Oil demand to rise as global economy recovers, energy watchdog says
International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts growth in oil consumption of 1.3m barrels a day, with demand met from production by the US and Opec countries
theguardian.com, Tuesday 21 January 2014 11.11 GMT
Global oil demand will increase more quickly this year as economic growth accelerates, outstripping supply even as shale oil production in the United States reaches record highs, the west's energy watchdog said on Tuesday.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) said world oil consumption would increase by 1.3m barrels per day (bpd) this year, 50,000 bpd higher than previously forecast.
"Global oil demand growth appears to have gradually gained momentum in the last 18 months, driven by economic recovery in the developed world," the IEA said in its monthly report.
"Most OECD economies have by now largely exited the restraints of recession, with strong gains in some countries in the energy-intensive manufacturing and petrochemical sectors."
US oil production is increasing rapidly and is forecast to rise by 780,000 bpd this year, but the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) will also have to pump more to meet increasing demand.
The IEA, which advises most of the largest energy-consuming countries on energy policy, raised its forecast of demand for Opec oil this year by 200,000 bpd to 29.4m bpd.
Last year, political unrest led to a plunge in Libyan exports, at times to less than 10% of capacity, and more Iranian barrels disappeared from the market due to sanctions.
But Opec crude oil supply edged higher in December, reversing four months of declines, it said, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates leading the increase. Libya saw a modest rise and Iraq was the only member to post a fall.
Iranian supplies contracted by 320,000 bpd last year but edged higher in December as diplomatic activity aimed at halting Tehran's nuclear activity gained momentum.
The IEA said rising US crude production helped balance the effects of supply disruptions among some OPEC countries.
"Most prominent among those shifts was the relentless rise in US crude production, whose 990,000 bpd growth, one of the largest annual gains on record for any country, helped blunt the impact of supply declines elsewhere, notably Libya and Iran," the report said.
The loss of oil production from Libya and Iran has helped keep a floor under prices, but the increasing US output has limited rises.
Brent crude averaged around $108.70 a barrel last year, about $3 less than in 2012, and on Tuesday traded around $107.
US production growth in 2013 far surpassed the IEA's own projections, registering the fastest absolute annual supply expansion of any country in the past two decades, the report said.
However, the IEA said the energy industry had absorbed the extra supply through refinery and pipeline expansions and growth in crude rail transport.
"The trend in US production looks set to continue in 2014 and beyond, providing once again the largest changes in the market," the report said.
Demand over the last few months has depleted oil inventories despite rising production, it said.
The Paris-based agency said commercial oil stocks in the world's industrialised nations plummeted in November by 53.6m barrels, the biggest monthly decline since 2011.
European Commission issues new guidelines for fracking
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 13:45 EST
The European Commission issued Wednesday recommendations to ensure that clear environmental safeguards are in place when the controversial technique of “fracking” is used to tap shale gas reserves.
With a number of European countries looking to begin drilling for shale gas, the Commission said it was responding to calls for “minimum principles … to address environmental and health concerns and give operators and investors the predictability they need,” said Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.
Fracking involves the injection of chemicals and water under very high pressure to fracture shale rock formations deep underground and so release the gas and oil they contain, but there have been concerns the process can pollute water supplies and the soil.
Widely used in the United States, fracking has been heralded as an “energy revolution”, helping put the economy back on track with US companies benefiting from much cheaper energy prices.
Several EU countries have begun to explore for shale gas, and while none have yet begun commercial exploitation using fracking, led by Britain they have called for the EU to adopt light-touch regulation on shale gas.
Others, like France which has banned use of the technique, are concerned about its potential environmental impact.
That the Commission opted for a recommendation rather than legislation means member states can now go ahead without fear of any future impediment, hopefully respecting the standards set.
Among these, the Commission included a careful assessment of the environmental impact, informing the public about which chemicals are used, ensuring that industry best practices are used, and the close monitoring of water, soil and air quality.
While non-binding, the Commission urged the 28 member states to implement them within six months.
The Commission added it would require they report annually about what shale gas measures have been put in place and prepare a scoreboard on the situation in each country.
Industry group Shale Gas Europe said that while the Commission had tried to strike a balance, “we will need to see how these guidelines are subsequently applied.?
?We are encouraged that the Commission recognises that shale gas has the potential to bridge the move away from more carbon intensive fossil fuels,” it said.
In contrast, European Parliament ecologist deputy Michele Rivasi condemned the announcement as showing that the Commission “was not living up to its legislative responsibilities when it is supposed to guarantee protection of the environment and citizens’ health.”
The Commission says it is doubtful Europe can experience the same shale gas revolution which has pushed US gas prices down to around a third of those in the EU.
However, it could have large enough reserves to cover 10 percent of EU demand by 2035, helping reduce its reliance on costly imports.
The Commission’s recommendations are part of a wider initiative by the Commission to create an integrated climate and energy policy framework for the period up to 2030.
U.S. leg of Keystone XL pipeline opens
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 19:28 EST
Oil started to flow on Wednesday through the southern US leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, its Canadian operator said, while Washington mulls whether on not to approve its northern half.
Calgary-based firm TransCanada said the US$2.3 billion pipeline had begun carrying crude 487 miles from Cushing in Oklahoma to Gulf Coast refineries in the southern state of Texas.
The company projected that the pipeline’s capacity for the first year of operation would stand at 520,000 barrels per day, but said that could be scaled up to 700,000 barrels.
The Keystone XL project was first proposed back in 2008, but after years of delays, TransCanada split it in two, and construction began on a southern section that did not require US presidential approval.
President Barack Obama is to decide this year whether to green light the remaining 1,179-mile northern leg from Alberta in Canada, south through environmentally sensitive parts of the United States.
Opponents say extracting oil from Alberta’s oil sands produces more of the carbon emissions that cause climate change than standard drilling, as it must be steamed and separated from the sands.
Industry groups and Republican US lawmakers have promoted the project as a job creator and Canada bills itself as a safer source of energy for the United States than oil producers in the Middle East.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Australia Divided on Fracking
JAN. 22, 2014
By KATE GALBRAITH
Debate over hydraulic fracturing is growing in Australia, where environmentalists are concerned about new efforts to tap the country’s substantial reserves of oil and natural gas.
So far, experts say, hydraulic fracturing has made few inroads in Australia. But the practice, also known as fracking, is expected to grow as Australia seeks more natural gas for export. Fracking involves extracting oil or gas from shale rock with a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals.
Australia is poised at the “forefront of shale development,” because of its infrastructure, low population density and other factors, according to a report last week from the firm Lux Research.
That is not what the country’s environmentalists want to hear. They have watched the rise of fracking in the United States, where the practice has proliferated in recent years, and fear the possibility of water contamination or overuse, as well as earthquakes from the underground activity.
“Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the earth, and water is a huge issue for us here,” said Naomi Hogan, campaign manager in the Newcastle, Australia, office of the Wilderness Society. She said she worried about “any industry that puts that at risk and is a pollution threat across large tracts of land.”
Representatives of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association were unavailable for comment. But the group has stated that studies have shown fracking is safe, and in a news release this week it decried “exaggerated claims” by some anti-fracking environmentalists in the Kimberley region of Western Australia State, which has rich shale-gas reserves and has become a focal point of protests.
Australia’s fracking opponents have won some victories. Victoria State, which includes Melbourne, put a moratorium on fracking in 2012 that is still in effect. New South Wales, the state that includes Sydney, has placed some restrictions on fracking methods. As in the United States, fracking is largely regulated by the states.
Besides the Kimberley region in Western Australia, areas in Queensland and New South Wales have been among the focal points of environmentalists’ protests, Ms. Hogan said. Most fracking within Australia to date has occurred in Queensland, according to an October report on natural gas prepared for the state of Victoria.
Australia is one of the top six or seven nations with technically recoverable oil and gas reserves from shale, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. Unlike the situation in the United States, where private individuals often own the oil and gas beneath their land, in Australia the state government owns the rights to onshore oil and gas. That creates tension with farmers, who fear they will not be adequately compensated if an energy company drills on their land.
“This is an area of considerable dispute and obviously things can get very heated,” said Tony Wood, the energy program director at the Grattan Institute outside Melbourne.
Hydraulic fracturing has occurred for decades in Australia, but on a very limited scale. Whereas about 1.5 million fracking jobs have taken place in the United States, only 2,500 have occurred in Australia, according to the Victoria report.
Drilling is more expensive in Australia than in the United States, according to Peter Cook, a geologist and professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne.
“We’re a relatively high-cost country,” Mr. Cook said. That is partly due to isolation. In certain areas, “You can’t just phone from your hotel and say, ‘Can you send the rig next week?”’ he said.
The debate over fracking has partially fused with the debate over another type of reserve, known as coal-seam gas, which is natural gas found in coal beds. These seams are typically shallower than the shale rock, and fracking is not normally needed to extract the gas.
In its recent report, Lux Research predicted that the development of large-scale fracking would arrive in Australia sooner than in China or Argentina, even though those two countries both have bigger shale reserves.
Promisingly for fracking companies, “a lot of the early data in Australia seems a lot better than what it was like in Poland,” said Daniel Choi, the lead author of the Lux report. (Poland generated considerable fracking buzz a few years ago, but some big companies have since pulled out.)
