Weekly Mulch: The Sticky Truth about Oil Spills and Tar Sands

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

The National Oil Spill Commission released its report on last year’s BP oil spill this week. The report laid out the blame for the spill, tagging each of the three companies working on the Deepwater Horizon at the time, Halliburton, Transocean and BP, and also offered prescriptions for avoiding similar disasters in the future.

As Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard notes, it’s unlikely the recommendations will impact policy going forward.

“I think the recommendations are pretty tepid given the severity of the crisis,” Jackie Savitz, director of pollution campaigns at the advocacy group Oceana, told Sheppard. “Even the small things they’re suggesting, I think it’s going to be hard to convince Congress to make those changes.”

No transparency for you!

Last summer, after the spill, the Obama administration tried hard to look like it was pushing back against the oil industry, even though just weeks before the spill, the president had promised to open new areas of the East Coast to offshore drilling.

This week brought new evidence that, despite some posturing to the contrary, the administration is not exactly unfriendly to the energy industry. One of the key decisions the administration faces about the country’s energy future is whether to support the Keystone XL, a pipeline that would pump oil from tar sands in Canada down to Texas refineries.  And one of the key lobbyists for TransCanada, the company intending to build the pipeline, is a former staffer for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, filed a Freedom of Information requesting correspondence between the lobbyist, Paul Elliott, and his former boss, but the State Department denied the request.

“We do not believe that the State Department has legitimate legal grounds to deny our FOIA request, and assert that the agency is ignoring its own written guidance regarding FOIA requests and the release of public information,” said Marcie Keever, the group’s legal director, The Michigan Messenger’s Ed Brayton reports. “This is the type of delay tactic we would have expected from the Bush administration, not the Obama administration, which has touted its efforts to usher in a new era of transparency in government, including elevated standards in dealing with lobbyists.”

Tar sands’ black mark

What are the consequences if the government approves the pipeline? As Care2’s Beth Buczynski writes, “Communities along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path would face increased risk of spills, and, at the pipeline’s end, the health of those living near Texas refineries would suffer, as tar sands oil spews higher levels of dangerous pollutants into the air when processed.”

What’s more, the tar sands extraction process has already brought environmental devastation to the areas like Alberta, Canada, where tar sands mining occurs. Earth Island Journal’s Jason Mark recently visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, which he calls “impressively forthright” in its discussion of the environmental issues brought on by oil sands. (The museum is run by Alberta’s provincial government.) Mark reports:

The section on habitat fragmentation was especially good. As one panel put it, “Increasingly, Alberta’s remaining forested areas resemble islands of trees in a larger network of cut lines, well sites, mine, pipeline corridors, plant sites, and human settlements. … Forest disturbances can also encourage increased predation and put some plants and animals at risk.”

Not renewable, just new

The museum that Mark visited also made clear that extracting and refining oil from tar sands is a labor-intensive practice. He writes:

Mining, we learn, is just the start. Then the tar has to be “upgraded” into synthetic petroleum via a process that involves “conditioning,” “separation” into a bitumen froth, then “deaeration” to take out gases, and finally injection into a dual-system centrifuge that removes the last of the solids. Next comes distillation, thermal conversion, catalytic conversion, and hydrotreating. At that point the recombined petroleum is ready to be refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. It all felt like a flashback to high school chemistry.

Why bother with this at all? In short, because with easily accessible sources of oil largely tapped out, techniques like tar sands mining and deepwater drilling are the only fonts of oil available. This problem is going to get worse, as The Nation is explaining over the next few weeks in its video series on peak oil.

Energy and the economy

Traditional ideas about energy dictate that even as the world uses up limited resources like oil, technology will create access to new sources, find ways to use limited resources more efficiently, or find ways to consume new sources of energy. These advances will head off any problems with consumption rates. The peak oil theory, on the contrary, argues that it is possible to use up a resource like oil, that there’s a peak in supply.

