Changes in the Administration

I did not  comment on the firing of Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State or Andrew McCabe,  Deputy Director of the FBI.  In both cases, I was really hoping that Trump would not fire them.   Rex Tillerson seemed to be working in the same mode as John Kerry and Hillary Clinton,  with a lot of travel and face to face meetings.   I think this was particularly important. He did not take sides in the Saudi Arabia – Qatar crisis, as Trump had done, but stated we would help facilitate an eventual end to the blockade of Qatar.  He understood the priority should be in Middle East unity in fighting terrorism, and Qatar with a US military base has helped this effort.   Trump on the other hand,  seems to want to intensify the Sunni-Shia rift, siding with the Saudi’s and against Iran.

There are hot spots all over the world, Yemen,  Somalia, Libya and northern Syria.   It is the United States “soft power”  that  helps keep the peace.    Proxy wars intensify as outsiders supply the equipment, making any negotiations more difficult.  Syria, Libya and Yemen are classic proxy wars.  There should be widespread condemnation of massive human rights violations,  the most recent on in the ethnic cleaning in Myanmar of the Rohingya,  the 600,000 survivors of this genocide are now living in Bangladesh.  I don’t think Mike Pompeo is ready to look beyond partisan politics.

There is no question that Andrew McCabe was fired from the FBI, as was Director James Comey, because he was doing his job, and would not be influenced by politics.   Russian meddling in the US elections to help Trump win the elections did happen.   The manner of the firing of Tillerson,  Comey and McCabe,  through Twitter or the media,  showed Trump could a very mean and disrespectful.

Now,  I am very fearful of Trump’s  new administration selections, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State and John Bolton, National Security Adviser.

The most urgent decision is on Iran, and the likely US pull out of the Iran nuclear accord in May 2018.  In the House,  Mike Pompeo led the charge against the Iran Nuclear Deal.  The New Times editorial on John Bolton, was scathing:

Yes, John Bolton is really that bad

The good thing about John Bolton, President Trump’s new national security adviser, is that he says what he thinks.

The bad thing is what he thinks.

There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton is to lead the country into war. His selection is a decision that is as alarming as any Mr. Trump has made. His selection, along with the nomination of the hard-line C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, as secretary of state, shows the degree to which Mr. Trump is indulging his worst nationalistic instincts.

Mr. Bolton, in particular, believes the United States can do what it wants without regard to international law, treaties or the political commitments of previous administrations.

He has argued for attacking North Korea to neutralize the threat of its nuclear weapons, which could set off a horrific war costing tens of thousands of lives. At the same time, he has disparaged diplomatic efforts, including the talks planned in late May between Mr. Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. He not only wants to abrogate the six-party deal that, since 2015, has significantly limited Iran’s nuclear program; he has called for bombing Iran instead. He has also maligned the United Nations and other multilateral conventions, as Mr. Trump has done, favoring unilateral solutions.

Over a 30-year career in which he served three Republican presidents, including as United Nations ambassador and the State Department’s top arms control official, Mr. Bolton has largely disdained diplomacy and arms control in favor of military solutions; no one worked harder to blow up the 1994 agreement under which North Korea’s plutonium  program was frozen for nearly eight years in exchange for heavy fuel oil and other assistance. The collapse of that agreement helped bring us to the crisis today, where North Korea is believed to have 20 or more nuclear weapons.

The editorial goes on to show how often Bolton dismissed diplomacy and US soft power to create a more peaceful world.  Instead,  the one well woven thread, was that we should use military action to support our objectives, no matter what the consequences were, including international condemnation.  As National Security Adviser, Bolton does not need congressional approval.

One last entry into the White House staff,  is  combative lawyer Joseph diGenova, replacing John Dowd.  As Trump explained, “I’m fucking do it my way”  which is never be defensive,  never apologize, but to launch an aggressive attack on those he considers in his way.   It is more of “do them harm before they can get going at you.”   DiGenova claimed the Russian investigation was all a big conspiracy,  and Donald Trump was being framed.  So, it’s fine to trash the Justice Department, FBI and CIA, as an acceptable defense.  And of course, the mainstream media.

