential permit, which would declare the importing of tar-sands oil in the “national interest.” And the Nebraska Supreme Court just heard oral arguments on a landowners’ lawsuit that could cost TransCanada another year if it has to reapply for its permit in the state.

The stalled process has led one equities analyst to observe that, “Keystone XL doesn’t look like it will ever get fully up and running.”

Yet TransCanada’s fight, and the Keystone XL pipeline, might be moot—along with the campaign that brought together a broad coalition of environmental groups working to block the project and contain the import of tar-sands oil.

According to State Department documents, annual corporate reports, and interviews with company officials and attorneys, Enbridge Inc. and its U.S. subsidiary have circumvented the pipeline permitting process. By the middle of next year, the Calgary-based company will be transporting 800,000 bpd of tar-sands oil from western Canada into the U.S.

Enbridge intends to … increase the flow of oil on the Line 67 south of border segment, whether or not a new Presidential Permit is issued by the State Department.
—Letter to the State Department from Enbridge attorney David Coburn

Barring litigation, or action by the State Department, Enbridge will achieve what has eluded TransCanada. And it will have done so with scant attention from the media and without the public debate generated by campaigns against the Keystone XL.

Enbridge will be transporting the same tar sands described by former NASA climate scientist James Hansen as one of the “dirtiest most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet.” Mining and burning Alberta’s tar-sands oil alone, University of Saint Thomas (Minnesota) engineering professor John Abraham warned in Scientific American, will result in a global temperature increase that’s equivalent to “half of what we’ve already seen.”

“It’s a complicated story,” an environmental lawyer said of Enbridge’s pipeline, “so it’s not getting much media coverage.” Also lacking media attention is Enbridge’s role in the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, the result of a ruptured pipe in 2010.

 

How They Did It

In November 2012, Enbridge’s U.S. subsidiary applied for a presidential permit that would allow the company to import tar-sands oil, requesting authorization for “full capacity” operation (800,000 bpd) of its “Alberta Clipper Pipeline.”

The Alberta Clipper begins in Alberta, crosses the Canadian border, and continues for 327 miles, ending at a tank battery in Superior, Wisconsin. From there, the oil would flow to Cushing, Oklahoma, then to the Gulf Coast for refining and export.

After 18 months, Enbridge lost patience with the State Department.

In a June 16, 2014, letter to the State Department’s Office of Environmental Quality and Transboundary Issues, a lawyer representing Enbridge announced that the company was changing course. (The Alberta Clipper Pipeline is also known as the “Line 67 Project.”)

“As we explained, the unforeseen Line 67 Project permitting delay at the Department of over a year has led Enbridge to recently assess options for achieving this additional capacity … Enbridge intends to construct the interconnections and Pump Upgrades, and to operate those facilities to increase the flow of oil on the Line 67 south of border segment, whether or not a new Presidential Permit is issued by the Department” (emphasis added).

Enbridge wasn’t asking.

It was informing the State Department of its plans to press ahead.

 

With or Without Permission

The State Department has authority over construction within three miles of international borders. Enbridge has already built one stretch of the Alberta Clipper Pipeline in Canada. It has built another stretch in the U.S. What it lacks is permission to connect them.

Yet Enbridge has another permitted line, though not for tar sands, that crosses the border. In a bewildering paragraph in the permit application, Enbridge attorneys describe a series of “interconnector” pipelines leading to the existing transborder pipeline. By diverting tar-sands oil to the pipeline that already crosses the border, Enbridge circumvents the State Department permitting process.

The transborder pipe was built in 1967, long before the exploitation of tar-sands oil was commercially viable. Terri Larson of Enbridge Energy Partners, in Houston, said in an email that the older pipe has recently been replaced with 17 miles of new 34-inch pipe. And that the “maintenance was allowable under the existing presidential permit.”

“The State Department has been fully briefed on the interconnection and provided Enbridge with a letter on July 24, 2014, concluding that, ‘Enbridge’s intended changes to the pipeline outside of the border segment do not require authorization from the U.S. Department of State,’” Larson said.

What they are doing violates the National Environmental Policy Act and also violates the existing presidential permits.
—Sierra Club staff attorney Doug Hayes

An attorney from Enbridge’s law firm, Steptoe and Johnson, also responded by email to the legality of using an existing pipe to move tar-sands oil across the border.

“The answer to your question on whether Enbridge can expand daily capacity to 800,000 bpd … using an already permitted line to move the oil across the border, without a new presidential permit is yes,” David Coburn said.

