Lamar W. Hankins : Pipeline Debate is Mired in Disinformation

Coming your way? Pieces of the pipeline. Image from National Radio Canada.

Keystone XL Pipeline debate
is mired in disinformation

The Keystone XL Pipeline project has virtually nothing to do with American energy independence, but everything to do with enriching Canadian tar sands oil interests and the interests of refineries that are in the oil products exporting business.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | March 5, 2013

One of the attributes of our current politics is the repetition of false information, even after it has been proven false. Such repetition is the use of propaganda based on deceit — not to persuade, but to manipulate.

A year ago, when I wrote about the Keystone XL pipeline, I assumed that the debate would be over by now, but the pipeline project has been delayed by protests in Texas and Oklahoma — the Tar Sands Blockade — which have kept the debate alive for a while longer. (To read more about the Tar Sands Blockade, go here and here.)

These delays have given the proponents of the pipeline an opportunity to push their disinformation campaign into high gear, although virtually all they have to say amounts to outright lies or distortions of the truth, to make a few petrochemical companies and investors richer at the expense of the environment — which means to the detriment of the people.

I’m in favor of advocacy, but when advocates are caught in lies, they have to change their message or expose themselves as untrustworthy or worse. Apparently this exposure does not bother the proponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is intended to carry tar sands oil — perhaps the most environmentally destructive oil found on the planet — from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

  • Deceit 1: Tar sands oil will move the U.S. toward energy independence

The most egregious lie told repeatedly by pipeline proponents is that the tar sands oil will move us toward energy independence. However, most of the petroleum products made from the tar sands oil will be sold overseas at prices even higher than we pay in the U.S. Nothing about the tar sands oil makes the U.S. energy independent, but it does increase the profits of the oil companies that are regularly gouging Americans by manipulating the availability of gasoline.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas’ senior Republican senator, along with others, stated in a January 2013 letter, “The pipeline is also a major step toward American energy security.” How can a source of oil that will be used primarily to make diesel fuel to be sold overseas help domestic energy security? Canada is seeking a way to have its tar sands oil processed for the international market, not the American market. Refineries in Texas, primarily the Valero refinery in Port Arthur, have been retrofitted to process tar sands oil, rather than to process the kind of oil that comes from domestic production and from OPEC, Venezuela, and Mexico.

The Valero refinery operates in a Foreign Trade Zone so that tar sands oil products will not be taxed when they are sold overseas. At conferences with investors since 2008, Valero has touted its ability to make and export diesel from its Port Arthur facility — the primary purpose of the tar sands oil. But it should come as no surprise that Sen. Cornyn is willing to deceive the public about an issue that involves the profits of oil companies. Since 1999, Sen. Cornyn has taken more than $2.1 million in oil company political contributions, including over $42,000 from Valero alone.

An honest look at the Keystone XL Pipeline project shows clearly that it has virtually nothing to do with American energy independence, but everything to do with enriching Canadian tar sands oil interests and the interests of refineries that are in the oil products exporting business.

  • Deceit 2: If the U.S. doesn’t get the tar sands oil, China will get it

Another unsupported proposition is that if we don’t allow Canada to send the tar sands oil to Gulf Coast refineries, they will just send it to Canada’s West Coast to be sold to China. This proposition is doubtful at best. China is trying to rid itself of massive pollution caused by its own industrialization. Tar sands oil is dirtier than other oil and will just make China’s environment worse, so it is unlikely to want the extra pollution problems it will cause.

Canada also has another problem with pipelining the tar sands oil to its west coast, through British Columbia: More than 100 indigenous groups along the Canadian pipeline route, organized in a coalition called First Nations, oppose the pipeline through British Columbia.

First Nations opposition is largely environmental and cultural. Over the past two years, First Nations tribes have signed an agreement to oppose all pipelines that cross through indigenous territory largely because of environmental concerns that focus on bird habitat, endangered boreal woodland caribou, and the Great Bear Rainforest. They fear also that oil spills from giant tankers will harm Fraser River salmon.

  • Deceit 3: The tar sands pipeline will result in many U.S. jobs

Proponents of the tar sands pipeline have claimed from 20,000 to half a million new jobs related to construction of the pipeline. But the original application for the pipeline made to the State Department claimed at most 4,200 temporary pipeline construction jobs. Every independent assessment of job claims has concluded that the projections of pipeline proponents are wildly inflated. The Cornell University Global Labor Institute, for example, reported last year the number of permanent pipeline jobs (inspection, maintenance, etc.) at about 50.

