Tuesday Roundup: Keystone Pipeline News-arama

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The State Department’s inspector general will conduct a special investigation of how the agency has handled its decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. There have been news reports of improper influence and conflicts of interest in the decision whether to allow the 1,700 mile pipeline that will carry tar sands oil from Canada across the Midwest to the Gulf Coast. 

The investigation will likely delay the State Department’s judgment on the pipeline permit.

The pipeline is particularly controversial in Nebraska, where it is to cross the Ogallala Aquifer. The Nebraska legislature is entering the second week of a special session called to consider bills that would give the state more control over pipeline routes.

Gov. David Heineman said yesterday he would support the pipeline if it cut through the eastern half of the state, away from the Ogallala. The eastern route would parallel an existing pipeline owned by the company building the Keystone XL. 

“TransCanada already has a route along the eastern side of our state,” Heineman, a Republican, said in an interview today on “InBusiness with Margaret Brennan” on Bloomberg Television. “If they put this second pipeline right next to it, I’ll stand up and be supportive, so will Nebraskans and this controversy will end…Why would you put it over the Ogallala aquifer and risk an oil spill or an oil leak and possible contamination of our water?” 

Meanwhile, there was a protest of the Keystone project in Washington, D.C. on Sunday. InsideClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan was with the marchers. 

• We’ve loved the food fight between New York Times columnists David Brooks and Paul Krugman over shale gas fracking. We can’t remember a time (ever) when two NYT columnists have taken up the same rural issue in a single week.

What’s at stake is the way natural gas is removed from shale formations that can be found in most regions of rural America. (See the map that tops the story just below this one.) The gas is trapped in the shale and unless it is forced out, it ain’t coming.

Currently, companies inject a combination of water and chemicals into the shale to root out the gas. The technique (hydrofracking) can taint wells and, well, what do you do with all the water that comes back to the surface? It’s a mess.

Brooks sees a “shale gas revolution,” a boom in clean burning gas production that has little downside. He finds that most of the problems come from bad actors in the gas business. 

“Like every energy source, fracking has its dangers. The process involves injecting large amounts of water and chemicals deep underground. If done right, this should not contaminate freshwater supplies, but rogue companies have screwed up and there have been instances of contamination,” Brooks writes. “The wells, which are sometimes beneath residential areas, are serviced by big trucks that damage the roads and alter the atmosphere in neighborhoods. A few sloppy companies could discredit the whole sector.”

Krugman responded three days later: 

Fracking — injecting high-pressure fluid into rocks deep underground, inducing the release of fossil fuels — is an impressive technology. But it’s also a technology that imposes large costs on the public. We know that it produces toxic (and radioactive) wastewater that contaminates drinking water; there is reason to suspect, despite industry denials, that it also contaminates groundwater; and the heavy trucking required for fracking inflicts major damage on roads.

Krugman’s point is that, while fracking may be “worth doing,” companies should pay the full cost of the damage they do. And if those “external” costs are added to the price of gas, several alternative supplies of energy could well become feasible. 

So the argument goes. Meanwhile, however, the story below this one tells of a new technique that uses fracking without the environmental damage.

•A geologist writes that there is still plenty of coal left in the eastern mountains, contrary to recent reports finding that the resource is dwindling. Jerry Weisenfluh, director of the Kentucky Geological Survey, says that mine productivity is declining nationwide because of increased environmental and safety requirements, not a declining amount of coal. 

• Former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier died yesterday. He was 67 years old. Frazier was born in Laurel Bay, South Carolina, the youngest of 12, and grew up on his family’s small farm. He used to make punching bags by stuffing burlap sacks with moss and leaves. 

• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will change the way it manages the Missouri River. The Corps said Monday that it would take steps to reduce the chance of flooding. 

The Corps had been juggling a number of mandates — conserving water for recreation and wildlife as well as trying to reduce flooding — before this year’s massive floods. Critics say this combination of missions led to increased flooding in the Missouri River Valley.

The general in charge of the Corps’ northwestern division says that the primary goal of the agency now is to reduce flooding.

• The push to create a new crop subsidy — one that would protect revenues from sudden drops in crop prices — is still on track. 

The so-called “shallow crop loss” subsidy would take the place of direct payments. It would insure farm revenues for small declines. Larger losses would be covered by crop insurance.

 

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