Once the peak has been passed, the consequences, particularly the economic consequences, become dire, as Richard Heinberg, senior fellow with the Post Carbon Institute explains. “If the amount of energy we can use is declining, we may be seeing the end of economic growth as we define it right now,” he told The Nation. Watch more below:

Light green

Part of the problem is that the energy resources that could replace fossil fuels like oil—wind and solar energy, for instance—likely won’t be in place before the oil wells run dry. And as Monica Potts reports at The American Prospect, our new green economy is getting off to a slow start.

Although the administration has talked incessantly about supporting green jobs, Potts writes that the federal government hasn’t even finalized what count as a “green job” yet. The working definition, which is currently under review, asserts that green jobs are in industries that “benefit the environment or conserve national resources” or entails work to green a company’s “production process.” But what does that actually mean?

“That definition was rightly criticized as overly broad,” Potts writes. She continues:

While nearly everyone would include installing solar panels as a green job, what about an architect who designs a green house? (Under the proposed definition, both would count.) … Another problem comes in weighing green purposes against green execution: We could count, for example, public-transit train operators as green workers. But how do we break down transportation as an industry more broadly? Most would probably agree that truckers who drive tractor-trailers running on diesel fuel wouldn’t count as green workers even if they’re transporting wind-turbine parts. And many of the jobs we would count as green already exist.

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the country is moving swiftly toward a bright green future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: The Sticky Truth about Oil Spills and Tar Sands

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

The National Oil Spill Commission released its report on last year’s BP oil spill this week. The report laid out the blame for the spill, tagging each of the three companies working on the Deepwater Horizon at the time, Halliburton, Transocean and BP, and also offered prescriptions for avoiding similar disasters in the future.

As Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard notes, it’s unlikely the recommendations will impact policy going forward.

“I think the recommendations are pretty tepid given the severity of the crisis,” Jackie Savitz, director of pollution campaigns at the advocacy group Oceana, told Sheppard. “Even the small things they’re suggesting, I think it’s going to be hard to convince Congress to make those changes.”

No transparency for you!

Last summer, after the spill, the Obama administration tried hard to look like it was pushing back against the oil industry, even though just weeks before the spill, the president had promised to open new areas of the East Coast to offshore drilling.

This week brought new evidence that, despite some posturing to the contrary, the administration is not exactly unfriendly to the energy industry. One of the key decisions the administration faces about the country’s energy future is whether to support the Keystone XL, a pipeline that would pump oil from tar sands in Canada down to Texas refineries.  And one of the key lobbyists for TransCanada, the company intending to build the pipeline, is a former staffer for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, filed a Freedom of Information requesting correspondence between the lobbyist, Paul Elliott, and his former boss, but the State Department denied the request.

“We do not believe that the State Department has legitimate legal grounds to deny our FOIA request, and assert that the agency is ignoring its own written guidance regarding FOIA requests and the release of public information,” said Marcie Keever, the group’s legal director, The Michigan Messenger’s Ed Brayton reports. “This is the type of delay tactic we would have expected from the Bush administration, not the Obama administration, which has touted its efforts to usher in a new era of transparency in government, including elevated standards in dealing with lobbyists.”

Tar sands’ black mark

What are the consequences if the government approves the pipeline? As Care2’s Beth Buczynski writes, “Communities along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path would face increased risk of spills, and, at the pipeline’s end, the health of those living near Texas refineries would suffer, as tar sands oil spews higher levels of dangerous pollutants into the air when processed.”

What’s more, the tar sands extraction process has already brought environmental devastation to the areas like Alberta, Canada, where tar sands mining occurs. Earth Island Journal’s Jason Mark recently visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, which he calls “impressively forthright” in its discussion of the environmental issues brought on by oil sands. (The museum is run by Alberta’s provincial government.) Mark reports:

The section on habitat fragmentation was especially good. As one panel put it, “Increasingly, Alberta’s remaining forested areas resemble islands of trees in a larger network of cut lines, well sites, mine, pipeline corridors, plant sites, and human settlements. … Forest disturbances can also encourage increased predation and put some plants and animals at risk.”