The Cornell Global Labor Institute published the only jobs study that was not funded by TransCanada, the developer of the XL Pipeline project. That study found that the pipeline project could destroy more jobs than it creates by causing long-term increases in domestic gasoline prices in the Midwest (where Canadian oil is processed in refineries that make gasoline for domestic use) and because of the cost of environmental impacts.

 The Institute reports that

TransCanada has already purchased most of the steel it intends to use for the pipeline from India; that most of the work will be conducted by people already employed by TransCanada; and that the Perryman Group (which did a study paid for by TransCanada) included already-completed pipeline projects in its job-creation estimates.

Something that has delayed the Texas portion of the pipeline project has been the unwillingness of a few Texans to be bullied by a foreign company that has manipulated Texas eminent domain law to its advantage until now. TransCanada claims that it is a “common carrier” in Texas, a status that would allow it to condemn property to use for its pipeline project.

But its status as a common carrier is not settled. Until we get an opinion from the appeals court in Texarkana (for information on the eminent domain suit, go here), we may not know if TransCanada is operating legally with regard to eminent domain. But if eminent domain can be used by a foreign company to take private land against the will of its owner, we are a lot less free than many of our politicians claim we are.

Even if you aren’t concerned about the environmental effects of the pipeline, the risk of leaks polluting surface water and aquifers, and the extra pollution caused by refining and transporting tar sands oil, it is hard to ignore the basic fact that the project has little, if any, benefit for the American public. We won’t get any closer to energy independence and we will get few, if any, permanent jobs out of the project. The pipeline project is not a public works project for which eminent domain should be used. There is no public benefit.

Let TransCanada make its money without burdening Texans by taking their land for the benefit of TransCanada’s owners.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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5 Responses to Lamar W. Hankins : Pipeline Debate is Mired in Disinformation

  1. Anonymous says:

    Drill it, Pump it, Transport it … enough said.

    – Extremist2TheDHS

  2. Steve Russell says:

    The only disagreements I have are (1) as long as the oil is crossing US real estate, it’s subject to seizure (with compensation) in case of national emergency, and therefore makes us more “independent” in extremis. (2) Sinopec owns a 10% stake as we speak, and they stand to take their share in loonies rather than oil…but they have a standing offer on the table to increase their share and take it in oil. I see no reason to think Sinopec is not serious, in spite of their dirty air, because they continue buying US coal hand over fist. 3. The number of permanent jobs is tied to the rules currently being written to enforce the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act. I suppose the number of temporary jobs is trivial…unless you’ve been out of work and you get one.

    The biggest deceit about Keystone is that failure to build it would stop the tar sands. That’s the lynchpin of the anti case, and it’s simply not so. If it’s not true, then the oil moves by other means that are both less safe from spills and have a larger carbon footprint than a pipeline.

  3. Steve Russell says:

    There’s a serious error above. Sinopec is the Chinese oil company that owns a stake in the tar sands. Obviously, an oil company is not “buying US coal hand over fist.” Other Chinese companies are, and given that the Chinese direct their economy, the point remains that development is still trumping air quality in China. They contend for the lead in renewables, but they are the undisputed leader in dirty power.

  4. Lamar Hankins says:

    I agree with Steve about China. I thought that was the weakest argument I made, partly because I can’t really know what China will do and Steve is probably right that they will continue to use dirty, polluting sources of energy, but we can hope they become more enlightened.

    And Steve is correct that there are other means (trucks and rail) that can deliver the tar sands oil to Port Arthur, the town where I grew up. I even worked for a summer in a Texaco refinery and many relatives worked there for over 40 years before retiring.

    My main concern, though, is with the mostly bogus arguments being made to promote this pipeline.

  5. Steve Russell says:

    A couple more points, Lamar.

    1.There is another pipeline, far behind KXL, to the West Coast, the beneficiary of which will be Sinopec.

    2. Another path to the Gulf Coast is by barge down the Mississippi.

    3. Another path to China’s refineries is the recently ice free Northwest Passage.

    All of the above are both worse for the US and worse for the environment.

    Oh, one more thing.

    Today, the NY Times editorialized against KXL, and the best argument they could make was that it might “slow the expansion” of the tar sands.

    The US environmental movement proceeds on the false premise that stopping KXL will stop the tar sands…and while that circus hogs the electrons, the US let the first lease for US tar sands ON PUBLIC LAND last year. I am gobsmacked that happened without significant opposition and extremely curious where they plan to get the water to develop the lease?

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