Australia has ready markets for its natural gas. Energy-hungry Japan and China are eager customers, so Australia is rapidly increasing its ability to export liquefied natural gas. While Australia supplied 7 percent of the world’s liquefied natural gas in 2000, that figure is expected to reach 25 percent by 2018, according to remarks last year by Andrew McManus, an energy consultant at the research firm Wood Mackenzie.
In contrast to the United States, where abundant natural gas is used domestically and is reducing prices, Australia’s gas is largely exported. Coal remains cheaper than gas in Australia, according to Mr. Wood of the Grattan Institute. “The economic dynamics of coal versus gas in Australia have been quite different from the U.S.,” he said.
Are you opposed to fracking? Then you might just be a terrorist
By Nafeez Ahmed, The Guardian
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 16:08 EST
Over the last year, a mass of shocking evidence has emerged on the close ties between Western government spy agencies and giant energy companies, and their mutual interests in criminalising anti-fracking activists.
Activists tarred with the same brush
In late 2013, official documents obtained under freedom of information showed that Canada’s domestic spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), had ramped up its surveillance of activists opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline project on ‘national security’ grounds. The CSIS also routinely passed information about such groups to the project’s corporate architect, Calgary-based energy company, Enbridge.
The Northern Gateway is an $8 billion project to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to the British Columbia coast, where it can be shipped to global markets. According to the documents a Canadian federal agency, the National Energy Board, worked with CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to coordinate with Enbridge, TransCanada, and other energy corporations in gathering intelligence on anti-fracking activists – despite senior police privately admitting they “could not detect a direct or specific criminal threat.”
Now it has emerged that former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl – the man appointed by Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper to head up the CSIS’ civilian oversight panel, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) – has been lobbying for Enbridge since 2011.
But that’s not all. According to CBC News, only one member of Strahl’s spy watchdog committee “has no ties to either the current government or the oil industry.” For instance, SIRC member Denis Losier sits on the board of directors of Enbridge-subsidiary, Enbridge NB, while Yves Fortier, is a former board member of TransCanada, the company behind the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Counter-insurgency in the homeland
Investigative journalist Steve Horn reports that TransCanada has also worked closely with American law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in attempting to criminalise US citizens opposed to the pipeline. Files obtained under freedom of information last summer showed that in training documents for the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), TransCanada suggested that non-violent Keystone XL protestors could be deterred using criminal and anti-terror statutes:
“… the language in some of the documents is so vague that it could also ensnare journalists, researchers and academics, as well.”
According to the Earth Island Journal, official documents show that TransCanada “has established close ties with state and federal law enforcement agencies along the proposed pipeline route.” But TransCanada is only one example of “the revolving door between state law enforcement agencies and the private sector, especially in areas where fracking and pipeline construction have become big business.”
This has had a tangible impact. In March last year, US law enforcement officials had infiltrated and spied on environmentalists attending a tar sands resistance camp in Oklahoma, leading to the successful pre-emptive disruption of their protest action.
Just last December, other activists in Oklahoma faced terror charges for draping an anti-fracking banner in the lobby of the offices housing US oil and gas company, Devon Energy. The two protestors were charged with carrying out a “terrorism hoax” for using gold glitter on their banner, some of which happened to scatter to the floor of the building – depicted by a police spokesman as a potentially “dangerous or toxic” substance in the form of a “black powder,” causing a panic.
But Suzanne Goldenberg reports a different account:
“After a few uneventful minutes, [the activists] Stephenson and Warner took down the banner and left the building – apologising to the janitor who came hurrying over with a broom. A few people, clutching coffee cups, wandered around in the lobby below, according to Stephenson. But she did not detect much of a response to the banner. There wasn’t even that much mess, she said. The pair had used just four small tubes of glitter on their two banners.”
The criminalisation of peaceful activism under the rubric of ‘anti-terrorism’ is an escalating trend linked directly to corporate co-optation of the national security apparatus. In one egregious example, thousands of pages of government records confirm how local US police departments, the FBI and the DHS monitored Occupy activists nationwide as part of public-private intelligence sharing with banks and corporations.
Anti-fracking activists in particular have come under increased FBI surveillance in recent years under an expanded definition of ‘eco-terrorism‘, although the FBI concedes that eco-terrorism is on the decline. This is consistent with US defence planning documents over the last decade which increasingly highlight the danger of domestic “insurgencies” due to the potential collapse of public order under various environmental, energy or economic crises.
In the UK, Scotland Yard’s National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (which started life as the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit and later became the National Domestic Extremism Unit), has had a long record of equating the spectre of “domestic extremism” with “single-issue protests, such as animal rights, anti-war, anti-globalisation and anti-GM crops.” Apart from animal rights, these movements have been “overwhelmingly peaceful” points out George Monbiot.
This has not prevented the police unit from monitoring almost 9,000 Britons deemed to hold “radical political views,” ranging from “anti-capitalists” to “anti-war demonstrators.” Increasingly though, according to a Guardian investigation, the unit “is known to have focused its resources on spying on environmental campaigners, particularly those engaged in direct action and civil disobedience to protest against climate change.” Most recently, British police have gone so far as to conduct surveillance of Cambridge University students involved in social campaigns like anti-fracking, education, anti-fascism, and opposition to austerity, despite a lack of reason to suspect criminal activity.
This is no accident. Yesterday, senior Tory and ex-Cabinet minister Lord Deben, chairman of the UK government-sponsored Committee on Climate Change, characterised anyone suggesting that fracking is “devastatingly damaging” as a far-left “extremist,” holding “nonsensical” views associated with “Trotskyite” dogma. In contrast, he described “moderate” environmentalists as situated safely in the legitimate spectrum of a “broad range of consensus” across “all political parties.”
In other words, if you are disillusioned with the existing party political system and its approach to environmental issues, you are an extremist.
Deben’s comments demonstrate the regressive mindset behind the British government’s private collaboration with shale gas industry executives to “manage the British public’s hostility to fracking,” as revealed in official emails analysed by Damien Carrington.
The emails exposed the alarming extent to which government is “acting as an arm of the gas industry,” compounding earlier revelations that Department of Energy and Climate Change employees involved in drafting UK energy policy have been seconded from UK gas corporations.
Public opinion is the enemy
The latest polling data shows that some 47% of Britons “would not be happy for a gas well site using fracking to open within 10 miles of their home,” with just 14% saying they would be happy. By implication, the government views nearly half of the British public as potential extremists merely for being sceptical of shale gas.
This illustrates precisely why the trend-line of mass surveillance exemplified in the Snowden disclosures has escalated across the Western world. From North America to Europe, the twin spectres of “terrorism” and “extremism” are being disingenuously deployed by an ever more centralised nexus of corporate, state and intelligence power, to suppress widening public opposition to that very process of unaccountable centralisation.
But then, what’s new? Back in 1975, the Trilateral Commission - a network of some 300 American, European and Japanese elites drawn from business, banking, government, academia and media founded by Chase Manhattan Bank chairman David Rockerfeller – published an influential study called The Crisis of Democracy.
The report concluded that the problems of governance “stem from an excess of democracy” which makes government “less powerful and more active” due to being “overloaded with participants and demands.” This democratic excess at the time consisted of:
“… a marked upswing in other forms of citizen participation, in the form of marches, demonstrations, protest movements, and ’cause’ organizations… [including] markedly higher levels of self-consciousness on the part of blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students, and women… [and] a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private… People no longer felt the same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talents.”
The solution, therefore, is “to restore the prestige and authority of central government institutions,” including “hegemonic power” in the world. This requires the government to somehow “reinforce tendencies towards political passivity” and to instill “a greater degree of moderation in democracy.” This is because:
“… the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups… In itself, this marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has also been one of the factors which has enabled democracy to function effectively.”
Today, such official sentiments live on in the form of covert psychological operations targeted against Western publics by the CIA, Pentagon and MI6, invariably designed to exaggerate threats to manipulate public opinion in favour of government policy.
As the global economy continues to suffocate itself, and as publics increasingly lose faith in prevailing institutions, the spectre of ‘terror’ is increasingly convenient tool to attempt to restore authority by whipping populations into panic-induced subordination.
Evidently, however, what the nexus of corporate, state and intelligence power fears the most is simply an “excess of democracy”: the unpalatable prospect of citizens rising up and taking power back.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
Climate change brings new risks to Greenland, says PM Aleqa Hammond
Inuit leader concerned, but confident, of country adapting to mining and oil exploration as Arctic icecap retreats
John Vidal in Tromso
theguardian.com, Thursday 23 January 2014 14.07 GMT
When the world's miners, oil-workers, construction teams and industrialists descend on Greenland over the next few years to dig below the rapidly retreating icecap for its ores, hydrocrabons and minerals, no one will watch with more concern – or confidence – than prime minister Aleqa Hammond.
The Inuit leader of a country with just 56,000 people who have lived in remote, scattered communities largely by fishing and hunting knows that the arrival of tens of thousands of foreign workers will be as economically important and as culturally disruptive as anything in Greenland's history.
"The shock will be profound. But we have faced colonisation, epidemics and modernisation before," she says. "The decisions we are making [to open up the country to mining and oil exploitation] will have enormous impact on lifestyles, and our indigenous culture.
"But we have always come out on top. We are vulnerable but we know how to adapt," she said on a visit to Norway this week.
