Keystone XL survived politics but economics could kill it

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
08/06/2017 12:00 PM
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The proposed Keystone XL pipeline survived nine years of protests, lawsuits and political wrangling that saw the Obama administration reject it and President Donald Trump revive it, but now the project faces the possibility of death by economics.

Low oil prices and the high cost of extracting Canadian crude from oil sands are casting new doubts on Keystone XL as executives with the Canadian company that wants to build it face the final regulatory hurdle next week in Nebraska.

The pipeline proposed in 2008 has faced dozens of state and federal delays, many of them prompted by environmental groups who ultimately persuaded President Barack Obama to deny federal approval in November 2015. President Donald Trump resuscitated the project in March, declaring that Calgary-based TransCanada would create "an incredible pipeline."

After all that, a TransCanada executive raised eyebrows in the energy industry last week when he suggested that the pipeline developer doesn't know whether it will move forward with the project. Paul Miller, an executive vice president who is overseeing the project, told an investor call that company officials won't decide until late November or early December whether to start construction.

"We'll make an assessment of the commercial support and the regulatory approvals at that time," Miller said in the conference call Friday with investors.

The company has invited customers to bid for long-term contracts to ship oil on the pipeline. The bidding will run through September.

An energy expert said the project has been delayed so long it may no longer make economic sense.

"Frankly, in the current price climate, it's probably not going to be a going venture unless there's a massive improvement in technology" for processing Canadian crude, said Charles Mason, a University of Wyoming professor of petroleum and gas economics. Crude oil was trading at around $49.50 a barrel on Wednesday, down from highs of more than $100 in 2014.

The 1,179-mile pipeline would transport oil from tar sands deposits in Alberta, Canada, across Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines that feed Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

South Dakota and Montana regulators have approved the project, although there are legal challenges pending in both states. Only Nebraska has yet to give regulatory approval. The rest of the route for the oil to the Gulf would travel an existing pipeline in the network.

Mason said the biggest economic problem is that synthetic crude from the Canadian deposits is considered a lower-value product because it tends to be heavier, and thus more expensive to refine into gasoline and jet fuel. It's also more expensive to extract than other oils.

Producers have also found other ways to ship oil, primarily by train, and many are reluctant to sign long-term contracts with a pipeline that wouldn't go into operation for several more years, said Jeff Share, editor of the Houston-based Pipeline & Gas Journal, a leading industry publication. Given the difficulties, Share said TransCanada has probably a "50-50" chance of completing the project.

The five-member Nebraska Public Service Commission is supposed to decide by Nov. 23 whether the project serves the public's interests, based on evidence presented by attorneys in a formal legal proceeding beginning Monday and a series of public hearings held over the last few months. The elected commission is comprised of four Republicans and one Democrat.

Environmental opposition to the project has persisted in Nebraska, where opponents say the pipeline would pass through the Sandhills, an ecologically fragile region of grass-covered sand dunes, and would cross the land of farmers and ranchers who don't want it.

Nebraska law enforcement authorities already have had discussions with their counterparts in North Dakota about how that state handled widespread protests during construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indiana Reservation, said Cody Thomas, a Nebraska State Patrol spokesman.

Protesters led by Native American tribes and environmental groups flocked to North Dakota last summer to rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and some camped out in bitter cold through early this year, prompting the state to send a large law enforcement contingent that sometimes skirmished with protesters. The pipeline was ultimately completed but legal challenges remain.

Pipeline opponents in Nebraska said they are wary of TransCanada's recent statements and don't believe the company will surrender without a fight.

"We can't let our guard down," said Jim Carlson, a farmer near Silver Creek, Nebraska, who grows corn on the pipeline's proposed route. "We've got to continue to be vigilant and proactive. TransCanada could be doing things just to throw us off."

Carlson said TransCanada has offered him $307,000 since the company first contacted him in 2013, but he refuses to sign an easement agreement to grant access to his land. To highlight his opposition, Carlson is installing solar panels on his land directly in the path of the proposed pipeline.

If the Nebraska commission approves the route, TransCanada can initiate legal proceedings under eminent domain to gain access to the land of holdout property owners. TransCanada has secured agreement with roughly 90 percent of Nebraska landowners along the route.

The company said that if it decides to go ahead with the project, it would need six to nine months to start doing some of the staging of the construction crews followed by two years of construction.

