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McKibben writes: "Ever since the Keystone fight began, the smart money has insisted the pipeline will be approved. But so far: no pipe."

What do we now know about the pipeline? (photo: AP)
What do we now know about the pipeline? (photo: AP)

Keystone: What We Know

By Bill McKibben, Reader Supported News

25 May 13


ver since the Keystone fight began, the smart money has insisted the pipeline will be approved. But so far: no pipe.

And the opposition got a serious boost this week, when Republicans in the House of Representatives forced a vote on a symbolic measure approving KXL. It passed, of course - every Republican voted for it, and they control the lower chamber. But they found only 19 Democrats to go along with them, 40 less than a year before. As one commentator noted in the aftermath, "the little campaign that could" was still chugging along - and with a greater head of steam than before.

At this point, the national fight over Keystone is closing in on two years old. There's one big thing we still don't know - but there are lots of things we've figured out over that stretch of time:

  1. Environmentalists won't walk away from a fight. Plenty of people predicted that when the president delayed the decision for a year, till after the 2012 election, passions would cool; instead, Keystone opponents mounted the first big demonstration of the second Obama term, ten days after the vote, and the largest rally yet, when 50,000 people thronged the mall in February.
  2. The green movement is more unified than many imagined. For months, Washington "insiders" have been announcing that the administration would try to 'trade' Keystone for some other environmentalist wish - maybe a restriction on coal-fired power plants. But all the leaders of national environmental groups have kept up the pressure; none have bent.
  3. The environmental movement really is a movement, not just a collection of organizations. The Keystone fight began with the indigenous communities at the source and along the route; it's been fought most bravely by farmers and ranchers in difficult terrain in Texas. But the men and women inside the Beltway have battled with vigor too: this week's vote went well precisely because the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters have skilled and tenacious staff.
  4. The more resistance, the more people rally to the fight. After the first spate of arrests in the summer of 2011, 10 Nobel Peace Prize winners released a letter condemning the project. This past week it was 150 clerics, including influential evangelicals. Scientists have done likewise - as sometimes happens, the unearned suffering of peaceful protesters has moved others to action.
  5. The number of people willing to resist keeps growing and diversifying. This winter the arrestees included leaders from the civil rights movement, like Julian Bond, and the Democratic mainstream, like Robert Kennedy Jr. And now the activist group CREDO has worked with others to signup 60,000 people pledged to civil disobedience if the administration does the wrong thing.
  6. Gradually, the silliness of the arguments for the pipeline has begun to erode their credibility. It's possible that somewhere in America someone believes the American Petroleum Institute statement this week that approval of KXL would lower gas prices this summer, but it's hard to imagine quite who. By now most people know that the project's jobs have been routinely overstated, and that the oil is destined to be shipped abroad.
  7. And gradually the horror of climate change is convincing more and more people what folly it would be to hook us up to a project that guarantees decades more of fossil fuel use. Since we started, the U.S. has seen the hottest year in its history, an epic Midwest drought, the largest forest fires in southwest history, and oh yeah a hurricane that filled the New York subway system with the Atlantic ocean.
  8. One more thing - since it's entirely clear that stopping Keystone by itself won't solve the climate crisis, the green movement has shown it can go on offense too. Charged up in part by the KXL battle, student groups around the nation have launched a full-scale campaign for divestment from fossil fuels that has spread to over 300 campuses and inspired city governments from Seattle to San Francisco to explore selling their stocks.
  9. There's still that one thing we don't know, however, and that's what Barack Obama will do. Congress isn't going to take this decision off his hands; a shoddy State Department environmental study, which even his own EPA rejects, won't be much help. The decision will be the president's. If he blocks Keystone then he's got himself a climate legacy as well as a bargaining chip - he'd be the first world leader to block a big project because of its effect on the climate. If he doesn't - well, no beautiful speech on the dangers of climate change will convince anyone.