Cimate change, she says, is placing Greenland at the heart of 21st century geopolitics. As the ice retreats, it is moving from being a non-player in global affairs to the centre of a new international resource rush. "Climate change and this resultant new industrialisation brings new risks. We must understand that the effects will be both positive and negative," she says.
Not only has the retreat of the icecap made mining feasible in previously inaccessible areas, but the dramatic melt of the Arctic sea ice may within one or two generations locate Greenland on a vastly profitable trans-polar trading route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Hammond, whose father died in the ice when she was seven and who grew up without running water or central heating, is now being courted by world leaders who see the Arctic as an emerging strategic zone.
Chinese, American, Russian, British, Japanese, Korean and other companies have all staked claims for its resources, and her government has awarded more than 120 licenses to explore for oil and gas, iron ore, uranium, emeralds and nickel as well as what are thought to be the largest deposits of rare earths – vital for digital technologies – outside China.
Greenland, which is seeking independence from Denmark, is politically and socially split, with many saying Hammond and her new government are going too fast.
"If you want to become rich, it comes with a price," says Aqqaluk Lynge, a Greenlander who is chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council which represents Inuits from Alaska, Greenland and Canada at the UN and other forums.
"People have to imagine the consequences of what the influx of foreign labour will be. Being a minority in your own country, is that what you want? We have to be more realistic. We should be very careful inviting foreign mining companies. We have had experiences before when whole towns have been changed with the influx of Danish contractors. We lack experts in many areas like health. 56,000 people cannot [do] everything," he says.
Estimates of how many foreign workers will be needed to exploit Greenland's minerals range from 10,000 to 200,000. London Mining, which is behind a delayed project to build an iron ore mine, is expected to bring in 2-3,000 Chinese.
"We fear being overwhelmed. It would be better if they lived in camps but there is certain to be interaction," said Lynge.
"We are well used to the fishing industry coming to Greenland but we do not know the culture of miners and the numbers could swamp us".
But Hammond responds that it is because Greenland has been economically and politically marginalised for so long and because modernisation has not been handled well over the past 30 years that the country has no option but to go forward fast and seek independence from Denmark.
Hammond, a former family minister who has worked in Inuit communities in Canada and at home, has seen how rapid cultural and economic change has devastated polar communities. Greenland has the highest suicide rate in the world and young people, especially, suffer major psychiatric illness and depression. According to government reports, one in every five people attempts to kill themselves at some point in their lifetimes.
There are many reasons, but the clash between the traditional and modern western culture is thought to be at the root of many suicide attempts. "We've seen so many suicides over the years. They have always been there when people feel they cannot contribute to society," she says.
And the resource rush will bring with it new health problems. "We must counteract the illnesses of industrialiation, including diabetes and heart disease. Our lifestyles [can expect to shift] to what we see is happening to Europe and North America," said Hammond.
"The modernisation programme [of the past 30 years] has not helped everyone. The new developments will have profound effects on everyone but they are designed to make householders stronger. We need to find ways to help people adapt. We need the money to be able to help households.
"100 years ago we all lived in commuities of under 200 people. Now one quarter of the population lives in the capital Nuuk and only 20% live in villages. In that time we have seen the rapid loss of traditional values," she says.
On Moroccan Hill, Villagers Make Stand Against a Mine
By AIDA ALAMI
JAN. 23, 2014
IMIDER, Morocco — On a hilltop nearly 5,000 feet high in the Atlas Mountains here, a tiny outpost has taken shape over the past two years. The small stone buildings are decorated gaily with graffiti, and there is an open-air gallery. Many doors bear inspirational inscriptions from people like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa. On the dam of a nearby reservoir, someone has painted the face of a local activist, now in jail on what the locals regard as trumped-up charges.
It is an unlikely spot for a settlement, but it was established with a purpose: to protest a mining company’s expropriation of precious water supplies, as well as the pollution that results from the mining.
The inhabitants are drawn from the nearby municipality of Imider, 6,000 people scattered over seven villages and neighbor to the most productive silver mine in Africa.
But while the area may be rich in silver, it is home to some of the poorest people in Morocco.
The people of Imider (pronounced ee-me-DER) say they have grown to resent the mine because they get nothing from it except pollutants. So two years ago, some of them climbed up the hill and cut the water supply to the mine. Since then, they have occupied the hill as they continue to fight the Imiter Mettalurgic Company and, by extension, the king of Morocco, its principal owner.
“We were ready to talk,” said Brahim Udawd, 30, one of the leaders of the protest movement, referring to the events that led to the occupation of the hilltop. “But nobody paid attention to us, so we closed the water valve. They take the silver and leave us the waste.”
These days, the hilltop, Mount Alebban, is relatively calm. Women come daily to cook in the little stone houses and participate in the regular strategy meetings that the villagers hold.
“We have been here for two and a half years, and nobody is hearing our cry for help,” said Mina Ouzzine, 40. “I voted yes for a new constitution because I hoped there will be change, more equality. We are only equal in poverty.”
In 2011, when the Arab revolutions led to the fall of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, the Moroccan king, Mohammed VI, managed to stall the protests by offering constitutional overhauls that guaranteed more power to an elected government and more freedoms to Moroccans. But none of that has helped the people here.
While for some, the conflict of Imider is mostly ideological, others say that it is not just about ordinary people rising up to make their lives better but also part of a larger problem that is echoed in conflicts with big mining companies across the globe.
The occupation of the hill was set off in the summer of 2011 after students who were used to getting seasonal jobs were turned down. That led the other villagers — even those with jobs — to show solidarity and move to block the mine’s production abilities. One of the main demands of the villagers is that 75 percent of the jobs at the mine be allocated to their municipality.
“The bigger the mine, the more capital intensive the industry and the fewer the jobs,” said Gavin Hilson, who specializes in mining and development at the University of Surrey Business School. “Even if the policy in place is to create jobs, there are only so many jobs it can create.”
Exactly what is happening with the water is in dispute. The villagers say they want the company held responsible for environmental damage that they say is the cause of disease, livestock fatalities and desertification.
“In the 1990s, I used to have trees, fruits, oil, almonds,” said Bou Tahar, 70, a farmer. But they died after the mine began taking the water, he said, adding, “Since we cut the flow in 2011, our wells are starting to fill up again.”
According to Mr. Hilson, these kinds of disputes are not uncommon. “If you’re operating in a place like that with quite a few people living in the community, it would be suicidal to exhaust the place from its water supply or to reach a point where villagers become agitated over the consumption of water,” he said. “It is always challenging to operate in dry environments. There are issues with water, with waste disposal and community development because it all revolves around water.”
The company categorically denies the townspeople’s accusations and says that an environmental impact study has proved that it is not contaminating the water supply or harming the environment. The company says that the mining was certified as meeting global environmental standards and that it has put in place irrigation systems for the farmers.
“We are very careful, and we don’t pollute the water or the land around the mine,” said Farid Hamdaoui, a manager at the mine. “We recycle 62 percent of the water we use, and we have authorization from the state to pump the water we use.”
Company officials say their processing capacity dropped 40 percent in 2012 and 30 percent in 2013, after the villagers cut off one source of their water. These days, they use another source in an effort to make up the loss.
Mr. Hamdaoui said that despite having the king as the main shareholder, the company did not gain any special treatment from the government. He said the company was spending more than $1 million a year to build schools and to support community projects.
“We don’t substitute for the state, but we work with the state in a proactive social program,” he said. “The mine cannot unfortunately solve all the problems of unemployment in the region.”
Still, the activists who refer to themselves as the “Movement on the Way of 96,” a reference to a similar upheaval in 1996 that was crushed by the authorities, maintain that the company is in fact receiving favorable treatment from the state.
The governor and other elected officials declined to comment on the dispute, which settled into a stalemate after negotiations broke down in November.
After each meeting held at the foot of the hill, the villagers walk back home holding up three fingers — one for the Berber language, one for the land and one for mankind — hoping for someone to hear their call.
“The king forgot about us. He tours the country helping people, and he never comes to this region,” said one woman. “He is our father, and he has forgotten about his children.”
Industry Awakens to Threat of Climate Change
By CORAL DAVENPORT
JAN. 23, 2014
WASHINGTON — Coca-Cola has always been more focused on its economic bottom line than on global warming, but when the company lost a lucrative operating license in India because of a serious water shortage there in 2004, things began to change.
Today, after a decade of increasing damage to Coke’s balance sheet as global droughts dried up the water needed to produce its soda, the company has embraced the idea of climate change as an economically disruptive force.
“Increased droughts, more unpredictable variability, 100-year floods every two years,” said Jeffrey Seabright, Coke’s vice president for environment and water resources, listing the problems that he said were also disrupting the company’s supply of sugar cane and sugar beets, as well as citrus for its fruit juices. “When we look at our most essential ingredients, we see those events as threats.”
Coke reflects a growing view among American business leaders and mainstream economists who see global warming as a force that contributes to lower gross domestic products, higher food and commodity costs, broken supply chains and increased financial risk. Their position is at striking odds with the longstanding argument, advanced by the coal industry and others, that policies to curb carbon emissions are more economically harmful than the impact of climate change.