So, we have a case of out with the good or not so bad,  Gen McMasters,  Rex Tillerson, Andrew McCabe, and I guess John Dowd,  and in with the bad to terrible,  John Bolton,  Mike Pompeo and Joseph DiGenova.

I have not added links to this story, as there are many editorials on the White House changes available on the Internet.  The month of May is looking to be particularly  bad, with both the North Korea summit and the Iran Nuclear Deal on the table.

Stay tuned,


FIU Bridge Collapse

I promised in my last blog that it would be the last one.   Expert bridge engineers  from the National Transportation Safety Board and other organizations are investigating the accident.   The engineering firm, MCM-Fiff,  FIU,  FDOT and other organizations have stated that they will fully cooperate.   I have devoted a separate page on my site to the engineering aspects of the accident,  which will  be updated periodically.   At this point,  video footage shows the first collapse occurred about 25-ft from the north pylon.

Stay tuned



FIU Bridge Collapse – Additional Thoughts

I’ve gone through just about all the information on the bridge.   Construction began with a metal framework incorporating the span and canopy.   Then cement was poured first into the span and then the canopy.  The movement of the structure was done very carefully and it sure looks like everything was executed according to plan.   Once the structure was landed on the two supports (South support and Tower landing) and any temporary supports removed,  the full weight of the structure (950 tons)  would be evenly divided between these two posts.   It would be evenly divided if both posts were at the exact same elevation and vertical.   Now, let us suppose that the tower post  (the smaller of the two supports) moved ever so slightly either down or away from the bridge.  In either case, the forces on the tower post increases, and pushes away from the structure.    Under this scenario, the accident begins with the tower post moving slightly down or off vertical and then  is unable to support the north end of the bridge.  In rapid succession, the north end becomes disconnected from the tower and drops to the roadway, and the rest of the bridge is pulled down as a result.

The tower post seems to be located in a canal which runs along 8th Street.   The base of the tower, could be the weakest point in the design during this initial installation.   The rebar framework  within the post, really provides the strength and resilience of the post and it could have been  deformed  during the loading of the span.    There is no easy way to know if the tower post  could support 475 tons of weight (or more if it had moved), until it was in position.

The alternative scenario is that the bridge buckled in the middle, because the structure wasn’t built strong enough. As the center of the bridge came crashing down, it pulled free of the north tower  and then this section crashed to the roadway.  So, it is a question of which crashed first, the center or the north side.

Certainly, a lot of investigation will be on the stress testing, to be conducted on the day of the accident and if temporary supports were removed prematurely.   Also, the decision not to block off traffic during testing will be part of the investigation.

Please note, that I am not a bridge engineer,  nor have any training or education in this area.   So all of the above is pure speculation.   I do not plan to post  anything further until a final report is published.    The real bridge  experts are on the scene with full access to all the necessary information.

Stay tuned,





FIU Bridge Disaster

It is a terrible tragedy.  It is very premature to know the reasons for the collapse.   The experts will be examining all the information and this will take time.  Let’s be patient.

The bridge sits in front of the FIU university, which prides itself of its Civil Engineering Department.  Had the bridge been successful, it would have been used to promote the school and the Department.

The bridge traverses 8th Avenue.  I’ve been to FIU numerous times, and considered enrolling there.  There is a light at 107 Ave and 8th St, but it is still hazardous to cross, due to the many lanes of traffic.  The pedestrian bridge was considered after an accident where a pedestrian was killed.

Discussions  from outsiders as to the cause, are pure speculation. Still, questions are appropriate at this point.  Cracks were observed at the north end of the span, where the span attaches to the tower.  From photos of the accident,  it appears  the span completely separated from the tower at this juncture.

The span that collapsed was 174 ft long and weighed 940 tons.  This is 10,000 pounds per foot.   This would be the same as 135 bags of concrete each weighing 80 lbs per ft.  It just seems incredibly heavy.

The span was installed with the canopy.  I am interested to know why as it would add weight to the span and could have been added later.  The tower was a critical element in the structure, as the cable stays would support the bridge in tension.

The bridge might have been designed properly but the sequence of installation made it unsafe.  This is likely to be examined closely. It would seem that the northern span could have been installed first, as this simply would traverse a small lake.

