Keystone XL Pipeline Timeline: a lovely narrative of lies, bullying and corruption

Updated September 22, 2013

April 2008: TransCanada states in a National Energy Board Hearing that around 864 km of pipeline extension would create 17 permanent jobs in Canada. [Current planned length of pipeline within U.S. is around 1,400km. Do the math in terms of permanent jobs for us: you could get a job and have 26.5 fantastic coworkers! I realize this number may vary a bit but it certainly isn’t +/- 500,000 to a million as U.S. ads and politicians touted from the get-go.]

Sept. 19, 2008: Backers of the Keystone XL pipeline extension submitted their application to the US State Department (DoS). Since it’s a Canadian company working on a Canadian project it doesn’t require Congress’ approval, but it does seem to need a certificate of national interest from the DoS.

2009-2012: There are countless reports of landowners along the pipeline route being bullied by TransCanada into selling rights to their land. The pattern is always the same:

  1. TransCanada comes in and claims that they have eminent domain (I didn’t see instances where they actually had been awarded right to eminent domain before doing this, which makes sense since it’s hard to argue that a Canadian pipeline leading to an export port is in the public’s interest.)
  2. They tell farmers that they are the last ones to sign and that if they don’t sell their land rights for a pittance they are going to sue them into poordom thanks to their definitely-not-made-up right to eminent domain. In addition to that they mislead landowners or simply lie to them about what’ll be running through the pipes and in some cases switch the pipes to smaller thinner pipes (i.e. less safe) without notifying them. Tar sands oil is more dangerous than regular crude, the spills are horrible. It doesn’t float. It sinks to the bottom. Time and money has to be spent on massive dredging operations (which as you may guess an oil company isn’t very willing to do anyway.) [Apparently it's fairly clear that the pipeline TransCanada built in Texas is in danger of leaking and that Keystone pipelines already in existence don't have a great not-leaking-a-lot record. TransCanada still today refuses to use things like infrared leak detectors.]

April 2011: U.S. Senator Ron Wyden calls for an investigation: “…there is clear indication that there is a coordinated strategy among Canadian suppliers to gain higher prices. According to TransCanada, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline can be used by Canadian oil shippers to add up to $4 billion to U.S. fuel costs.” By draining oil from the Midwest markets and diverting it to the South, the pipeline will create scarcity for Midwesterners and lead to a strong increase in gas prices.

July 2011: WikiLeaks obtained a 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa noting that the DoS energy envoy, David Goldwyn, “alleviated” the concerns of Canadian officials as to whether or not the pipeline would be approved, coached them on how to improve their “oil sands messaging” and let them know how to increase the “visibility and accessibility of more positive news stories”. A couple of months before this revelation Goldwyn testified before Congress in favor of building the pipeline.

Aug. 2011: DoS releases Environmental Impact Study (EIS) according to which the pipeline will have “limited adverse environmental consequences.” DoS still needs to rule whether or not it is in the national interest.

Aug. 19, 2011: Cindy Schild from the American Petroleum Institute (the API, arguably Keystone XL’s main cheerleader within the U.S.) defends Keystone XL on Democracy Now!. Jane Kleeb, a grassroots leader opposing the pipeline, suggests that the oil will not be for the U.S. since the company refuses to guarantee that it will be. Ms. Schild implies that it would make “no sense” to build a pipeline running down the United States if the oil wasn’t for us. Ok, we agree, Cindy. That would be bananas.

Sept. 2011: A Cornell University Global Labor Institute report based on TransCanada numbers supplied to the DoS states the “project will create no more than 2,500-4,600 temporary direct construction jobs” and “new permanent US pipeline jobs in the US number as few as 50.

Oct. 2011:

- Emails uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal DoS’s inappropriate relationship with Paul Elliott, a long-time campaign aide for the Clintons who is now Keystone XL’s lead lobbyist. The Hilary Clinton State Department employees offer “personal favors, praise, advice”, emoticons and encouragement as the project was in the middle of the DoS review. “It’s precisely because you have connections that you’re sought after and hired,” they coo, “Go Paul!”, they halla. That last one is from State Department official Marja Verloop who was congratulating Mr. Elliott on wooing Senator Max Baucus over to the Keystone pipers because his “support holds clout”.

- Other emails hosted by Friends of the Earth show that in July State Department and TransCanada employees agreed that the company would drop their request for a “special permit” to operate the pipeline at a higher pressure than is usually allowed in our country so that they could win political support and reapply once the project had been cleared.

- New York Times reveals that DoS assigned the Environmental Impact Study on Keystone XL to Cardno Entrix a company “with financial ties” to TransCanada. What happened was DoS let TransCanada accept bids for the performance of the EIS and then let TransCanada pick Cardno Entrix who was also tasked with running the public hearings on the pipeline. The National Environmental Policy Act recommends the contractor be “selected by the lead agency” and dictates there be no conflict of interest. TransCanada was listed as one of Cardno Entrix’s major clients in the latter’s marketing materials. FUN FACT! Cardno Entrix was the same environmental consultant that was brought in after BP’s Deepwater Horizon infinite spill. The EPA deemed its assessment to be fundamentally flawed.