Enbridge Vice President Leigh Kelln told investors on a September 13, 2014, conference call: “We’re expanding the capacity of our Alberta Clipper system from 450,000 barrels a day to 800,000 barrels a day. This capacity is expected to be permitted and available by the middle of next year.”

As far as Enbridge is concerned, a “Keystone XL Clone” is a done deal.

 

It’s Illegal

Environmentalists, unsurprisingly, disagree.

“The State Department is charged with determining if the importing of Canadian tar-sands oil is in the national interest,” Sierra Club Staff Attorney Doug Hayes said in a telephone interview.

“Enbridge applied for a permit a year ago [sic], then in June informed the State Department that the process was taking too long. So they came up with their scheme to avoid, to try to avoid, the State Department permitting process and expand the pipeline immediately. And the State Department basically looked the other way and said, ‘That’s fine with us.’

“But what they are doing is illegal. First of all, it is illegal because it violates the National Environmental Policy Act. It also violates the existing presidential permits for the Alberta Clipper and the adjacent Line 3 Pipeline.

“They are borrowing a 1967 permit and saying that, ‘For the Alberta Clipper, we are going to divert the flow over to this pipeline [to cross the Canada-U.S. border],” Hayes continued.

In March, the Sierra Club filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the State Department, asking for permit-application information and State Department correspondence with Enbridge.

The request was denied.

“This is all happening behind closed doors,” Hayes said, “It is a deliberate effort to keep the public out of the process.”

 

The Kalamazoo River Spill

Minnesota is one of four states that Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper will cross. Environmentalists, and some Minnesota legislators, have opposed the pipeline, and a second proposed Sandpiper Pipeline, for which Enbridge is attempting to secure a state permit.

“I have serious concerns about the safety of Enbridge’s pipelines after the Kalamazoo River spill,” Minnesota state Representative Frank Hornstein (D) said in a phone interview.

Part of the Kalamazoo River 100 miles west of Detroit was the site of the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. A $1 billion-plus cleanup is still not complete four years later.

The details are spelled out in the “accident summary” in a National Transportation and Safety Board report (NTSB):

On the evening of Sunday July 25, 2010, at approximately 5:58 p.m., a 4-foot- long pipe segment in Line 6 B, located approximately 0.6 miles downstream of the Marshall, Michigan, pump station ruptured. The Line 6 B is owned and operated by Enbridge Energy Inc. …

The accident resulted in an Enbridge reported release of 20,082 barrels (843,444 gallons) of crude oil. … The rupture location is a high consequence area within a mostly rural, wet, and low-lying region. The released oil pooled in a marshy area before flowing 700 feet south into Talmadge Creek, which ultimately carried it into the Kalamazoo River.

NTSB investigators found that technicians working at Enbridge’s control center in Alberta did not respond to the spill and activate remote-control valves until nearly 17 hours after the pipe ruptured.

According to related testimony at a September 15, 2010, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing, 13 alarms in the control center had been ignored or misinterpreted. Enbridge technicians in Alberta were informed of the spill by a utility worker from another company who called from Marshall, Michigan.

The late Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s September 2010 hearing, stated that Enbridge had requested a two-and-a-half-year extension from the Department of Transportation to repair 329 defects, of which the company had been aware for two years.

Oberstar also said that inspections Enbridge conducted in 2005, 2007 and 2009 had detected a defect in the pipe that ruptured at Marshall. No repair was made because in the company’s judgment, the problem did not reach the repair criteria defined by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA).

None of this information, Oberstar said, had been provided to members of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazmat, when at an earlier hearing they questioned an Enbridge executive about pipeline integrity and spill-detection. That hearing, as it turned out, was held exactly 10 days before the Kalamazoo spill.

 

State-Level Challenge

In a telephone interview, Hornstein, who represents a Minneapolis district in the Minnesota Legislature, said that considering what is known about the Kalamazoo spill one would expect Enbridge to agree to reasonable environmental safeguards.

That, however, was not the case.

Hornstein was one of four legislative committee chairs who signed a letter to Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board, protesting Enbridge’s failure to agree to safety requirements in proposed legislation.

Among the requirements:

  • Provide monitoring equipment within three hours of a discharge or to develop an annual plan to deliver monitoring equipment to a discharge site;
  • Provide containment booms from land across sewer outfalls, creeks, ditches and other places where oil and other hazardous substances may drain in order to contain leaked material before it reaches those resources;
  • To have capability to deliver containment booms, boats, oil recovery equipment and trained staff within eight hours of a confirmed discharge to recover 10% of a worst case discharge;
  • Deliver equipment to protect sensitive environmental areas and drinking water intakes, within 60 hours of a major spill.