“The bottom line is that the policies will increase the cost of carbon and electricity,” said Roger Bezdek, an economist who produced a report for the coal lobby that was released this week. “Even the most conservative estimates peg the social benefit of carbon-based fuels as 50 times greater than its supposed social cost.”
Some tycoons are no longer listening.
At the Swiss resort of Davos, corporate leaders and politicians gathered for the annual four-day World Economic Forum will devote all of Friday to panels and talks on the threat of climate change. The emphasis will be less about saving polar bears and more about promoting economic self-interest.
In Philadelphia this month, the American Economic Association inaugurated its new president, William D. Nordhaus, a Yale economist and one of the world’s foremost experts on the economics of climate change.
“There is clearly a growing recognition of this in the broader academic economic community,” said Mr. Nordhaus, who has spent decades researching the economic impacts of both climate change and of policies intended to mitigate climate change.
In Washington, the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, has put climate change at the center of the bank’s mission, citing global warming as the chief contributor to rising global poverty rates and falling G.D.P.’s in developing nations. In Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Paris-based club of 34 industrialized nations, has begun to warn of the steep costs of increased carbon pollution.
Nike, which has more than 700 factories in 49 countries, many in Southeast Asia, is also speaking out because of extreme weather that is disrupting its supply chain. In 2008, floods temporarily shut down four Nike factories in Thailand, and the company remains concerned about rising droughts in regions that produce cotton, which the company uses in its athletic clothes.
“That puts less cotton on the market, the price goes up, and you have market volatility,” said Hannah Jones, the company’s vice president for sustainability and innovation. Nike has already reported the impact of climate change on water supplies on its financial risk disclosure forms to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Both Nike and Coke are responding internally: Coke uses water-conservation technologies and Nike is using more synthetic material that is less dependent on weather conditions. At Davos and in global capitals, the companies are also lobbying governments to enact environmentally friendly policies.
But the ideas are a tough sell in countries like China and India, where cheap coal-powered energy is lifting the economies and helping to raise millions of people out of poverty. Even in Europe, officials have begun to balk at the cost of environmental policies: On Wednesday, the European Union scaled back its climate change and renewable energy commitments, as high energy costs, declining industrial competitiveness and a recognition that the economy is unlikely to rebound soon caused European policy makers to question the short-term economic trade-offs of climate policy.
In the United States, the rich can afford to weigh in. The California hedge-fund billionaire Thomas F. Steyer, who has used millions from his own fortune to support political candidates who favor climate policy, is working with Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, and Henry M. Paulson Jr., a former Treasury secretary in the George W. Bush administration, to commission an economic study on the financial risks associated with climate change. The study, titled “Risky Business,” aims to assess the potential impacts of climate change by region and by sector across the American economy.
“This study is about one thing, the economics,” Mr. Paulson said in an interview, adding that “business leaders are not adequately focused on the economic impact of climate change.”
Also consulting on the “Risky Business” report is Robert E. Rubin, a former Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. “There are a lot of really significant, monumental issues facing the global economy, but this supersedes all else,” Mr. Rubin said in an interview. “To make meaningful headway in the economics community and the business community, you’ve got to make it concrete.”
Last fall, the governments of seven countries — Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, South Korea, Norway, Sweden and Britain — created the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and jointly began another study on how governments and businesses can address climate risks to better achieve economic growth. That study and the one commissioned by Mr. Steyer and others are being published this fall, just before a major United Nations meeting on climate change.
Although many Republicans oppose the idea of a price or tax on carbon pollution, some conservative economists endorse the idea. Among them are Arthur B. Laffer, senior economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan; the Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw, who was economic adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign; and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the head of the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, and an economic adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican.
“There’s no question that if we get substantial changes in atmospheric temperatures, as all the evidence suggests, that it’s going to contribute to sea-level rise,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin said. “There will be agriculture and economic effects — it’s inescapable.” He added, “I’d be shocked if people supported anything other than a carbon tax — that’s how economists think about it.”
Bangladesh releases first genetically modified crop to farmers
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 24, 2014 14:44 EST
Authorities in Bangladesh have released the country’s first ever genetically modified crop to farmers amid criticism from environmental groups, officials said Friday.
Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has begun distributing the seedlings of four types of genetically modified aubergine following approval from the government’s biosafety regulator.
“We have released the varieties after extensive tests on environmental and health impacts. They are completely safe for crop biodiversity and human health,” Rafiqul Islam Mondal, head of BARI, told AFP.
But environmentalist groups say the government has released the seeds hurriedly and without enough research.
With the release Bangladesh has become the 29th nation to grow genetically modified (GM) crops and the first to grow GM aubergine, known locally as brinjal, Mondal said.
The vegetable has been modified to be resistant to its most common disease, Fruit and Shoot Borers, which can devastate 50-70 percent of a crop.
The Philippines and India have dropped plans to introduce genetically modified aubergine in the face of public protests.
Accidents Surge as Oil Industry Takes the Train
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS and JAD MOUAWAD
JAN. 25, 2014
CASSELTON, N.D. — Kerry’s Kitchen is where Casselton residents gather for gossip and comfort food, especially the caramel rolls baked fresh every morning. But a fiery rail accident last month only a half mile down the tracks, which prompted residents to evacuate the town, has shattered this calm, along with people’s confidence in the crude-oil convoys that rumble past Kerry’s seven times a day.
What was first seen as a stopgap measure in the absence of pipelines has become a fixture in the nation’s energy landscape — about 200 “virtual pipelines” that snake in endless processions across the horizon daily. It can take more than five minutes for a single oil train, made up of about 100 tank cars, to pass by Kerry’s, giving this bedroom community 20 miles west of Fargo a front-row seat to the growing practice of using trains to carry oil.
“I feel a little on edge — actually very edgy — every time one of those trains passes,” said Kerry Radermacher, who owns the coffee shop. “Most people think we should slow the production, and the trains, down.”
Moving More Oil Over Rails
As domestic oil production has increased rapidly in recent years, more and more of it is being transported by rail because of the lack of pipeline capacity. The trains often travel through populated areas, leading to concerns among residents over the hazards they can pose, including spills and fires.
Casselton is near the center of the great oil and gas boom unleashed these last few years. And it has seen up close how trains have increasingly been used to transport the oil from the new fields of Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota, in part as a result of delays in the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. About 400,000 carloads of crude oil traveled by rail last year to the nation’s refineries, up from 9,500 in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads.
But a series of recent accidents — including one in Quebec last July that killed 47 people and another in Alabama last November — have prompted many to question these shipments and have increased the pressure on regulators to take an urgent look at the safety of the oil shipments.
In the race for profits and energy independence, critics say producers took shortcuts to get the oil to market as quickly as possible without weighing the hazards of train shipments. Today about two-thirds of the production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil field rides on rails because of a shortage of pipelines. And more than 10 percent of the nation’s total oil production is shipped by rail. Since March there have been no fewer than 10 large crude spills in the United States and Canada because of rail accidents. The number of gallons spilled in the United States last year, federal records show, far outpaced the total amount spilled by railroads from 1975 to 2012.
Railroad executives, meeting with the transportation secretary and federal regulators recently, pledged to look for ways to make oil convoys safer — including slowing down the trains or rerouting them from heavily populated areas. (Trains go up to roughly 35 miles an hour through towns and at higher speeds outside populated areas.) They also agreed to speed up a review of tougher standards for the train cars used for oil. And last Thursday, safety officials urged regulators to quickly improve industry standards.
“This is an industry that has developed overnight, and they have been playing catch-up with the infrastructure,” said Deborah A. P. Hersman, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the Casselton accident. “A lot of what we’ve seen could have been a lot worse.”
But given the fragmented nature of the business — different companies produce the oil, own the rail cars, and run the railroads — there is no firm consensus on what to do. And few analysts expect new regulations this year.
“There was no political pressure to address this issue in the past, but there clearly is now,” said Brigham A. McCown, a former administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. “Producers need to understand that rail-car safety can become an impediment to production.”
The stakes are high. In five years, domestic oil production has jumped by 50 percent, to reach 7.5 million barrels a day last year.
But with little pipeline infrastructure, energy producers had to scramble for new ways to get their oil to refiners. Rail was the answer.
“The reality is that this came out of nowhere,” said Anthony B. Hatch, a rail transport consultant. “Rail has gone from near-obsolescence to being critical to oil supplies. It’s as if the buggy-whips were back in style.”
Far more toxic products are shipped on trains. But those products, like chlorine, are transported in pressurized vessels designed to survive an accident. Crude oil, on the other hand, is shipped in a type of tank car that entered service in 1964 and that has been traditionally used for nonflammable hazardous liquids like liquid fertilizers.
Safety officials have warned for more than two decades that these cars were unsuited to carry flammable cargo: their shell can puncture and tears up too easily in a crash.
In 2009, a train carrying ethanol derailed and exploded, killing one person in Cherry Valley, Ill. The National Transportation Safety Board said the inadequate design of the tank cars made them “subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials.”
After that accident, railroads and car owners agreed in 2011 to beef up new cars with better protections and thicker steel. But they resisted improving safety features on the existing fleet because of cost. They also argued that thousands of new cars were being ordered anyway, so it would be just a matter of time before the fleet was replaced.
But analysts said that time has run out; railroads and car owners can no longer ignore the liabilities associated with oil trains, which could reach $1 billion in the Quebec accident.
