DoS FOIA Delays Doubled: A Bug or Feature?

map of California as an islandIn a recent email updating the status of my FOIA case, the Department of State (DoS) claims that, due to an increase in FOIA lawsuits, FOIA response times have doubled. The response times are already hopelessly behind the 21 days mandated by Congress. The Keystone Mapping Project has been waiting nearly four years for an adequate response to it’s FOIA requests.

Despite the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline permit by the White House last month, TransCanada has vowed to revive the pipeline at a future date. The DoS’ most recent estimates for my two outstanding FOIA requests were December 2015 and July 2016. For all intents and purposes, another promised deadline has passed. In an October email the DoS blamed an increase of FOIA lawsuits on the inordinate delay:

There has also been a marked increase in the number of FOIA lawsuits filed against the Department in recent years. In FY 2014, the Department experienced a 60 percent increase in FOIA lawsuits, which presented challenges that have impeded the Department’s best efforts to process material quickly. In FY 2015, 59 new FOIA lawsuits were filed against the Department, which is a 103 percent increase when compared to the same time period during the prior fiscal year, and is more than the total number of FOIA suits filed against the Department in the entirety of FY 2014.

This significant increase in the number of FOIA lawsuits is drawing on limited and already over-burdened resources and has necessitated the continued realignment of resources to meet court-imposed deadlines associated with this increase in litigation.

If my FOIA requests are any indicator of the larger trend, it seems that the DoS may have brought this backlog upon themselves by denying requests for dubious reasons. Clearly the Keystone XL pipeline’s mapping data required for evaluation of the Keystone FEIS, SEIS, and FSEIS, as well as the contracts and agreements with the authors of those reports, are the property of and in the possession of the DoS. That the DoS has projected months and years of delay in producing these documents is baffling, particularly now that the Keystone XL has been rejected by the White House. By encouraging lawsuits, the DoS only further degrades FOIA response times.

One has to wonder if such delays are a bug or a feature.

Over the intervening years of the Keystone battle alternative pipelines have been built to skirt the delayed northern segment of the Keystone XL. In 2013 the White House fast tracked permitting of the southern Gulf Coast segment by approving a Keystoe Nationwide Permit 12, thereby sidestepping environmental review on hundreds of pipeline waterbody crossings. Opening of the Gulf Coast segment relieved a petroleum delivery bottleneck to Texas refineries. This not only accelerated tar sands delivery to world markets from alternative pipelines, but also increased midwest gas prices by lowering the cost of delivery of unrefined midwest oil to domestic markets.

Now, just in time for Christmas, more deals have come down the chimneys of the fossil fuel industry. Only a week after Paris COP 2, while you were distracted by the hysteria over wars with fanatics in a desert far, far away (the real ones for oil, the imagined for merchandising), Congress lifted the oil export ban (see KMP posts on the ban). This will further flood world markets with cheap American domestic oil and fracked natural gas.

Saving gas is no longer for patriots, but chumps.

The Keystone XL and the US Oil Export Ban

UPDATE: The 40-year-old US oil export ban was lifted on December 16, 2015. More..

Keystone XL Contruction.  Texas.

For the Canadians, the Keystone XL has been an interesting regulatory waltz.

Those old enough to remember the gas station lines of the 1970’s may recall the economic disruption caused by OPEC’s oil embargo over 40 years ago. In response, Congress passed the Oil Export Ban which brought energy security to America by insuring that oil produced in America stayed in America – with the exception of that oil exported to Canada.

Currently, with Mexican heavy crude production dropping, Mexican exports to Gulf Coast refineries has fallen. The Keystone XL pipeline compensates for the diminished Mexican supply by delivering Canadian diluted bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands. Since the Jones Act requires that goods transported between US ports be carried on US-flagged ships staffed and owned by US citizen, it is cheaper for the Canadians to ship the refined oil back to Canada on non-US carriers. From there, the refined petroleum is available to world markets where it will fetch the highest price. The round trip makes the costly-to-extract tar sands oil competitive in a tight global market.

So while the Keystone XL has been billed as a jobs program and a safe oil supply for energy thirsty America, the pipeline allows foreign (Canadian) oil to be refined in the US where it can then be shipped to foreign markets (via Canada using non-US labor).

Things got dicey for the costly Canadian oil in December when OPEC refused to limit their oil production, crashing the world price of oil in an effort to drive the heavy grades of oil from Mexico, Venezuela, and Canada out of the market.

Meanwhile, on American soil (where the Keystone XL is projected to increase oil prices in the Midwest by relieving delivery bottlenecks and, thus, open the area to market-priced oil) the OPEC play has resulted in cheap gas and tighter production margins nationwide. In the end, it may be the market, and not climate concerns, that kills the Keystone.

Oddly, though, it was Citicorp who lifted North Dakota and Gulf Coast shale oil producers (aka frackers) from this Christmas season OPEC-induced funk when they made a little-noticed New Year’s Eve announcement stating that the Obama Administration’s Commerce Department would allow ultralight crude exporters to sidestep the export ban. Why the White House didn’t make the announcement themselves is unknown but, evidently, with a shale oil glut on the horizon, the drilling boom may be coming to an end unless other markets can be found.

Masked by the OPEC’s low prices is that the costly extraction of tar sands and shale oil is a clear indication that we’ve reached the end of cheap, easy oil. If energy security is truly an American priority, the export ban is more pertinent today than 40 years ago.

Fraccidents Map by Earthjustice

Earthjustice has come up with a great map showing some of the major fracking accidents, or fraccidents, in the United States. The data is culled from tirelessly combing news reports. I’m sure they would appreciate any heads up fracking accidents you can send their way. For more information on Earthjustice’s Fraccidents map, click here.

To overlay the Fraccidents map on the Keystone Mapping Project’s Keystone XL route map, visit our Google Earth Downloads page and select the Fraccidents link under KMZ Files for Download. The map should download and open in Google Earth.