A meeting was held with FDOT officials and the construction firm, on the morning of the disaster.  I am certain this will be part of the review and little is gain from trying to piece together what was discussed.    To avoid the disaster,  8th Avenue would have had to be blocked from traffic, causing an incredible traffic jam.

In the time between now and the review by FDOT, there will be a lot of comparisons to other bridge disasters.   How much of this is really relevant, I can’t say.    This bridge had a number of unique features, including the Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) methods, which may make comparisons to more conventional designs difficult.

I won’t go into the legal consequences.  There are hundreds of news stories out there, with excellent information.  Avoiding Monday morning quarter-backing is hard.  I will be patient.

Stay tuned,



Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s Letter

Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe has been fired two days before receiving his pension by AG Jeff Sessions.   His letter summarizes a chain of events in which he corroborates damaging testimony of FBI Director Comey, then  the president launches a vendetta against him, ultimately leading to his firing.  His reference to attacks against his family, are based on the Trump’s tweet (Dec 23, 2017):

“How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” Trump tweeted on July 25, 2017.

The accusation is considered False by  A  factcheck link is provided at the bottom of this blog, which shows this to be more Trump’s BS especially made for Fox News.  McCabe was called a “bad actor based on his behavior” by WH Press Secretary Sanders.

McCabe’s letter also confirms what some have claimed in the media –  he did not close down the Clinton investigation early, but  continued to investigate her emails against “people in DOJ who opposed it.”  So ironically, while Trump was claiming a Clinton investigation cover-up,  McCabe was doing just the opposite – a thorough investigation no matter how long it took, which likely helped Trump win the election.

So honesty, persistence and dedication to your job can get you ridiculed by the President and ultimately get you fired.

I believe Sessions was likely threatened by Trump, either to fire McCabe or be fired himself.   McCabe was leaving anyway, but stripping of his pension seems to add insult to injury.

McCabe’s Letter

I have been an FBI Special Agent for over 21 years. I spent half of that time investigating Russian Organized Crime as a street agent and Supervisor in New York City. I have spent the second half of my career focusing on national security issues and protecting this country from terrorism. I served in some of the most challenging, demanding investigative and leadership roles in the FBI. And I was privileged to serve as Deputy Director during a particularly tough time.

For the last year and a half, my family and I have been the targets of an unrelenting assault on our reputation and my service to this country. Articles too numerous to count have leveled every sort of false, defamatory and degrading allegation against us. The President’s tweets have amplified and exacerbated it all. He called for my firing. He called for me to be stripped of my pension after more than 20 years of service. And all along we have said nothing, never wanting to distract from the mission of the FBI by addressing the lies told and repeated about us.
No more.

The investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has to be understood in the context of the attacks on my credibility. The investigation flows from my attempt to explain the FBI’s involvement and my supervision of investigations involving Hillary Clinton. I was being portrayed in the media over and over as a political partisan, accused of closing down investigations under political pressure. The FBI was portrayed as caving under that pressure, and making decisions for political rather than law enforcement purposes. Nothing was further from the truth. In fact, this entire investigation stems from my efforts, fully authorized under FBI rules, to set the record straight on behalf of the Bureau, and to make clear that we were continuing an investigation that people in DOJ opposed.

The OIG investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter. It was the type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week. In fact, it was the same type of work that I continued to do under Director Wray, at his request. The investigation subsequently focused on who I talked to, when I talked to them, and so forth. During these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.

But looking at that in isolation completely misses the big picture. The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people.

Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. The OIG’s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the Administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn. The accelerated release of the report, and the punitive actions taken in response, make sense only when viewed through this lens. Thursday’s comments from the White House are just the latest example of this.

This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work.
I have always prided myself on serving my country with distinction and integrity, and I always encouraged those around me to do the same. Just ask them. To have my career end in this way, and to be accused of lacking candor when at worst I was distracted in the midst of chaotic events, is incredibly disappointing and unfair. But it will not erase the important work I was privileged to be a part of, the results of which will in the end be revealed for the country to see.

I have unfailing faith in the men and women of the FBI and I am confident that their efforts to seek justice will not be deterred.

Stay tuned,



Trump Wrong About Campaign Donations

FIU Bridge Disaster in Miami

It was an enormous tragedy.  My heart goes out to the victims.   The pedestrian bridge as designed had a tower in the center, and supports at either end.  I call the support to the left, the South support, and to the right the North support.  The span that collapsed was the long span, from the South  support to the tower.  The tower had only been completed to the level of the walkway.