“Quebec shocked the industry,” Mr. Hatch said, adding that while rail safety has improved over all, “the consequences of any accident are rising.”
Last November, the Association of American Railroads said it would support requiring that the 92,000 tank cars used to transport flammable liquids, including crude oil, be retrofitted with better safety features or “aggressively phased out.”
Still, other groups have resisted. The Railway Supply Institute, which represents freight car owners, told regulators three weeks before the Casselton accident that existing cars “already provide substantial protection in the event of a derailment” and suggested minor modifications to be phased in over 10 years.
While the safety record of railroads has improved in recent years, the surge in oil transportation has meant a spike in spill rates. From 1975 to 2012, federal records show, railroads spilled 800,000 gallons of crude oil. Last year alone, they spilled more than 1.15 million gallons, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. And that figure does not include the Casselton spill, estimated at about 400,000 gallons.
The accidents have also created a sense of weariness among elected officials and even staunch oil backers.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, insisted that the first priority was improving tank cars. “These exploding tank cars are obviously very powerful and very dangerous,” he said.
The accidents have brought another problem to light. Crude oil produced in the Bakken appears to be a lot more volatile than other grades of oil, something that could explain why the oil trains have had huge explosions.
Here too, the warnings came too late.
Federal regulators started analyzing samples from a few Bakken wells last year to test their flammability. In an alert issued on Jan. 2, P.H.M.S.A. said the crude posed a “significant fire risk” in an accident.
The Federal Railroad Administration also pointed to rising numbers of oil cars that showed a “form of severe corrosion” on the inside of the tanks, covers and valves.
After the recent meeting with regulators, the American Petroleum Institute pledged it would share its own test data about the oil, which they have said is proprietary.
While the tank cars themselves have not caused any accident, they failed to contain their cargo. That happened on the outskirts of Casselton when a 106-car oil train crashed into a soybean train that derailed on a parallel track.
In a preliminary report, the N.T.S.B. said 18 of the 20 oil tank cars that derailed were punctured. Much of the oil spilled was incinerated by the explosions, and some soaked into nearby corn fields.
Aside from evacuating nearby farms, there was little the fire department could do but watch the train burn.
Tim McLean, Casselton’s fire chief, pictured what the town would look like if an oil train derailed. The large propane supply tank would explode “like a bomb” and incinerate two multifamily houses next to it. Five blocks to the west are a lumber yard and two gasoline stations. Oil might accumulate in storm sewers and possibly spread a fire underground.
“There’s virtually no way we could protect these buildings,” he said as he passed the barber shops, drugstore and pizza parlor, all occupying sturdy brick buildings more than a century old. “It would be too hot.”
The terror of what might have happened hit many here immediately.
Adrian Kieffer, the assistant fire chief, rushed to the accident and spent nearly 12 hours there, finishing at 3 a.m. “When I got home that night, my wife said let’s sell our home and move,” he said.
Guardian Cities: welcome to our urban past, present and future
Today the Guardian launches a new section devoted to ideas, discussion and predictions about cities all over the planet
Oliver Wainwright, architecture and design critic
theguardian.com, Monday 27 January 2014 09.04 GMT
We are bombarded with statistics about the future of cities these days, as fast as the cities themselves are growing. More than half of the world's population now live in a city, with the number of urban residents increasing by 60 million each year – that's two new urbanites every second. It is a relentless rate of expansion that will see over 70% of the global population living in urban areas by 2050, requiring the equivalent of a new city of 1 million built every five days between now and then.
These mindboggling figures make impressive headlines for breathless reports on urbanisation, to be regurgitated at conferences across the globe, but such statistics are meaningless without asking what these cities will be like, who they are for, and how they are being made.
That's why we are launching the Guardian Cities site, as an open platform for critical discussion and debate about the issues facing the world's metropolitan centres, from the future of housing and transport, to public space and infrastructure;, from the nature of planning and governance, to energy and security – along with the forces of change that can't always be planned for. What happens to cities subject to conflict and natural disaster, industrial meltdown and financial collapse?
Featuring regular contributions from established experts and new voices, we'll be peeling back the glossy veneer of the computer renderings, and going beyond the facts and figures of the city sales pitch, to ask what our future cities will actually be like – and how we can influence them for the better.
We are told that cities are getting "smarter", as technology reaches further into our streets, bringing a brave new world of crime-fighting lampposts and sentient dustbins . Smart cities have been billed as the next leap forward, the arrival of networked systems for collecting, processing and implementing urban data hailed as a "second electrification" of the world's metropolises.
No longer confined to programming traffic flows, the smart city's sensors can detect its citizens' daily routines, keep track of queues outside museums, monitor overflowing sewers, tell when dustbins are full and flag-up empty parking spaces. The citywide computer knows where it's best to put the shops, where people should live, how much amenity space they should have, and when they are behaving suspiciously. The smart city can fix our mess, bringing order to urban chaos. But is outsourcing our collective civic intelligence to a computer algorithm the answer to making good places to live? And who sits in the control room?
As tech giants like Cisco, IBM and Siemens expand their influence on the urban realm, it's worth asking who they are accountable to, indeed who owns the streets, spaces and infrastructure over which their systems keep watch. The "public" spaces, plazas and piazzas that come with urban regeneration are increasingly nothing of the sort, instead extensions of the private lobby, with public access contingent on activities and codes of behaviour that fit into the developer's vision. As whole swaths of cities are sold off to private owners, returning to the model of the 18th-century great estates, whose vision are we signing up for? And do we fit in it?
Even where our streets and spaces do still remain in public ownership, their management is being progressively outsourced to private hands. The rise of the business improvement district across the US and Europe, visible in the growing number of branded wardens and guardians patrolling the streets, is creating new elite communities with the power to tax and the power to enforce the law, making separate cities within the city. As local councils slash their own services, is a return to feudal urban fiefdoms the price we must pay for cleaner, safer streets?
And are cleaner, safer streets really the ultimate goal? Town centres are increasingly looking to the shopping mall as the model for function, planning and management, the out-of-town retail complex standing as an idealised closed loop of contained, predictable systems. But when the mall is recycled as the blueprint for the town centre, is the chance and surprise of urban life being excluded for the benefit of efficiency and control? As high streets continue to decline, could there be more to the city experience than eating and shopping?
With risk and danger designed out of cities at all costs, conventional wisdom of what makes a good place is in danger of being overturned by the inexorable rise of security consultants. Under the influence of initiatives like Secured by Design, benign elements of the city are taking on new malign meanings: the humble bench is transformed from a useful place to sit down, into a potential source of loitering and antisocial behaviour. As counter-terrorist planning becomes the ultimate authority, our cities are being defined by blast distances and hostile vehicle mitigation zones, the urban realm reconfigured through a lens of fear. Are these new fortress cities making citizens safer, or merely more paranoid?
None of this will matter much if we can't afford to live in the city in the first place. When housing has become an investment opportunity rather than a basic human right, and the majority of property bought overseas to let rather than owner-occupied, what is the impact on the city's neighbourhoods and communities? How are architects, housebuilders and planners around the world responding to the urgent need for affordable homes, and what form will that housing take? Two billion people are projected to be living in slums globally by 2050; are our future cities places of inclusion and exchange, or merely tools for consolidating division and inequality?
With the fastest urban growth happening in developing countries, how far are the new city visions in line with the real needs of most people on the ground? Driven by local politicians and global investors eager to capitalise on the next frontiers, fantastical satellite cities are popping up across Africa and Asia, Russia and the Middle East. But do these specialised enclaves of science and technology, leisure and luxury, risk becoming white elephant ghost towns, diverting funds away from meeting the basic needs of the countries' much poorer urban populations?
As cites expand ever upwards and outwards, whether hyper-dense or dispersed and sprawling, how will transport solutions adapt to changing patterns of movement? Are elevated cycleways the answer to commuting, or will they delay fixing problems on the ground and distract from the bigger picture of creating integrated streets for everyone? Will self-driving cars help to ease congestion and reduce accidents, or merely make drivers dumber and more complacent?
With urban growth outpacing our capacity to plan, the impacts of less predictable forces are also multiplied beyond all control. Facing threats of flooding and earthquakes, storms and tsunamis, the resilience of cities is tested to the limit, with any flaws in zoning and construction exacerbating risk. How far can such extreme conditions be mitigated, with protective infrastructure and disaster management, and should the way we live always be determined by the worst-case scenario? With flooding becoming an increasingly regular event, should we be retreating behind bigger barriers and steeper levees, or learning to adapt our cities to work with, rather than against, these conditions?
These are just some of the questions that the Cities site will be tackling, along with coverage of best-practice projects from around the world and interactive visualisations from the Guardian's data team – as well as contributions from you.
"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody," wrote the American urban theorist Jane Jacobs in 1961, "only because, and only when, they are created by everybody." So come and get involved and join the debate.
The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com
Historic California drought called a red flag for future of US
The California drought, the worst in its history, could have far-reaching impacts for the state and for a nation that is only now starting to cope with climate change, experts say.
By Gloria Goodale, Staff writer / January 22, 2014 at 8:23 pm EST
As California faces the worst drought in its 163-year history with no hint of relief in sight, some scientists are calling the event a red flag for the future of the nation.
