The Keystone XL Coverup: The State Department’s Attempt to Hide Oil Industry Connections

by Jesse Coleman

March 21, 2013

Originally posted to PolluterWatch. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="The Alberta Tar Sands, the source of oil for Keystone XL"][/caption] Mother Jones Magazine has uncovered a new twist in the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline. As it turns out, the authors who drafted the environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline worked forTranscanada, Koch Industries, Shell Oil, and other oil corporations that stand to benefit from building the Keystone XL. Not only did the State Department know about these conflicts of interest, they redacted this information from public filings in attempt to conceal the truth. For background, the Keystone XL is a proposed oil pipeline that would ship sour crude oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf coast of Texas. The oil would then be refined and shipped abroad. In order to build the pipeline, Transcanada, the company who proposed Keystone XL, must get the OK from the State Department. The State Department bases its decision on whether or not to approve the pipeline on an environmental review, conducted by a third party group overseen by the State Department and paid for by Transcanada. This review, called the "draft supplemental environmental impact statement" was released earlier this month. It has been widely criticized as downplaying the impact that building Keystone XL will have on the climate, and all but paving the way for approval for the project. The review was conducted by a company called Environmental Resources Management (ERM). When ERM released its review of Keystone, it also released a 55 page filing claiming that there was no conflicts of interest in writing the report. However, the State Department redacted information from this filing, including the biographies of key experts involved in writing the report. According to Mother Jones, those redactions were meant to keep ties between the report authors and Transanada a secret from the public. Here is what the State Department was covering up:
  • ERM's second-in-command on the Keystone report, Andrew Bielakowski, had worked on three previous pipeline projects for TransCanada over seven years as an outside consultant. He also consultedon projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, three of the Big Fiveoil companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of heavy crude oil taken from the Canadian tar sands.
  • Another ERM employee who contributed to State'sKeystone reportand whose prior work history was also redactedpreviously worked for Shell Oil;
  • A third worked as a consultant for Koch Gateway Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Shell and Koch* have a significant financial interest in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. ERMitself has worked for Chevron, which has invested in Canadian tar sands extraction, according to its website.
However, this is not the first time that the State Department has been criticized for conflicts of interests involving TransCanada and Keystone XL. From Mother Jones:
In October 2011, Obama's reelection campaign hiredBroderick Johnson, who had previously lobbied in favor of Keystone, as a senior adviser.Emails obtained by Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that opposes the Keystone pipeline, revealed a cozy relationship between TransCanada lobbyist Paul Elliott and Marja Verloop, an official at the US Embassy in Canada whose portfolio covers the Keystone project. Before he lobbied for TransCanada, Elliott worked as deputy campaign manager on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid. Clinton served as secretary of state until recently.
  The question is, how can the State Department get away with routinely ignoring or burying connections between the oil industry and regulators responsible for Keystone XL?  
Jesse Coleman

By Jesse Coleman

Jesse Coleman is a researcher with the Greenpeace Investigations team. His focus is on front groups, fracking, and the oil and gas industry. Jesse's work has been featured in The Guardian, The New York Times, The Colbert Report, Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, and NPR.

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