Thursday, December 12, 2013

Keystone XL finds new life

Remember what I wrote last month?  Back from the dead.

Refusing to be denied, TransCanada is "repurposing" the pipeline that has cost them so  much money and bad publicity in order to relieve the glut of oil being stored at the nation's midsection hub of Cushing, OK.

TransCanada is pleased to confirm that at approximately 10:04 am Central Time on Saturday, December 7, 2013, the company began to inject oil in the Gulf Coast Project pipeline as it moves closer to the start of commercial service,” company spokesman Shawn Howard told the Houston Chronicle.

The announcement was an indication that the $2.3 billion, 485-mile pipeline is another step closer to completion. The corporation previously said in a letter to regulators that the pipeline would begin service on January 3. It later retracted that claim, stating that it would not be in service before mid-January. 

More on that oil backlog.

Increased southbound pipeline and rail service has reduced a crude oil backup at the Cushing, Okla. pipeline hub, but has created a glut on the Gulf Coast—possibly presenting  opportunities for investment in transportation infrastructure.

Alembic Global Advisors said in a report this week that the smoother flow through Cushing has sent more crude to the Gulf Coast from prolific fields including the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Permian Basin in West Texas.

James Sullivan, an analyst with Alembic, wrote that a resulting oversupply is depressing Gulf Coast  prices, and may increase enthusiasm for more investment in transportation from the Bakken and Permian directly to the east and west coast.

“We would expect to see the Bakken rail terminals to the east coast filling up again and renewed talk of a Permian-to-west-coast pipeline, which had been shelved due to lackluster shipper interest,” Sullivan wrote.

A whole new set of problems for our energy producers here in Texas and across the country.  Where's that tiny violin of mine?

Keystone XL (this time I'll condition it slightly) likely remains very dead for the transportation of tar sands oil, which was its original purpose.  Here's why I say that.

John Podesta's return to the White House could dim prospects for the Keystone XL pipeline's approval, environmentalists said Wednesday, as the Democratic Party elder and Keystone critic crafts policies to curb climate change.

Podesta, who was chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, will have the title "counselor to the president" and chiefly advise President Barack Obama on energy and climate change issues, the White House said this week.

In the past, Podesta has aligned himself with environmentalist foes of TransCanada Corp's 1,200-mile (1,900-km) pipeline that would carry 830,000 barrels a day of oil sands crude from western Canada to the Gulf Coast.

The $5.4 billion link between Alberta oil fields and Texas refiners is expected to spur production of a fuel that environmentalists say worsens climate change.

B-B-But, you say, Podesta has recused himself from input on KXL.  True enough.

On Tuesday night, the White House said that because of his pre-existing views on Keystone, Podesta would recuse himself from the matter. "In discussions with Denis," a White House aide told the New Yorker, referring to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, "John suggested that he not work on the Keystone Pipeline issue, in review at the State Department, given that the review is far along in the process and John’s views on this are well known. Denis agreed that was the best course of action."

I'm sure he'll never offer an opinion, even if he is asked.  Right?  Let's go back to see what former EPA head Carol Browner said just a couple of months ago...

Speaking on a panel in October, Brown predicted “there will be some twists and turns” in the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline but “at the end of the day [Obama] is going to say no.” 

Now let's review.

Despite the fact that it is riddled with holes from shoddy welding, the Keystone XL pipeline will transmit oil south very soon.  Just not tar sands oil.  Tar sands oil will still get here (to the refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, the only ones in the country that can process it) by rail, however, and is probably doing so even as this is posted.

That's at least a lose-lose-lose by my count.

And as we learned above, oil is now backing up at the Gulf refineries, waiting to be produced into the various petroleum products the world depends upon, because the nation's refining operations are at peak capacity.  As a result, we (that is to say, the US) may begin exporting to other countries, since demand here -- due to improved consumption efficiencies, a sluggish national economy, and other factors -- is soft.  This was one of the original arguments against KXL; that the gasoline, etc. refined from tar sands oil, or even the crude product itself, would be sold to China.

The only thing that we might be able to point to as a 'win' is lower gas prices in the short term.  Which in the long term discourages weaning the nation off of oil in favor of alternative fuels and perpetuating the boom-and-bust cycles that benefit oil companies, oil traders, and market speculators.  And also punishes those who consume gasoline, those who must breathe the air made toxic by the refining, and those who live in the global climate made unstable by greenhouse gases from fossil fuel consumption and with the political instability created as wars continue to be fought over oil.

So it's all about the invisible hand of the free market, and none of the long-range consequences.  Isn't capitalism wonderful?

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