    It was two years ago that the National Journal polled its 300 "energy insiders" and 91 percent of them predicted a quick approval for the project. Since then we've kept half a billion barrels of the dirtiest oil on earth in the ground. The smart money still says we're going to lose, but it's not quite as sure: the Canadian business press is reporting this week that no one wants to buy tarsand leases or finance new projects - prospects for the future have become "uncertain." And it's not just Keystone - analysts said earlier this spring that in the wake of the KXL battle it's likely every new pipeline will face a battle. Tarsands barons like the Koch brothers still have all the money, and they've still got the odds in their favor. But the smart money has lost a few IQ points. your social media marketing partner


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+23 # X Dane 2013-05-26 00:31
There is no doubt that the republicans will insist that Obama is a job killer. They will give him a very hard time.

I hope he will think about the future of his daughters and all the children of America. And finally do the right and courageous thing.

China is also moving to try to clean up, for their air is so dirty that people can not go outside, and children can not play outside. Many thousands of people die because of the pollution.

So if Obama starts the ball rolling the two biggest polluters could work together to clean the air.

Many of the European countries are ahead of us in using renewable energy. It is high time we get going in working with other countries.
+9 # BlackEcho 2013-05-26 03:41
Tell it Bill!! Hell yeah.
+4 # davehaze 2013-05-26 06:59
My bet: Obama will approve a "modified" pipeline that will "meet our energy needs while protecting the environment."
-2 # tahoevalleylines 2013-05-26 17:06
Modified pipeline- as in, railway tank cars: sections of pipe 40' long moving 25,000 gallons per section. On wheels running on railways. Already actual fact in progress. Is McKibben relevant?

If Mr. McKibben and followers would pay some attention to movements of troops & ships and armor in and around Syria they would be more anxious about shifting transport from reliance on oil...

Frakking is a double whammy; besides the environmental damage, it is simply a shame to know many THOUSANDS of miles of railway steel is being lost, shoved into the ground for the wells. Generational ignorance of railways is unfortunate; what the people know is limited by lack of vision and deliberate subterfuge of modern financial, silicone gurus & industrial robber barons.

See "The Burden Of Damascus", Mr McKibben... Figure out where your efforts would be best applied!
+13 # James38 2013-05-26 07:14
Well said, Bill. I would like to add a couple of points.

There is a fight going on in England about Fracking. Much of the same arguments are being used by the interests in favor as in the US, but the problems are the same as well, only magnified. There isn't much space there to hide the messy process. Ground water and aquifer contamination will affect many more people per well, since there isn't much space between population centers.

British Treasury Chancellor George Osborne has opposed setting clear green energy targets for 2030, preferring a "dash for gas" that would see 20 or more new gas-fired power stations built in the next decade. He is embroiled in controversy about his austerity program which has been opposed by the IMF. The British economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the first three months of 2013, meaning that the UK avoided a triple dip recession. But the IMF said yesterday that the UK is “still a long way from a strong and sustainable recovery”. However, no such thing as “sustainable recovery” is possible without a sane energy policy.

The battle in the US and Canada against the KXL pipeline, the development of the Tar Sands, and opposition to Fracking parallel the fight in England against Fracking.
+11 # James38 2013-05-26 07:19

What everyone on both sides of the Atlantic, and Globally, must place at the center of all this discussion is the stark fact that all charts show Climate Disaster coming ever more rapidly, and that the single greatest force pushing the Earth into Climate Chaos is the burning of Sequestered or Fossil Carbon – Coal, Oil, AND Natural Gas. None of the reasons used to favor development of Gas as a “Cleaner Fuel” can ignore the fact that burning Natural Gas is just a slower way to destroy the Climate. It is not a solution. Certainly it is “LESS DIRTY” (not “cleaner”), and as a temporary way to avoid further development of Tar Sands or any expansion of Coal or Oil production, it has a sort of Faustian benefit – but that is all it offers - slower destruction. We simply must stop burning fossil carbon OF ALL TYPES if we want to avoid disastrous Global Warming.
Much of the confusion that surrounds the Energy vs Climate crisis can be resolved by a clear understanding that there is a genuine alternative energy source that does not have the uncertainties and problems of Wind and Solar projects. This solution is the LIFTR, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. This is a development of the proven MSR (Molten Salt Reactor) that was built and operated at Oak Ridge with great success between 1965 and 1975. Enough was learned to make the commercial development of the Thorium reactor obviously feasible – and this was with technology as it was in those years.