Hornstein said that representatives of Enbridge met with members of the Minnesota House of Representatives to discuss the proposed safety requirements.

“Then they went to work in the Senate and had the word ‘pipeline’ stripped from the [transportation safety] bill. If the railroads can agree with these safety measures, why can’t Enbridge?”

The Alberta Clipper passes through Minnesota. A second Enbridge pipeline, the Sandpiper, has been put on hold by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, after environmentalists and legislators, including Hornstein, protested.

“Enbridge ignored our requests to consider a southern route for the pipeline, which would have avoided wetlands and lakes and Native American’s rice beds where a spill would be a disaster,” Hornstein said.

 

Tar-Sands Spigot Opens

In September, three of the five members of the commission directed Enbridge to consider six alternate routes for its Sandpiper Pipeline.

Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper Pipeline is unlikely to encounter any such administrative delays. At least not at the federal level.

A State Department spokesperson said that, “In the case of Line 3, the department determined that Enbridge’s proposed replacement of the border segment was consistent with the authorization in the existing presidential permit.”

He added that the State Department issued a Federal Register notice on August 18, 2014, which includes new information provided by Enbridge regarding the company’s intention to use its existing line to move oil across the border and ramp up pumping beyond the border. And that in both cases, he stressed that he was not speaking for state and local entities, which could exercise their own authority.

While Terri Larson in Enbridge’s Houston office described using an existing pipeline to move oil across the border a “short term” solution “that does not address the longer term need,” David Coburn, the D.C. attorney handling the permit, says the company can import 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day “with no additional permit.”

Whether that is a contradiction or a distinction without a difference, in six to eight months the Canadian tar-sands spigot opens to full capacity.


Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator.

22 responses to “Second Canadian Company Completing Tar-Sands Pipeline into the U.S.

    1. The complete control of Congress will test President’s mettle, as Republicans attempt to force his hand on the Keystone XL. How will he respond? Will Secretary of State Kerry now pay attention to the Enbridge Pipeline? Will we have two 800,000 barrel per day pipelines up and running. The Sierra Club and an indigenous group filed suit in an attempt to block Enbridge the day after our story ran.

  1. ABSOLUTELY DIABOLIC THAT GOVERNMENTS ARE COLLUDING WITH MEGA OIL GIANTS LIKE THIS – IT MAKES FOR NATIONAL SOCIALISM – WHEREBY THE STATE DICTATES AS A STOOGE TO THE COMPANIES IT ACTUALLY WORKS FOR – BACKHANDERS AND BACKSLAPS ALL ROUND, EH BOYS (OH AND THERE ARE MANY WOMEN WHO HAVE LONG BEEN ON THE POWER BAND-WAGON WHO ARE JUST AS BAD – LOOK AT THAT DREADFUL SARAH PALIN – AS GOVERNOR OF ALASKA, INSTEAD OF PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT AND AMAZING WILDLIFE THERE SHE TOOK MONEY FROM ‘HUNTERS’ SO THAT THEY COULD TAKE POT-SHOTS AT POLAR BEARS FROM HELICOPTERS1) – MALE OR FEMALE – THE MONEY-GRUBBERS ARE OUT TO DO THERE WORST – EXCEPT BY EACH OTHER – HOPEFULLY ONE DAY THERE WON;T BE THE NEED FOR ALL THESE FUELS AND THEY WILL ALL HAVE TO TURN TO SOMETHING ELSE BUT THE WORLD WILL REMEMBER, BOYCOTT AND BANKRUPT THE LOT OF THEM – AND SEE ALL THEIR POITICAL CRONIES OUT OF OFFICE TOO!

    1. I am with you on this one. I’d like to see all the scum out of office and they along with the rich bitches/bastards that are buying their support can all burn in hell with their money, oil, pesticides and anything else they are killing people and the environment with.

  2. You’re missing what makes Enbridge’s Line 67 a “Keystone Clone”– the fact that it connects to the Gulf. Coast. Line 67 connects to Line 61, which connects to Flanagan South, which connects to Seaway, which ends at the Texas Gulf Coast

    1. I did include this:
      The Alberta Clipper begins in Alberta, crosses the Canadian border, and continues for 327 miles, ending at a tank battery in Superior, Wisconsin. From there, the oil would flow to Cushing, Oklahoma, then to the Gulf Coast for refining and export.
      I could have been more explicit. Thank you for the detailed response.