Not renewable, just new

The museum that Mark visited also made clear that extracting and refining oil from tar sands is a labor-intensive practice. He writes:

Mining, we learn, is just the start. Then the tar has to be “upgraded” into synthetic petroleum via a process that involves “conditioning,” “separation” into a bitumen froth, then “deaeration” to take out gases, and finally injection into a dual-system centrifuge that removes the last of the solids. Next comes distillation, thermal conversion, catalytic conversion, and hydrotreating. At that point the recombined petroleum is ready to be refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. It all felt like a flashback to high school chemistry.

Why bother with this at all? In short, because with easily accessible sources of oil largely tapped out, techniques like tar sands mining and deepwater drilling are the only fonts of oil available. This problem is going to get worse, as The Nation is explaining over the next few weeks in its video series on peak oil.

Energy and the economy

Traditional ideas about energy dictate that even as the world uses up limited resources like oil, technology will create access to new sources, find ways to use limited resources more efficiently, or find ways to consume new sources of energy. These advances will head off any problems with consumption rates. The peak oil theory, on the contrary, argues that it is possible to use up a resource like oil, that there’s a peak in supply.

Once the peak has been passed, the consequences, particularly the economic consequences, become dire, as Richard Heinberg, senior fellow with the Post Carbon Institute explains. “If the amount of energy we can use is declining, we may be seeing the end of economic growth as we define it right now,” he told The Nation. Watch more below:

Light green

Part of the problem is that the energy resources that could replace fossil fuels like oil—wind and solar energy, for instance—likely won’t be in place before the oil wells run dry. And as Monica Potts reports at The American Prospect, our new green economy is getting off to a slow start.

Although the administration has talked incessantly about supporting green jobs, Potts writes that the federal government hasn’t even finalized what count as a “green job” yet. The working definition, which is currently under review, asserts that green jobs are in industries that “benefit the environment or conserve national resources” or entails work to green a company’s “production process.” But what does that actually mean?

“That definition was rightly criticized as overly broad,” Potts writes. She continues:

While nearly everyone would include installing solar panels as a green job, what about an architect who designs a green house? (Under the proposed definition, both would count.) … Another problem comes in weighing green purposes against green execution: We could count, for example, public-transit train operators as green workers. But how do we break down transportation as an industry more broadly? Most would probably agree that truckers who drive tractor-trailers running on diesel fuel wouldn’t count as green workers even if they’re transporting wind-turbine parts. And many of the jobs we would count as green already exist.

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the country is moving swiftly toward a bright green future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Hillary should have focused on governability, not electability

 One of Hillary Clinton's and her supporters mistakes in the primary was their focus on electability.  Hillary probably would have only done slightly better than Obama in the general election and it was never a very good argument to make in 2008.

 

 

There's more...

10 Reasons NOT to Burn a Koran--and How to Fight Bigotry

Opposition is mounting to the "Burn a Koran Day" scheduled for September 11th in Florida. General David Petraeus said it could harm our troops, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it unrepresentative of Americans. Attorney General Eric Holder called it "idiotic and dangerous," and the Vatican has called the planned demonstration "outrageous and grave."

But the event planners, Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center, are moving forward in spite of the outcry. In fact, they posted five MORE reasons to burn a Koran on their blog just yesterday.

Human Rights First has compiled our own list--we asked our supporters to submit reasons NOT to burn a Koran. We received over 5,000 responses. Below is the Top 10 list:

Ten Reasons NOT to Burn a Koran

 

  1. Book burning! Do I really need to say why?
  2. By not burning a Koran I'm not burning a bridge to communication.
  3. Burning the Koran because of extremist Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists makes no more sense than burning the Bible because of the Ku Klux Klan or Nazis.
  4. Hatred breeds more hatred and that is not going to solve any of our problems.
  5. That type of hate-filled religious intolerance has no place anywhere in the world, and is especially abhorrent in a country where religious freedom is one of the pillars of its foundation.
  6. It's a sacred book to millions of people. We should respect all people's beliefs.
  7. It will only inflame. I'd like people to understand each other.
  8. I may not believe in the words of the Koran but I would never burn one out of respect for my fellow humans who do.
  9. Support our troops!
  10. We must learn to coexist. We cannot continue to live in fear and suspicion.
You can make a stand with us. Show the fearmongers and the world that Americans don't stand for bigotry by ordering your free "Americans Don't Burn Books" bookmark (you just need to cover shipping and handling).