I can only go by the pictures as to what has happened.  The picture is taken from a different perspective so north and south are reverse.  The span  appears to have come loose of the tower post.  Video seems to show this part of the span crashing to the ground.   The piece on top of the tower post is a supporting member for the canopy.  The bridge collapsed on nearly every lane of the eight lane highway.


I’ve made a little sketch of the accident without the canopy as follows:

bridge 2

The bridge could have begun to sag in the middle, where the stress would be the greatest, and then the span connected to the tower pulled loose.  Something had to give between the two posts as the bridge began to sag in the middle.  All this happened extremely fast as motorists had no time to get out of the way.

The investigation has not yet begun, and will undoubtedly involve the design, the planned installation and actual installation.  Certainly, the weight of the structure and the installation of the long span without a tower and stays, will be an issue.

I am certain there will be an investigation by bridge engineers, and they will provide a competent analysis of the disaster.  I can only go by what is in the pictures.

Stay tuned,





National Pi Day

π Day

Ok.  The day has come and gone.   If there were any big celebrations of pi, I wasn’t invited.   An approximation of pi is 3.14 so March 14 was selected  to celebrate this mathematical constant.  However,  in other countries,  dates are written dd-mm-yy,  so this doesn’t translate well.  Conceivably, one could celebrate the 314th day of the year,  a remarkably terrible idea since November to December period is already extremely crowded with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, turkey sales, and not to mention Christmas, Hanukkah  and Thanksgiving.   Plus, it opens the floodgates to celebrate every mathematical constant less than 365.

William Jones, a self taught mathematician,  is given credit for inventing pi in 1706 (see link below).   Pi is an irrational number, which does not mean it goes crazy when someone forgets to take out the garbage or feed the cat.  It is irrational because it can not be expressed with a finite number of digits or in a  series of repeated digits.

The idea of eating a pie, with a line drawn across it, representing the diameter of the circle on March 14 seems reasonable.  Also, yesterday there were promotions on pizza, obviously attracting neurotic mathematicians, engineers and scientists and their ilk, but really to  no one else.  There is already a National Pie Day and National Pizza Day.  And as  astute mathematicians have  noted:  π≠pie.  Believe me, they are inflexible on this point, and will not be adding any recipes to math books.  I still think some aberrant philistine could do it,   with a book entitled  “π and Pies: Great mathematical equations and recipes”  just to fill the obvious  void.

National Pie Day was created by Charlie Papazian, an American of Armenian descent (as I am).  It  is celebrated on January 23, which happens to be Charlie’s birthday.  He is trained as nuclear engineer, but for the last 40 years, has promoted home brewing through tapes and books.  He is the founder of the Association of Brewers and the Great American Beer festival.   Home brewing got a big head start from Jimmy Carter who signed into law in 1978, the right of every American to brew his own beer.   Charlie Papazian looks like an immensely happy guy:

He is quoted as saying:  “Buy a man a beer and he wastes an hour.  Teach a man to brew and he wastes a lifetime.”

I was going to add a truly great recipe for Key Lime pie (aka, KL- π), but I’ll save it for Charlie’s birthday (Jan 23).

I have already said more than enough.

Stay tuned,


Updates Terrible Pi Jokes:

Pie > π because you can eat pie.

See others, equally dumb:



William Jones and his circle, the man that invented Pi

Charlie Papazian (Wikipedia)

Pi Day



Getting closer to center

Republicans, Democrats and Uncommitted.  I  agree with a lot of the Democratic party’s goals, but not all of them.   Seems like there was a lot of talk of bring down the US deficit prior to the election, by cutting spending.   There’s been a lot of talk, but the debt ceiling will have to be bumped up again.

I guess what I like most is a unity between Republicans and Democrats.   Or at least I am still hoping on the issue of gun violence, there can be at least a few Democrats joining with Republicans.

Immigration reform ought to be a bipartisan issue also, but perhaps I’m dreaming.