    1. I failed to mention, Phil, that Honor the Earth is a plaintiff trying to stop the Alberta Clipper;
      WHITE EARTH NATION, HONOR THE EARTH, INDIGENOUS ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK, MINNESOTA CONSERVATION FOUNDATION, MN350, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY, SIERRA CLUB, and NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION,
      Plaintiffs,
      vs.
      JOHN KERRY, in his official capacity as Secretary of State, and the UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE,

  3. The Kalamazoo River spill was 100 miles west of Detroit, not east. 100 miles east of Detroit would be in the middle of Lake Erie.

  4. I insist the our State Dept. follow our own laws. The Keystone Pipeline should not be illegally avoided with tar sand oil coming into our country. The Presdent and our government have not agreed to it. Just another example of money and profit being foremost rather than environmental sense.

    1. Seems evident. The law is the law. These parties filed suit two days ago, demanding the State Department comply with the law: WHITE EARTH NATION, HONOR THE EARTH, INDIGENOUS ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK, MINNESOTA CONSERVATION FOUNDATION, MN350, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY, SIERRA CLUB, and NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION,
      Plaintiffs,
      vs.
      JOHN KERRY, in his official capacity as Secretary of State, and the UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE,

  5. Dear Mr. and Mrs. Costas-Mirza:

    I would like to acknowledge receipt of your e-mail addressed to the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper regarding oil exploration in the Arctic.

    Please be assured that your comments have been given careful consideration. As they will also be of interest to the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I have taken the liberty of forwarding a copy of your message to him. I am certain that the Minister will appreciate being made aware of your views, and will wish to give them every consideration.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your views with the Prime Minister.

    P. Monteith
    Executive Correspondence Officer
    for the Prime Minister’s Office
    Agent de correspondance
    de la haute direction
    pour le Cabinet du Premier ministre

    >>> From : Davis Mirza davismirza@gmail.com Received : 11 Nov 2014 01:34:25 AM >>>

    >>> Subject : Open Letter to Stephen Harper: Stop Seismic Oil Tests in the ARCTIC! >>>>

    Dear Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ,

    As concerned Canadians about climate change, we are writing to you today in solidarity with the community of Clyde River, Nunavut, in Canada’s Arctic.

    Dangerous seismic testing has been permitted off the coast of Clyde River in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait without adequate consultation and despite local concerns for the safety of marine mammals and other wildlife that could face permanent physical damage or death as a result of this invasive industrial activity. When oil prices are falling with the glut of foreign and domestic oil on the market, what is your motivation to start drilling in the Arctic?

    If you allow oil companies to continue on this destructive path, drilling in the Arctic could devastate coastal communities forever as an oil spill in icy waters would be impossible to clean up. Remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska!

    We are imploring you to put an immediate moratorium on seismic testing and ban all offshore drilling in Canada’s Arctic.

    Mr. Harper, what happens in the Arctic affects us all. And climate change and its environmental impacts should not be seen as an opportunity to ram your drill-at-all-cost agenda on the planet so a few of your petroleum political donors can get rich.

    Where is the environmental stewardship the Canadian government promised when it called for reducing green house gas emissions and promoting green energy technologies that Canada adopted at the Kyoto Protocol? The planet must transition away from fossil fuels if we are to remain living as a species well into the 22nd Century.

    What kind of environmental legacy are you leaving your children, Mr. Harper, if you exploit the Arctic in search of unsustainable energy reserves. Current Ontario science curricula, written by Canadian scientist/astronaut Roberta Bondar, promotes the positive impacts of green energy on civil society so that sun, wind, geo-thermal, hydrogen, bio-gas and conservation are energy buzz-words on the minds of every young Ontarian of school age. A transition to the next generation of green-energy leaders is already happening because their future is negatively impacted by your fossil fuel agenda.