Gov. Jerry Brown raised the issue in his State of the State address Wednesday, saying “we do not know how much our current problem derives from the build-up of heat-trapping gasses, but we can take this drought as a stark warning of things to come.”
Water shortages have widespread impacts. Agriculture and energy generation account for 80 percent of the nation’s clean water use, says David Dzombak, head of Carnegie Mellon University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. And even when cities meet their water demands during a drought, the costs can leave them “exposed to significant risk of financial failures,” says Patrick Reed, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, in an e-mail.
In that way, crises can led to new policies and new attitudes, and some say the California drought could be just such a catalyst.
“At the state, regional, and federal level, and across the country, people are just starting to come to grips with the fact that our climate is not stationary,” says Professor Dzombak. “We are in a dynamic, changing climate situation that will affect all parts of the country in different ways,” he says, led by the West and Southwest so impacted by drought.
Governor Brown laid out a roadmap of drought solutions Wednesday. He asked businesses and homeowners to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent. Last week, he declared a state of emergency.
“It is imperative that we do everything possible to mitigate the effects of the drought,” he said in his speech. “We need everyone in every part of the state to conserve water. We need regulators to rebalance water rules and enable voluntary transfers of water and we must prepare for forest fires.”
Longer term, the State Water Action Plan prioritizes water recycling, expanded storage, and groundwater management, as well as investments in safe drinking water, “particularly in disadvantaged communities.”
These mandates are a “tall order,” Brown said. But it is “what we must do to get through this drought and prepare for the next.”
Major innovations of the last century came in response to water shortages, such as the 1928-34 drought, notes Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Studies at the University of California at Davis, in a blog post.
“This six-year drought accelerated design and construction of the Central Valley Project and served as the design standard for most of California’s water system until 1976,” he says. Quoting Stanford University economist Paul Romer, he adds, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”
Similar innovations today could involve shifting to renewable energy sources that do not require as much water as steam-driven electrical plants.
The severe drought highlights the need for “a new way of thinking about our infrastructure,” says Dzombak.
Scientist says psychedelic brew consumed by Amazonian shamans could fight cancer
By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, January 27, 2014 11:57 EST
A powerful psychedelic brew consumed by shamans deep in the Amazon could help in the fight against cancer and should be researched, according to a Brazilian scientist.
Ayahuasca — meaning the “vine of the souls” – is traditionally prepared using the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and Psychotria viridis leaves, though other combinations of plants are sometimes used. Psychotria viridis contains N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the leaves, while Banisteriopsis caapi contains beta-carbolines such as harmine and harmaline.
For centuries, the psychedelic brew has been used in shamanistic healing rituals. A Natural Geographic reporter who participated in an ayahuasca ritual described the experience as “terrifying—but enlightening.”
Eduardo E. Schenberg of the Federal University of Sao Paulo thinks some of the healing powers attributed to ayahuasca deserve scientific attention, particularly when it comes to cancer.
“There is enough available evidence that ayahuasca’s active principles, especially DMT and harmine, have positive effects in some cell cultures used to study cancer, and in biochemical processes important in cancer treatment, both in vitro and in vivo,” he wrote in an article published in SAGE Open Medicine. ”Therefore, the few available reports of people benefiting from ayahuasca in their cancer treatment experiences should be taken seriously, and the hypothesis presented here, fully testable by rigorous scientific experimentation, helps to understand the available cases and pave the way for new experiments.”
Rumors of ayahuasca helping people with cancer are common, according to Schenberg, and there are at least nine case reports of cancer patients using ayahuasca during their treatment. Of these nine reports, three showed improvements after consuming the psychedelic brew.
Rumors and less than a dozen case reports are hardly substantial evidence. But the physiological effects of the drug suggests there might be some truth behind them, Schenberg said.
DMT produces a powerful psychedelic experience by binding to serotonin receptors in the brain. More importantly, for Schenberg, the drug also binds to the sigma 1 receptor, which is found throughout the body and is involved in many cellular functions. The sigma 1 receptor appears to be implicated in the death signalling of cancer cells.
In addition, harmine has been shown to induce the death of some cancer cells and inhibit the proliferation of human carcinoma cells.
Other physiological factors suggest the combination of DMT and harmine could have medically-important antitumor effects, though more research is need.
“In summary, it is hypothesized that the combined actions of β-carbolines and DMT present in ayahuasca may diminish tumor blood supply, activate apoptotic pathways, diminish cell proliferation, and change the energetic metabolic imbalance of cancer cells, which is known as the Warburg effect,” Schenberg wrote. ”Therefore, ayahuasca may act on cancer hallmarks such as angiogenesis, apoptosis, and cell metabolism.”
DMT is currently prohibited as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Controlled Substances Act and the international Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The drug is relatively unknown compared to other illicit substances like cannabis, but researchers have found that DMT appears to be increasing in popularity.
“If ayahuasca is scientifically proven to have the healing potentials long recorded by anthropologists, explorers, and ethnobotanists, outlawing ayahuasca or its medical use and denying people adequate access to its curative effects could be perceived as an infringement on human rights, a serious issue that demands careful and thorough discussion,” Schenberg wrote.
Originally published by PsyPost
01/30/2014 03:19 PM
Gone With the Wind: Weak Returns Cripple German Renewables
By Gunther Latsch, Anne Seith and Gerald Traufetter
Investments in renewable energy were supposed to be a sure thing, with wind park operators promising annual returns of up to 20 percent. More often than not, however, such pledges have been illusory -- and many investors have lost their principal to boot.
Three broadcasting vans. Ten camera teams. Some 50 journalists. There certainly wasn't any lack of attention being paid to Carsten Rodbertus last Thursday as he stepped up to the podium in an assembly hall in northern Germany belonging to the renewable energy firm Prokon. And the company founder, with his gray ponytail, didn't disappoint. The press conference quickly became a spectacle.
Several hundred employees welcomed Rodbertus with applause and shouts of "bravo" -- and that despite the fact that he had brought an insolvency trustee along with him. Still, Robertus insisted that the company was essentially healthy. Recently, he noted, workers had labored "12 days in a row for 12 hours a day" in an attempt to ward off bankruptcy.
The fact that they weren't successful is, according to Rodbertus, the fault of the company's investors, who backed the firm to the tune of €1.4 billion ($1.9 billion). Currently, many of them are demanding the returns that they were once promised: at least 6 percent interest per year or a refund of their principle if they wished to back out. Last week, the mounting claims led Prokon to declare bankruptcy -- 75,000 stakeholders could be left out in the cold.
Thus far, it is the highest profile failure of a business model that both politicians and investors praised for being doubly beneficial. Not only would investors boost their own accounts, but they would also help the environment at the same time. And because the state guaranteed high feed-in rates for 20 years, the promises made by financial advisors -- secure returns with a good conscience -- seemed plausible.
Indications are mounting, however, that green capitalism will not be able to meet all expectations. In courts around the country, complaints are mounting from wind park investors who haven't received a dividend disbursement in years or whose parks went belly up. Consumer protection activists are complaining that many projects are poorly structured and lack transparency. In the renewables sector, fear is spreading that the Prokon bankruptcy -- combined with plans for a reduction in the guaranteed feed-in tariff recently released by new German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel -- could scare away investors.
Much of the concern is focused on the large number of projects that are financed by the investment model known as closed-end funds. As a rule, they run for a 20-year period and are open to a limited number of investors. They promise annual dividend payments.
But newly released numbers, collected and analyzed over a several-year period, show what disappointed investors have long surmised: Around half of these commercial wind park enterprises are doing so poorly that investors can count themselves lucky if they even get their initial investment back after the 20 year duration.
The study, based on 1,150 annual reports, comes from Werner Daldorf, head of the Investment Committee at the German Wind Energy Association. Daldorf is actually a tax advisor, and he looks and acts the part. He is reserved and meticulous, wears rimless glasses and keeps his brown hair in a side part. The 63-year-old has worked as an advisor to wind energy projects since 1990 and has been a member of the Investment Committee since 2002.
Over time, Daldorf has collected a vast amount of material, filling shelves and shelves of binders. Taken together, it allows for an unprecedented look at the business affairs of over 170 commercial wind parks over the course of more than 10 years.
The result is sobering. On average, investors have received an annual return of just 2.5 percent. "Over the course of 10 years, that means a return of 25 percent, while according to the prospectus they were to have already seen returns of between 60 and 80 percent," Daldorf says.
Even if returns were to increase dramatically in the coming years -- a possible result, for example, of funds paying down their debts -- only wind parks in the best locations are likely to prove profitable. The picture becomes even worse once one digs into the details. A fifth of all wind parks for which more than 10 years of annual reports are available haven't once paid their investors a dividend exceeding 2 percent of their investments.
Daldorf's findings are surprising given the substantial subsidies the state has provided to renewable energies over the years. The guaranteed feed-in tariff for a kilowatt hour of electricity generated by a renewable energy technology currently averages 17 cents. That is several times the market price. Indeed, generous state support is one reason that green investment vendors continue to advertise using slogans such as "You Too Can Profit from the Energiewende," as Germany's switch from nuclear power to renewables is called.
Volker Hippe also thought that he was making a safe and beneficial investment. Thirteen years ago, his wife died -- he was in his mid-40s at the time. He received some €35,000 from her life insurance and decided to invest the money for his children. The youngest of his three daughters was six at the time.