- Los Angeles Times reports that Broderick Johnson, who in 2010 and 2011 worked as a lobbyist supporting the “submission for a presidential permit for Keystone XL Pipeline” lobbying the administration and State Department, is hired as a top advisor for the Obama reelection campaign.

Nov. 5, 2011: The Washington Post reports that TransCanada admits they already purchased large part of the project’s equipment. $1.9 Billion’s worth of this $7 billion project is sitting in a warehouse. $1.7 billion worth of steel will be purchased directly from a Russian-owned mill in Canada. Over 50% of project budget is accounted for without taking into account the cost of legal fees, land rights, construction work, lobbying, etc. This means that a large part of the 7,000 indirect supply chain jobs they are still today promising are not going to exist.

Nov. 11, 2011: While speaking to CNN about the number of jobs the pipeline will generate TransCanada VP Robert Jones states you’re probably looking in the field from Montana to Houston in the hundreds, certainly not in the thousands”.

Nov. 18, 2011: Over 10,000 people surround White House engaging in peaceful civil disobedience. 1,253 are arrested. Sierra Club participates in civil disobedience for the first time in its 120-year history.

March 22, 2012: President Obama takes a wild swerve to the right, and then another and all of a sudden we’re facing oncoming traffic (i.e. he announces that he will be fast-tracking the southern portion of the pipeline which travels from Oklahoma to the gulf of Texas. The President implies that the only reason the Keystone pipeline has been an issue is because it was going to go through Nebraska’s water supply.

Aug. 2012: Construction of the southern leg begins.

Oct. 12, 2012: Canada’s National Energy Board issues a public letter to TransCanada stating they were “concerned by TransCanada’s non-compliance with NEB regulations, as well as its own internal management systems and procedures“.

Oct. 2012: Reports of TransCanada work in Winnsboro, Texas and their treatment of peaceful landowners, protestors and reporters is deeply disturbing. Physical abuse of protesters who were already immobile and in handcuffs includes chokeholds and tasering (which no matter what you are told is dangerous, you can die). Protesters and landowners have to report everything themselves as according to several reports TransCanada hired police officers that were off duty to keep the few press members that are there out. These off-duty police officers enter without permission into private property in uniform and armed with state-issued weapons to remove and detain journalists that have permission to be there and intended to report on TransCanada’s actions (this includes a journalist and a photographer working for the New York Times , as the newspaper has stated.) According to TarSandsBlockade, “a coalition of Texas and Oklahoma residents and organizers using nonviolent direct action”, a couple of journalists “arrested” by these off-duty police officers spent the night in jail. Any police officer participating in these types of activities would be committing a federal crime.

March 2013: DoS releases Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). Describes changes to original proposals concluding, “there would be no significant impacts to most resources along the proposed Project route.” Recommends neither acceptance nor rejection.

April 2013: EPA states that DoS report “is not based on an updated energy-economic modeling effort.” EPA rated the SEIS “EO-2“: EO for “Environmental Objections” and 2 for “insufficient information”. It makes many, many, many recommendations on overlooked items and recommends they be addressed in a final EIS.

June 20, 2013: 145 former Obama 2012 campaign staffers release open letter asking the President to reject Keystone XL.

July 10, 2013: It’s uncovered that Energy Resources Management (ERM), the firm that conducted the DoS study claiming the pipeline would not cause significant environmental harm, lied on its conflict of interest disclosure forms. Shortly before this revelation “an ERM employee tried to cover up his work for the Alaska Pipeline Project, a partnership between ExxonMobil and TransCanada.” Thank you, Friends of the Earth and The Checks & Balances Project for being way more useful than the DoS.

Jul. 24, 2013: Bloomberg notes that over a dozen Republican lawmakers wrote letters in support of Keystone XL using the exact language from correspondence written by lobbyists.

Aug. 2, 2013: Businessweek reveals more evidence that ERM lied on its conflict of interest disclosure form: “unless this document is a forgery, ERM appears not to have disclosed all it should have to the U.S. government.”

Aug. 25, 2013: Forbes criticizes pipeline quality in the southern pipeline. On a 60-mile section in Texas: “Sections of pipe have dents, faulty welds, and pin-holes in some sections enough to see daylight through.”

Sept. 8, 2013: Billionaire Tom Steyer rolls out a $1 million ad campaign against Keystone XL noting that it is going to seriously undercut U.S. economy by giving other countries easy access to “more oil to make more products to sell back to us [...] Here’s the truth: Keystone oil will travel through America not to America.”

If you think this whole process is outrageous and are willing to risk arrest in acts of peaceful civil disobedience, please sign the pledge. If you are not comfortable with risking arrest or are unable to do so, just mark the appropriate box on the pledge, there are other ways you can offer support.