+11 # James38 2013-05-26 07:21

Two additional points must be made clear. First, the LIFTR – MSR reactors are entirely fail-safe. They cannot explode, since they operate at atmospheric pressure and contain no water. Even in the case of a fuel leak, the molten salt mixture simply oozes out and hardens. It cannot be a source of widespread radioactive contamination. Even if the reactor was left unattended and all electric pumps and controls failed, and the heat in the core began to rise, the result would simply be the melting of a plug in the bottom of the core, and all the fuel would drain into a holding tank. The fission reaction would stop, and the plant would automatically go into cold shut-down. These reactors are “Walk away safe”. They are so safe that they do not require a massive containment structure, which contributes to the relatively low construction costs.
Second, the fuel system is extremely versatile. These reactors can use the present stockpiles of “Nuclear Waste” as fuel, solving the storage problem. Along with that, they can burn up and eliminate all present stockpiles of Plutonium and other dangerous concentrated material such as decommissioned Uranium Warheads.

+11 # James38 2013-05-26 07:22

In the United Kingdom, The United States, and the rest of the world, the LIFTR reactor will allow the elimination of Coal, oil, and Natural Gas burning power plants. LIFTRs will generate inexpensive electricity that can be used to power a fleet of electric vehicles. Small modular versions can be used to power ships and can be placed in smaller population centers, reducing the need for expensive grid systems. The development of this technology can be accomplished in twenty years or less. All we require is the will and understanding to put our investment into these reactors.
+5 # X Dane 2013-05-26 13:24
James 38

That sound very interesting. Why are we not seeing more discussions about the LIFTR ??
+4 # Regina 2013-05-26 14:54
Because there are vested interests in dirty fuels and machinery that generate huge profits to corporations whose investors aren't about to tolerate changes from what feeds their bottom lines. It's so easy to chant anti-scientific drivel for regurgitation by the under-educated.
+3 # James38 2013-05-26 14:33
X Dane, read the excellent book "Super Fuel - Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future" by Richard Martin.

He explains how the push to develop reactors that would generate bomb materials plus the push to develop Nuclear Submarines (Led by Admiral Rickover) gradually became an overwhelming movement that resulted in the Nuclear Industry building solid fuel Uranium water moderated reactors. It was a series of compromises that resulted in a poor decision for energy production.

The solid fuel reactor is a terrible design for power generation. All solid fuel reactors have two problems. One, they cannot be made completely fail-safe, and two, the solid fuel rods always accumulate fission reaction products that contaminate the fuel long before much of the potential power is delivered. This creates what is called "spent fuel rods" which must be removed and replaced (or reprocessed with great difficulty and expense - and which then go through the same cycle). These "spent fuel rods" constitute a large proportion of what is called "Nuclear Waste"

"Spent" and "Waste" are serious misnomers. Most people do not realize that this huge stockpile of Nuclear material still contains over 95% of the original energy content. Waste? Only if it is hard to use, and the LIFTR reactor turns this "waste storage problem" into a huge resource. The LIFTR reactor will turn our "nuclear waste" into enough energy for many years and solves the storage problem.

+4 # James38 2013-05-26 14:58

Having said all of that, let me point out that in spite of the shortcomings (dramatically and tragically demonstrated by Chernobyl and Fukushima), the present Nuclear Power industry has a far, far better safety record than Coal. Coal kills thousands of people every year with everything from atmospheric pollution to mining accidents, and those disasters are BEFORE we talk about Global Warming.

Thorium power in the LIFTR reactor is a completely different process, and has none of the dangers of present BWR (boiling water reactors) and PWR (Pressurized water reactors). The LIFTR reactor is so safe it does not even require a massive containment structure. This contributes to lower construction costs. It is being estimated that a LIFTR reactor may not only cost less than an equivalent Coal burning plant, its construction costs may be about the same as a gas fired plant, and the electricity produced may even be less expensive – without considering the added cost of Gas or Coal due to atmospheric pollution.