Hippe invested the money in a wind park in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. The fund promised annual returns of 5 to 6 percent initially and more than 20 percent beginning in 2012. But it wasn't long before the payments ceased.
Investors who end up with such lemons in their portfolios are often told that they should have been more careful. But Hippe made the same mistake that many have made: He trusted a bank. And it wasn't just any bank; it was UmweltBank (Environment Bank), which specializes in green investments. In an informational brochure from the year 2001, the institution hailed investments "in a solidly calculated wind park" as an "ideal pension supplement."
With many wind park projects, however, the only solid calculations were the fees and commissions scooped up by participating companies. In many ventures financed via closed-end funds, such expenditures amounted to 15 percent or even 20 percent of the invested principal. Because of the complexity of the financing model, up to a half-dozen firms are involved to take care of such tasks as "project management," "equity raising" or, simply, "marketing."
Plenty of Hazards
Given such a starting point, it is difficult to earn high profits. And it doesn't provide for much of a contingency reserve. In addition to the capital collected from investors, large amounts are often borrowed from banks, with the loans sometimes representing 70 percent or even more of the fund's volume. Consumer protection activists say that such a share of bank money is up to twice as large as it should be to limit investor risk.
There are, after all, plenty of hazards associated with the business even without the financing acrobatics. The technology involved is still young and quickly showed its shortcomings in the early aughts when wind parks began sprouting up around the country. Gear boxes, switches and generators failed not infrequently, resulting in the need for complicated and expensive repairs. More than anything, however, Mother Nature wasn't always cooperative. Forecasts as to how much electricity a given facility would generate were often illusory. It was frequently the case that surveyors used insufficient methodology and refrained from carrying out expensive, longitudinal studies.
The ramifications are not insignificant. Even forecasts that are just slightly erroneous can create radically inaccurate expectations for the amount of power that will be generated. Should the average wind speed at a given site be just 10 percent lower than the forecasted value, for example, the amount of power generated will be 30 percent less.
Despite such risks, it was a long time before the claims made by wind park operators were even adequately checked. When Germany's Federal Financial Supervisory Authority BaFin reviewed fund sales brochures, it focused exclusively on formalities.
A new law passed last summer, meant to address the problems with closed-end funds among other issues, is supposed to improve things. But due to the huge number of exceptions written into the law, it remains unclear which funds it will actually apply to. Furthermore, the sector has moved on to new financing models that are no less lucrative for wind-park operators and no less risky for investors.
The Darmstadt-based wind energy firm Breeze Two Energy, for example, placed company shares on the market worth €470 million, promising returns of between 5.3 and 6.1 percent. In its portfolio, Breeze Two could point to 35 wind parks with an output of 310 megawatts, as much as that of a small coal-fired power plant.
But the company made significant losses between 2008 and 2011. By the end of 2011, the company's balance sheet was "overextended" to the tune of €205.5 million, according to the annual report. The country was able to avoid bankruptcy only because Germany's laws had changed in 2008. Since then, a "positive continuation prognosis" is enough to stay in business.
In the renewables industry, such a prognosis is easy to make: You just have to claim that the wind will blow stronger during the next year. As such, the survival of Breeze Two, according to management at the time, was "probable." Many investors suffered losses nonetheless.
Prokon investors are facing a similar situation. Company head Rodbertus announced last Thursday that he intends to sell some wind parks in an effort to restore liquidity. But even if he is successful, it is unclear how and when investors might see their money again. "There are reasons to believe," the insolvency trustee said last week, "that so-called junior claims will not have to be respected in the bankruptcy proceedings."
Under certain legal conditions, that could mean that Prokon -- as long as it is able service some of its debts, yet remains short of cash -- will neither have to pay interest to many of its investors nor will it have to return their principal. And it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley
Keystone XL pipeline closer to reality after State Department review
• Review: no significant effect on carbon emissions likely
• Campaigners hope Obama will say no to crude-oil project
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
theguardian.com, Friday 31 January 2014 22.07 GMT
The Keystone XL, a mundane pipeline project that escalated into a bitter proxy war over climate change and North America's energy future, moved one important step closer to reality on Friday.
The State Department, in its final environmental review of the project, concluded that the pipeline, which would carry crude from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast, would not – on its own – have a “significant” effect on carbon pollution.
The report acknowledged that crude from the tar sands was 17% more carbon intensive than conventional oil. But it said that did not mean that the project on its own would worsen climate change by expanding production from the tar sands.
“The approval or denial of any single given project is unlikely to significantly affect the extraction of the oil sands,” Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of state, said during a conference call with reporters.
The finding clears the way for President Barack Obama to approve a project that has became a highly charged symbol of the fight over North America's energy future. But he is under no deadline. The State Department said that the environmental impact statement it released on Friday was not an automatic guarantee Keystone XL would be completed.
“It's only part of what we need to look at in order to make this important decision,” Jones said. She said that the decision-making process would also examine issues of energy security, foreign policy and economic interests, along with climate change.
Eight government agencies and the public now have 90 days to weigh in on the project. Secretary of State John Kerry, who worked on climate change for years in the Senate, will also have a say. The final decision rests with Obama, who will determine whether Keystone XL is in the US national interest.
But after five years of wrangling and delays, it now appears increasingly likely that TransCanada will be able to build the pipeline.
“If anything I would hope we would see a shorter time frame rather than a longer time frame,” Russ Girling, TransCanada's chief executive, told reporters. “My view is that the 90 days could be truncated significantly because I do believe that a lot of the inter-agency consultation has already taken place.”
Girling said it would take two full years to build the pipeline, once it had final approval.
The State Department, in Friday's report, essentially concluded that Keystone would have little material effect on greenhouse gas emissions and that Canada would continue to develop and ship tar sands crude with or without the pipeline.
“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude at refineries in the United States,” the review said.
The review included models suggesting that transporting oil by rail would generate even more greenhouse gas emissions than a pipeline, and also discussed measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline.
“The facts do support this project. The science continues to show that this project can and will be built safely,” Girling said. “It will have a minimal effect on the environment and it will not significantly impact carbon emissions.”
The finding came as a bitter disappointment to environmental groups and some Democratic members of Congress, who had urged Obama to reject the pipeline.
“Even though the State Department continues to downplay clear evidence that the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to tar sands expansion and significantly worsen carbon pollution, it has, for the first time, acknowledged that the proposed project could accelerate climate change,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a campaigner for the Natural Resources Defence Council.
“Piping the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America would endanger our farms, our communities, our fresh water and our climate. This is absolutely not in our national interest.”
The campaign against Keystone XL has become a national movement over the last three years, with environmental activists, Nebraska landowners and hedge fund managers all coming out against the project. In 2012, Obama, under pressure from landowners concerned about underground water sources and sensitive prairie, rejected the first proposed route for the pipeline across Nebraska.
The White House continued to come under pressure from environmental campaigners. Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer took out television ads on Tuesday, the night of Obama's state of the union address, attacking Keystone XL, and other wealthy Democratic donors wrote open letters to the White House seeking to shut down the project.
Campaign groups argued it would open up a vast store of carbon and tie North America more closely to a fossil fuel future. The climate scientist James Hansen said building Keystone XL would be “game over” for the planet.
Industry groups and supporters said the project would help protect America's energy supplies and provide jobs. Republicans in Congress – joined by some Democrats in conservative or oil-producing states – put forward legislation to compel Obama to move on the pipeline. They also warned that rejection of Keystone XL would damage relations with Canada, which has lobbied hard for the project.
Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, built his economic strategy around natural resource extraction – despite its toll on the climate. The Canadian government, in a report to the United Nations last September, estimated its carbon emissions will soar 38% by 2030, largely because of the development of the tar sands.
Others argued that opponents had oversold the importance of Keystone XL as a contributor to future climate change. They said Obama's commitment to cutting carbon pollution from power plants – the single biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions – would have a far greater impact on the climate.
Obama said last June that he would base his decision on the project's carbon pollution impacts.
Some campaigners said they hoped Friday's finding would still provide enough leeway for a refusal.
“The State Department has given Obama all the room he needs to do what he promised in both campaigns: to take serious steps against global warming," said Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, which led the fight against the pipeline. “Now we'll see if he's good for his word.”
But Obama has been consistent in trying to move on climate change while expanding fossil fuel development, much to the frustration of campaigners who say the two policies are incompatible. In his state of the union address, Obama gave strong support to natural gas development, but made no mention of Keystone.
The State Department had conducted two earlier environmental reviews of the project. Last March, it found that if Obama rejected the pipeline Alberta crude would go to market by rail or other pipelines. But it revisited the issue under criticism from the Environmental Protection Agency, which said the early reviews had not been broad enough.
The State Department is awaiting a separate report from its inspector general, into allegations by environmental groups that a contractor's review was biased because of connections to TransCanada and the oil industry.
“It seems like it's been very influenced by industry and that's highly problematic,” said Scott Parkin, senior campaigner at Rainforest Action Network.
Activists immediately called a series of protests against the decision.
Nearly 80,000 people have signed up to commit civil disobedience to stop approval of the pipeline, said Elijah Zarlin, senior campaign manager at Credo.
“If the State Department is recommending to the president that this is in the national interest, that would trigger action,” he said.