News

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/22/2017 04:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A white former Oklahoma police officer was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in the off-duty fatal shooting of his daughter's black boyfriend after jurors in three previous trials couldn't decide whether to find him guilty of murder. Jurors deliberated about six hours Wednesday night before finding ex-Tulsa officer Shannon Kepler, 57, guilty of the lesser charge in the August 2014 killing of 19-year-old Jeremey Lake, who had just started dating Kepler's then-18-year-old daughter, Lisa. The jury recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 20. Lake's death occurred four days before a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014. Brown's killing touched off months of protests and became a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, which decries police violence against minorities and calls for greater transparency from law enforcement officials, especially in cases of officer-involved shootings. The issue of race had also become an undercurrent in each of Kepler's previous three trials, with only one African-American being selected for each jury and accusations by civil rights activists that Kepler's attorneys were purposely trying to exclude potential black candidates. Another racial element had been recently added to the case when Kepler argued that he couldn't be tried by state prosecutors because he's a member of an American Indian tribe. A judge determined the fourth trial in less than a year could move forward in state court. Kepler says he's 1/128th Muscogee (Creek). Kepler's attorneys said the 24-year-police veteran was trying to protect Lisa Kepler because she had run away from home and was living in a crime-ridden neighborhood. Defense attorney Richard O'Carroll said Lisa had been in and out of a homeless shelter after her father forbade her from bringing men home into the house. Kepler told investigators Lake was armed and that he was acting in self-defense, but police didn't find a weapon on Lake or at the scene. "He's bringing it, I'm bringing it," Kepler said from the witness stand. "It was either him or me. I'm not going to stand there and get shot." Kepler retired from the force after he was charged. Prosecutors said Kepler first watched his daughter and Lake from his SUV before approaching them on the street. Lake's aunt disputed Kepler's self-defense account and has said her nephew was reaching out to shake Kepler's hand to introduce himself when Kepler fired. During closing arguments, Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray referred to Kepler's claim that he thought Lake was armed as "the phantom gun" defense. Neither O'Carroll nor District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler immediately returned phone calls seeking comment. Jurors in the previous three trials had deadlocked 11-1, 10-2 and 6-6, forcing the judge to declare mistrials. Although they couldn't agree on the murder charge, jurors in the first trial convicted Kepler of recklessly using his firearm.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/22/2017 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Outpatient mental health and substance abuse programs for 189,000 Oklahoma residents, including some addicted to opioids, will be eliminated or slashed on Nov. 1 because of state budget cuts, the state mental health agency director said Wednesday. Commissioner Terri White of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said the agency will have to drastically cut its budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 if state lawmakers don't fill a $215 million hole in the state budget. The hole was created when the state Supreme Court overturned a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax that was supposed to help fund the agency. "These cuts...are unbearable," White said at a news conference in front of the agency's Crisis Center. "They will decimate the state's behavioral health system." White said the cut to her agency of $75 million, or 23 percent of the total budget will result in the loss of another $106 million in federal matching funds and will be implemented almost entirely in the second half of the fiscal year. Oklahoma has the highest percentage in the nation of people over the age of 12 who have used prescription pain relievers for non-medical reasons in the last year, according to a July report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The budget cuts will eliminate funding for drug courts, which provide treatment options for criminal defendants who are addicted to opioids and other addictive substances. Oklahoma lawmakers convened a special legislative session on Sept. 25 to consider ways to raise new revenue and avoid dramatic cuts, but recessed without an agreement. Negotiations between Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders are continuing. GOP Floor Leader Jon Echols of Oklahoma City did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. White said the agency will trim $65 million of its budget by eliminating all outpatient services except for the delivery of medication needed by mental health and substance abuse patients. The balance will be cut through the elimination of psychiatric residential treatment for children, White said. The agency will continue to provide in-patient psychiatric and substance abuse care for the most acutely ill patients, she said. About 300 state workers will be laid off or terminated due to the cuts as well as thousands of employees in 700 private and nonprofit organizations involved in the mental health and substance abuse fields in the state. Mental health and law enforcement officials who have daily contact with people with mental health and substance abuse issues said the proposed cuts could devastate the lives of those who receive the services. "We will lose lives if we cut outpatient services," said Steve Buck, executive director of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/21/2017 04:00 PM