So there are a few parts to the answer to your question:

+2 # James38 2013-05-26 15:02

So there are a few parts to the answer to your question:

The LIFTR reactor has been lumped in with all previous Nuclear Power, and people who have been encouraged to fear all things Nuclear need to learn the differences.

The nuclear industry (Westinghouse, etc.) has invested a lot of capital in designs and personnel trained to design solid fuel reactors. Some of the latest designs are improvements, but no solid fuel reactor can ever equal the benefits of the LIFTR.

The LIFTR reactor reprocesses its fuel while it is running in a relatively simple chemical plant that is part of the reactor installation. That facility also takes “Nuclear Waste” and processes it into fuel to keep the LIFTR running. One big advantage of the LIFTR program is that these reactors can be built on the site of an old reactor, using the “spent” fuel rods that are already there. In such cases, there is no need to move the nuclear material or to look for any other place to store it.

Simply put, we just need to encourage enough people to understand this alternative type of Nuclear Energy production. It solves our worst single problem – how to generate base-load power without causing more damage to the planet.
+2 # X Dane 2013-05-26 17:35
Thank you James.
I hope that people, who can do something about it is also learning about it.
+1 # James38 2013-05-27 05:35
The following are excellent resources for anyone who wants more information. The first address is a clear presentation using drawings and charts to show the potential and basic functioning of the LIFTR reactor. Remove spaces from addresses to get functioning references.

www. timothymaloney. net and www. dirkpublishing. com
Alternatively, register for the Left Forum conference in New York on June 8 & 9. And attend the panel discussion titled: POST OIL: WIND, WATER AND SOLAR OR LIQUID-FUEL THORIUM. WHAT'S OUR BEST HOPE?
LeftForum. org

Thorium Organizations


http://www. thoriumenergyal liance. com

EnergyFromThorium. com

http://energyfromthorium. com

The thorium energy amplifier association

www. thorEA. org

Flibe Energy

http:// flibe-energy. com

ThorEnergy. no

http:// www.thorenergy. no
+4 # 6thextinction 2013-05-26 19:52
Have we all gone to the website and signed up to take part in its Summer Heat event the last two weeks in July?

That's what it is going to take to thwart this dirty deadly project with its dirty fossil fuel money and politicians behind it--massive people power. It's the only thing that can--except for Obama, who is clearly dragging his feet, and won't do it without the pressure of many, many, many determined citizens.
0 # MidwestTom 2013-05-27 09:28
In another 18 month the push to build it will be lessening, because the expansions of the existing lines will decease the need for the line.
+1 # reiverpacific 2013-05-27 09:51
What I've never heard but will continue to search out, is a detailed description of the construction methods.
Will it all be above ground as illustrated here, or will some of it be buried?
How are the joints secured and curves reinforced to allow for the inevitable increased pressure??
If buried, will jointless pipe or jointed be used and what are the materials and methods used in the construction and security?
How much construction inspection and regular testing will be required; -constant or only at specified intervals- and will this be in the hands of an independent, qualified, responsible and incorruptible construction inspection and management specialist company or companies along the entire length?
Who are the engineers, construction companies and subcontractors qualified and interested in building this pipeline?
What will be done with the sand-sludge residual materials and where will it be processed or disposed of?
I've done a lot of infrastructure and piping inspections and am asking these questions as normal procedure in any kind of piping construction, water, wastewater, gas, electrical, tele-cable and so on, that is buried or otherwise installed.
The directly affected state agencies, the tribes and farmers whose land will be crossed seem to have no-one qualified to speak for them in this respect, which is the reason for the public to be doubly vigilant and ask these questions and engage a qualified and sympathetic law firm to represent them!
+1 # tomo 2013-05-27 20:53
Rather than block KXL, I expect our fearless leader to do just what Bill McKibben hopes he won't: approve the pipeline, but compensate by giving a lovely little speech on the importance of avoiding global warming.

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