Stephen Harper: 'I'm confident Keystone XL will proceed'
Canadian PM says he believes controversial oil pipeline will go ahead, despite pressure on Obama administration by environmentalists
theguardian.com, Tuesday 7 January 2014 10.13 GMT
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Monday he was confident that TransCanada Corp's controversial Keystone XL pipeline would be eventually approved by US authorities.
US President Barack Obama is set this year to decide the fate of the northern leg of the proposed project, which would carry crude from the Alberta oil sands in Canada to the US Gulf Coast. Obama is under heavy pressure from environmental activists to block the pipeline.
"I am confident that in due course - I can't put a timeline on it - the project will one way or another proceed," Harper said during a question-and-answer session at the Vancouver Board of Trade.
The event was disrupted when two climate protesters walked onto the stage and held up signs as they stood next to Harper. One of the placards said "Climate justice now."
Green groups say building the pipeline will speed up extraction of oil from the tar sands - a process that consumes more energy than regular drilling.
Harper's chief spokesman declined to comment on the security breach.
Canada's right-leaning Conservative government strongly backs the pipeline and Harper repeated his view that he hoped Washington would approve it, given what he said was the strong support for the project among American politicians and the general US population.
The timeline for US approval has slipped repeatedly and Harper said Obama had "punted" the decision.
In September, Harper told a New York audience that the logic behind the pipeline was "simply overwhelming" and said "you don't take no for an answer." The 1,200-mile (1,900-km) pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels a day.
Environmentalists and aboriginal groups are also strongly opposed to Enbridge Corp's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from the oil sands to the British Columbia coast and from there to Asian markets.
The government backs the idea of more pipeline capacity to the Pacific coast on the grounds that Canada needs to reduce reliance on the United States, which takes around 99% of Canadian energy exports.
Late last month a review panel recommended the pipeline be built. Ottawa has until the middle of June to make a decision.
"We will not approve projects unless they're not only in our economic interest but also they meet the highest standards of environmental protection," said Harper.
Opponents of the Northern Gateway - part of which would run across aboriginal lands as well as crossing remote areas - say a breach would cause an environmental catastrophe.
A group of about 20 anti-pipeline protesters gathered outside the Vancouver hotel where the event took place, beating drums and chanting "We don't want your dirty oil."
Harper also said he was more optimistic about the economy in 2014 than in past years because of evidence of stronger growth in the United States and a comeback in Europe.
Approving Keystone XL could be the biggest mistake of Obama's presidency
A State Department report fails to take into account the full climate impacts of Keystone XL. Who is Obama protecting?
theguardian.com, Friday 31 January 2014 21.37 GMT
I have made my position on the Keystone XL pipeline quite clear. Approving this hotly debated pipeline would send America down the wrong path. The science tells us now is the time that we should be throwing everything we have into creating a clean 21st century energy economy, not doubling down on the dirty energy that is imperiling our planet.
Now that the State Department has just released a final environmental impact report on Keystone XL, which appears to downplay the threat, and greatly increases the odds that the Obama administration will approve the project, I feel I must weigh in once again.
The simple fact is this: if Keystone XL is built, it will be easier to exploit fossil fuel reserves large enough to drastically destabilize the climate. A direct pipeline to refineries and global markets makes the business of polluting the atmosphere that much cheaper and easier.
The only truly accurate examination of the pipeline would include a full cost accounting its environmental footprint. It needs to take into account how much energy is consumed in refining and transporting the crude from oil sands. It must acknowledge that the pipeline would lower the cost and raise the convenience of extracting and exporting the incredibly carbon-intensive deposits of gas.
There are two main issues at stake in the Keystone XL decision: path dependency and US leadership. Path dependency is the term use to describe the fact that once a policy is put into place, it then constrains future options to those within that policy framework. More simply, the choices we make now determine what choices we get to make in the future.
A classic example is the "qwerty" keyboard layout. Even though this layout may not be the most efficient, it was the first one, and so it became the standard. New keyboard layouts would have to compete with an established format, meaning consumers would have to adapt to a new system they had no experience with. On the basis solely of legacy, inferior standards or policies remain in place, more or less out of inertia.
So, looking through the lens of path dependency, what does the Keystone XL project look like?
It looks like decades of extracting high-CO2 fuel at a time when we should be winding down such carbon intensive resource exploitation. It looks like decades of oil spills across America's heartland written off as an acceptable side effect of making money. It looks like decades of continued political lobbying against any CO2-limiting regulations.
If approved and built, it looks like the United State is failing to take climate change seriously by virtually guaranteeing the massive Canadian oil sands reserved are exploited. That, I'm afraid, is the real threat of Keystone XL – the loss of US status as a global leader.
As the world looks to 2015 for the establishment of legally binding emissions targets, it is looking to the US for inspiration and leadership. While opponents of carbon regulations routinely point to China and India as an excuse for further inaction, the US is still the dominant force in world politics. If Obama puts his foot down and tells us the pipeline will not be built, he will be telling the world that the United States is committed to a future powered by clean renewable energy. For better or for worse, as the US goes so goes the planet.
If the United States takes the climatologically necessary step of preventing the Keystone pipeline, it sends a message more powerful than any protest, watered down regulation or rosy proclamation. It says that business as usual is no longer an option. It says carbon pollution is a serious problem. It says that we will no longer be held hostage by ideologues demanding, "More fossil fuels, or the economy gets it!"
Protecting our planet from Keystone XL would protect US standing on the global stage, and by reassuring all nations that the United States takes climate change seriously, it would protect international negotiations from devolving into a finger pointing, blame shifting debacle. Protecting us from Keystone XL would protect us from decades of continued foreign influence on US energy policy. Protecting us from Keystone XL would protect US land from oil spills and leaks.
Most importantly, protecting us from Keystone XL would protect our atmosphere from one of the most carbon-intensive fuels ever discovered.
If the president won't protect us, who is he protecting?
Keystone XL oil pipeline – everything you need to know
Environmentalists are fiercely opposed to controversial pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Gulf refineries
theguardian.com, Friday 31 January 2014 14.27 GMT
What is Keystone XL?
The Keystone XL project would expand an existing pipeline from the vast tar sands of Alberta to refineries in the US Midwest, nearly doubling the initial capacity and transporting crude oil deeper into America to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas. Its proposed route would stretch about 1,660 miles, connecting Hardisty, Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas. It was first proposed in 2008.
The southern leg of the pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast, was completed last year, and began shipping oil on 21 January.
But TransCanada, the company behind the project, is still waiting for the State Department to approve the 1,179-mile northern leg that would carry crude from Alberta across the border into Montana and onwards to Steele City, Nebraska where it would connect with existing pipelines.
What makes it different from other pipelines?
There are already about 2.3 million miles of pipeline across the US, carrying oil and natural gas. Some also carry diluted bitumen, the heavy crude from the tar sands that has a much higher carbon footprint than conventional oil.
What makes the Keystone XL pipeline different is the scale – and politics. Canada wants to double production from the Alberta tar sands, and needs new exit routes to do so.
Campaigners from 350.org and other environmental groups turned Keystone XL into a test case of Barack Obama's promise to act on climate change – elevating a little-noticed infrastructure project into a national issue.
Why did people oppose the pipeline?
Environmental groups initally opposed the pipeline because it would tie America even more deeply into a highly-polluting source of energy. There were also concerns about pipeline leaks.
The first stage of Keystone had 14 accidents in its first year of operation.
But a series of accidents involving the shipment of oil by rail – including a fiery crash last June at Lac Megantic Quebec, that killed 47 and destroyed half the town – have undercut those arguments.
Protesters in Nebraska were also worried about the routing of the pipeline. Initial plans called for the project to cross the Ogallala Aquifer, an important source of irrigation and drinking water, as well as the sensitive Sand Hills. The pipeline was subsequently re-routed.
What are the arguments in favour of the pipeline?
Canada is a neighbour and close ally and shutting down the project would damage relations. The Canadian government lobbied hard for this project. Alberta's premier made several visits to Washington.
TransCanada and other energy companies, as well as some major trades unions, argued that the pipeline project would create as many as 50,000 construction jobs. They also argued that it would give the US economy access to oil from a friendly neighbour – or so-called ethical oil. Canada is already the largest single supplier of oil to the US, followed by Mexico – both friendly countries and neighbours.
The State Department estimates the project would create 5,000-6000 construction jobs. Obama last July put the figure even lower: just 2,000 construction jobs, and then 50-100 jobs a year.
Does the US economy really need all that oil?
No. America is in the midst of an oil and gas boom, and on track to becoming an energy superpower. Most of the tar sands oil would eventually be exported, though there are plans to develop new markets for tar sands crude in the north-east. Oil prices are down because there is a glut in getting product to refineries.
Why does it involve the State Department?
The State Department is involved because the pipeline crosses an international border. Eight other government agencies are also required to sign off on the project, but the State Department has the final say.
Why has it taken so long?
Keystone XL grew into a highly charged political issue. Obama blocked the project in early 2012 – taking it off the table as an issue in his re-election later that year.
The State Department was also obliged to conduct an additional environmental review of the project in response to concerns raised by environmental groups and Nebraska landowners. The State Department Inspector General has also investigated allegations first raised by environmental groups that contractors hired to assess the project for the federal government had financial ties to TransCanada.