Help us urge other leaders--including former President George W. Bush--to speak out against bigotry. He and members of his administration spoke out for tolerance and freedom of religion during his presidency. George W. Bush could make a difference by speaking out now.

We need everyone to speak out--Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Join our efforts--get your bookmark and carry it proudly!

Robert Gates Expected to Leave Next Year

(cross-posted on FDL Seminal)

I first saw this reported by Ben Smith for Politico.com and was a bit surprised. Robert Gates is the current Secretary of Defense for the Obama Administration, and had been for George W. Bush as well. This could be a crucial decision made by Gates as much of the attention in Obama’s presidency is now focused on the two wars started by the Bush Administration, but expected to be finished by Obama.

Robert Gates, pillar of Obama’s national security policy, tells Fred Kaplan he’ll leave some time next year, ensuring that the decision about replacing him is shadowed by Obama’s re-election campaign.

There’s no obvious replacement for Gates, certainly none with the same capacity to silence Republican attacks on the administration’s security policy. The most politically logical replacement may be HIllary Clinton.

[Source: Politico (cited from Foreign Policy Magazine)]

Ben Smith is right. This could be yet another thing brought to the table by Republicans to admonish Obama and his handling of National Security issues, especially if a Democrat is appointed to take Gates’ place. Appointing Hillary Clinton, as Smith suggested, seems to me to be more of a tumultuous effort. This would involve having to find someone else to head State Department. Two crucial changes in two of the arguably most important cabinet positions could be costly politically and as far as his policies are concerned as well.

Robert Gates’s position as Secretary of Defense is about the only thing the Republicans haven’t extensively chastised Obama for in his first two years in the Oval Office. The RNC is certainly looking at this news and salivating.

Citing two separate interviews, the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out that Gates and General David Petraeus have differing views on the likelihood of pulling out of Afghanistan and a withdrawal time frame: 

”There is no question in anybody’s mind that we are going to begin drawing down troops in July of 2011,” Mr Gates told the Los Angeles Times.

But General Petraeus has refused to be bound by the deadline, reserving the right to seek a delay if necessary.

Asked in a separate interview whether he could recommend a delay to Mr Obama because of conditions on the ground, he replied: ”Certainly, yeah.”

”I think the President has been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions-based,” General Petraeus told NBC television’s Meet the Press.

Obama will have to choose someone who’s willing to move beyond partisan lines and do what is right to bring our troops home. The U.S. needs to be out of Iraq and Afghanistan; we’ve long overstayed any welcome we had. You can walk up to several people on any American street today and ask them "Who are we fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan?" You will get several different answers. Why? Because the American public doesn’t know. It’s a fundamental problem if there is not a general consensus on who we are sending our soldiers to fight and die for.

These two wars are still out of hand, cost a ton of taxpayer money, and thousands of our men and women are putting themselves in harm’s way.

When Robert Gates leaves, Obama must appoint someone who will have and execute a clear exit strategy for both countries.

Obama’s presidency has been marred with unfulfilled expectations and mediocrity, failing to capitalize on the opportunities he has been given. His majority in Congress, granted, has not helped him much. In spite of them he has an obligation as president to fulfill the promises he made to the people who elected him — mainly the progressive base.
I want to say to him:

Don’t neglect your base, Mr. President. As you have seen yourself, the powerful grassroots progressive movement mobilized support for you in order to give you the tools to make this a better country for all of us to live in.

A comprehensive end to the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan is something that is very much a possibility for Obama to do. As much as I hate to say this, don’t let them turn into another Vietnam. George W. Bush started this mess, and by default, Mr. President, you have to clean it up. You promised to end these conflicts, now let’s see it happen. It starts with leadership.

 

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