    In your zeal to become less dependent on foreign oil and to make a few Calgary capitalists rich quicker, you forsake our entire natural ecosystem and everything that is precious to Canadians and to visitors of Canada. When Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu flew over the tar sands, he described the scene as ‘filth…created by greed.’ In urging all sides to work together to protect the environment and aboriginal rights, Tutu stated:

    “The fact that this filth is being created now, when the link between carbon emissions and global warming is so obvious, reflects negligence and greed…[t]he oil sands are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high-risk fuels that must end if we are committed to a safer climate. Oil sands development not only devastates our shared climate, it is also stripping away the rights of First Nations and affected communities to protect their children, land and water from being poisoned.” (click: )

    Mr. Harper, there were not too many Canadians that day in disagreement. Yet you remain convinced that exporting petroleum to the lowest bidder will make Canada a stronger economy and an independent energy provider. Yet, Canada is the laughing stock of the global community because you steadfastly refuse to heed the warnings from scientists that climate change exists and that Canadians– as one of the planet’s largest energy consumers — are part of that problem.

    Even though you recently skipped the UN climate talks in New York, nearly half a million people marched to protest humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels. In response, the Rockefeller Foundation recently declared its intention to divest $50 billion dollars from fossil fuels, in team with dozens of other investment portfolios. In fact, the Rockefellers take direct aim at Canada’s current energy policy stating:

    ‘… we are committed to reducing our exposure to coal and tar sands to less than one percent of the total portfolio by the end of 2014. As we take the steps to divest from coal and [Canadian] tar sands investments, we are also undertaking a comprehensive analysis of our exposure to any remaining fossil fuel investments and will work with the RBF (Rockefeller Brothers Foundation) Investment Committee and board of trustees to determine an appropriate strategy for further divestment over the next few years.’ (click: )

    Is there something these old capitalists know that you don’t, Prime Minister? Could it be that when Hurricane Sandy flooded Wall Street and battered Long Island, this was just the beginning of a climate crisis to hit the Eastern seaboard: a vivid reminder that as sea levels rise from melting Arctic ice, millions of people will suffer.

    But you know that Mr. Harper as you allow oil prospecting in Nunavut waters…in your rush to drill for Arctic oil as the ice caps melt, you ignore the calamity our neighbours to the South will inevitably face. Drilling for undiscovered fossil fuel in the Arctic will literally open the flood gates of melting Arctic waters that are destroying communities and imperiling the very survival of millions of people along the coasts. Click ‘Sandy Survivors Urge Obama to Lead on Climate, Reject Keystone XL Ahead of SOTU’

    And yet you show no remorse, no empathy or even gratitude for those who survived the climate storms that, Canada, as a climate emitting nation, is responsible for. In fact, as Hurricane Sandy survivors led the Climate March in NYC, you ignored the summit and subsequent march, refusing to meet with the flood victims or attend the UN talks to defend Canada’s fossil-ized position!

    The question begs to be asked, Prime Minister: when will you recognize the negative impact Canadian fossil fuel production is having on communities across the planet and implement carbon-reducing policies to help them in their time of need? Is your inability to act a response mechanism at having to possibly pay-out billions, nay, trillions of dollars in reparations because of Canada’s negligent energy policy,..admitting what scientists and even venture capitalists already know: coal and oil are the ‘blood diamonds’ of climate change?

    When our Canadian energy policy (one that could be clean, green, sustainable and socially responsible) is trumped by an elitist petroleum politik, WE ALL LOSE, MR. HARPER! If you continue to put petroleum wealth ahead of human and environmental health, something’s gotta give, and obviously, New York flood victims and melting polar ice caps are not on your current radar. If not those people who may be (in)directly impacted by our green house gas emissions, then think about 90% of those amazing Arctic narwhals that will be permanently disabled because of seismic testing in the Arctic.

    Please act on the ethical side of history, Prime Minister and invest in a healthy and sustainable energy policy that protects the Arctic so that the next generation, and the many generations after are not left with a global crisis that cannot be undone…no matter how many billions in oil profits corporate petro-tyrants spin in denial.

    Sincerely,
    Davis & Rhonda Costas-Mirza
    Toronto, CANADA

  6. We need to classify tar sands a different substance than oil. Tar sands is a thick bitumen that is full of toxic elements posing health and environmental risk. Unlike crude oil that floats tar sand sinks causing billion dollar environmental cleanup efforts. This tar sands oil is not what was approved to cross our boarders back in the 60’s through Enbridge pipelines and permits. Where are our high paid educated lawyers to defend our lands and waterways from corporate take over? It is a blazen unjust and a big corporate bully onto the American citizens with their high paid lawyer telling us how they have the right to flow their tar sands through our country. Of all the battles to environmental health this one against tar sands should remain our war!

  7. On what basis could the FOIA request be denied? How can they justify hiding their correspondence with Enbridge?

    On a different topic: Thank you for your excellent work.

Comments are closed.