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., will accept arguments over the next month on whether the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline must stage equipment near an American Indian reservation in southern North Dakota to respond to any oil spill under the Missouri River. The idea is part of a fallback plan proposed by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in August in case U.S. District Judge James Boasberg eventually decided to allow the four-state pipeline to continue operating while federal officials do more study on the $3.8 billion project's impact on the tribe. Boasberg ruled on Oct. 11 that oil could keep flowing from western North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois, as it has been since June 1. President Donald Trump earlier this year pushed through the pipeline's completion. On Wednesday, Boasberg conferred with attorneys on both sides of an ongoing tribal lawsuit against the pipeline and set a timeline for arguments on Standing Rock's proposal. It includes increased public reporting of pipeline issues such as repairs, and implementation of an emergency spill response plan — including equipment staging — at the crossing beneath the Missouri River's Lake Oahe reservoir. The tribe gets its water from the reservoir and fears harm from any spill. Standing Rock is the leader of four Sioux tribes hoping to convince Boasberg to shut down the line, which Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners maintains is safe. Boasberg won't make a decision until the Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the project, completes more study that he ordered in June on the pipeline's impact on Standing Rock. The additional review isn't likely to be completed until next spring, according to the Corps. Boasberg in his ruling allowing pipeline operations to continue noted that the Corps and ETP had not yet expressed their positions on the tribe's "alternative relief" plan and said he would hear arguments on the matter. He'll make a decision on the proposal sometime after mid-November under the timeline for arguments that he set Wednesday.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/21/2017 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says federal officials have extended the state's deadline for complying with the REAL ID Act to Oct. 10, 2018. Fallin said Thursday that the compliance deadline was extended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The agency's previous deadline for complying with the federal law passed last week. Fallin says the extension means that the federal government will continue to recognize Oklahoma driver's licenses and ID cards for entering federal buildings and installations for another year. Fallin signed legislation earlier this year to bring the state in compliance with the 2005 law that strengthens rules for government-sanctioned identification. The measure requires state driver's licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they are legally in the United States.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/20/2017 04:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Technologies is hosting job fairs from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 28 at 10837 E. Marshall St. The tribally owned company anticipates hiring 100 bilingual call center specialists to respond to calls from Disaster Recovery Service Centers. Hired support specialists will answer questions and perform data entry for individuals and businesses affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. CNT is looking for experienced and entry-level bilingual agents. All applicants must be U.S. citizens, be at least 18 years of age with a high school diploma or GED and have the ability to pass a background and drug screening. Job fair attendees should bring their résumés and be prepared for an interview at the CN Nation Career Services office on Marshall Street. CNT is part of the Cherokee Nation Businesses family of companies and is headquartered in Tulsa, with a regional office in Fort Collins, Colorado, and client locations nationwide. CNT provides unmanned systems expertise, information technology services and technology solutions, geospatial information systems services, as well as management and support of programs, projects, professionals and technical staff. For more information or to apply online, visit <a href="https://cnbjobs.cnb-ss.com/#/jobs/11540" target="_blank">https://cnbjobs.cnb-ss.com/#/jobs/11540</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/19/2017 04:00 PM
WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in October announced the selection of Bryan Rice, a veteran federal administrator and Cherokee Nation citizen, as the new director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that coordinates government-to-government relations with 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States. “Bryan has a wealth of management expertise and experience that will well serve Indian Country as the BIA works to enhance the quality of life, promote economic opportunity, and carry out the federal responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives,” Zinke said. “I have full confidence that Bryan is the right person at this pivotal time as we work to renew the department’s focus on self-determination and self-governance, give power back to the tribes, and provide real meaning to the concept of tribal sovereignty.”?? Rice, who started his new position on Oct. 16 recently led the Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire, and has broad experience leading Forestry, Wildland Fire and Tribal programs across the Interior, BIA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Native Americans face significant regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles to economic freedom and success,” Rice said. “I am honored to accept this position and look forward to implementing President Trump’s and Secretary Zinke’s regulatory reform initiative for Indian Country to liberate Native Americans from the bureaucracy that has held them back economically.” His federal government career has spanned nearly 20 years, beginning with service on the Helena Interagency Hotshot Crew for the U.S. Forest Service in Montana. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, working in both community forestry and rural development and supervised timber operations as a timber sale officer on the Yakama Reservation as well as a forester on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Rice also served in leadership capacities internationally in Tanzania, Mexico, Brazil and Australia for both Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. ?? Rice has served in two senior executive service natural resources management leadership positions, including as deputy director for the BIA Office of Trust Services from 2011-14, and as director of Forest Management in the U.S. Forest Service from 2014-16. ?? Rice spent his school years in the Midwest in Whitewater, Wisconsin, and Peoria, Illinois. ?He holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alaska – Southeast, focusing on rural development and transportation systems. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he looks forward to working with Rice. “The Cherokee Nation is certainly proud of our citizen, Bryan Rice, and his accomplished career stemming in natural resources and now in Washington, D.C., overseeing the agency that most directly works with all federally recognized Indian tribes,” Baker said. Rice’s position does not require Senate confirmation.