Free trade has been a Republican idea for a long time.   I generally like trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific  Pact, which seemed to help balance out China’s aggressive deal making in the region.   Threats of tariffs are being used as bargaining chips – I think this will fail, because other leaders have to reciprocate or look weak to their electorate.

I don’t like it when Donald Trump calls Democrats “obstructionists” – this does represent about half the country.  I am hoping he is replaced with someone more closer to the center who will never resort to name calling.

I want a president which will restore the Environmental Protection Agency instead of bring in someone to wreck it.  I still consider the protection of the environment a bipartisan issue.   Perhaps, this is another one that left port a long time ago.

I’m sadden by what has happen to television  in terms of reporting the news.   I read a lot and enjoy mainstream media, like the New York Times, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.  They are doing journalism the old fashion way, by putting knowledgeable journalists on the front lines.

Stay tuned,



Doug and Kris Tompkins and their incredible contribution

This is a picture of Patagonia Park in Chile.   It is a 10 million acre wilderness park.  The Chilean government owned approximately 8 million acres and the Tomkins owned approximately 2 million acres.  Two million acres – I thought there had to be an error.   Two million acres is equal to  3125 square miles, or viewed as a square piece of land 55 miles on a side.  The land is not all contiguous, but nevertheless, it is an amazingly large area of preserved wilderness.

The idea of starting small but thinking big, is personified in Doug and Kris Tompkins.  Doug Tompkins is not longer with us, but his contribution lives on and will continue to inspire others.  In January 2018,  I read how Kris Tompkins had donated 2 million acres of land in Patagonia, Chile to the Chilean government so they could continue to preserve their heritage.

The first line of Douglas Tompkin’s brief biography in Wikipedia say a lot:

“Douglas Rainsford Tompkins (March 20, 1943 – December 8, 2015) was an American conservationist, outdoorsman, philanthropist, filmmaker, agriculturalist, and businessman who assembled and preserved the land which became the largest gift of private land to government in South America.”

Doug’s incredible life came to a tragic end, dying of hyperthermia on a  kayak trip in 2015, the gift was made by his wife Kristine.

This is a northern California story.   Somehow, there’s a greater feel up there for environmental causes, or what can be done, in a big way, to help our planet.  It makes sense that is why the Sierra Club and many other groups have headquarters in northern California.  Other places have mountains, seashore and scenic views, but everything is so close in northern California.  However,  it isn’t really what’s there, but how you become a part of it.

This is a story which begins at  the epicenter of the 60’s culture, San Francisco.  Susie Russell picked him up Doug as he was hitch hiking in Reno  and in 1964 they were married.    They had attended the same high school, but had not known each other then.  Susie and Jane Tise began a clothing business called “Plain Jane” which ultimately became the brands, North Face and Espirit.  Fast forward a couple of decades, and both Doug and Susie Tompkins were millionaires. In 1986, Espirit had sales of over 800 million dollars.Doug and Susie divorced in 1989.   Both remarried, and continued their philanthropic environmental activism.  Susie Tompkin Buell strongly supported climate change initiatives, the media matters organization and progressive political organizations.

This is the story of  three incredible individuals (Doug and Kris Tompkins and Susie Buell) who became rich because of their talents and hard work, and then  gave so much back to us.  It’s truly inspiring.  It is now up to the Chilean government to maintain their gift from the Tompkins for future generations.

Please see the links below.

Stay tuned,




Chile Adds 10 Million Acres of Parkland in Historic First

Susie Tompkins Buell

Douglas Tompkins

Kris Tompkins


No one is above the law – Maybe!

We live in a free country.  Anyone can sue anyone.  An astonishing number of frivolous claims are made all the time.  I don’t know if the lawsuit by Stormy Daniels has one iota of merit, and I’m certainly not going there.  But Time magazine and others have raised the issue if a president can be sued in civil court.   Trump came to power with a lot of legal actions pending against him.   Can he be dragged into court while president?  The short answer is – it depends on the  case.  And it is a real uphill legal battle if you’re suing a billionaire president.

There exists “Presidential Immunity”  which is based on the separation of  the judicial and executive branches.   Theoretically,  if there was an open door to frivolous  lawsuits against the president,  the president could be so bogged down with having to respond to them, he could not perform his duties.  It would make the executive branch subordinate to the judicial branch, contrary to the separate and equal branches of government per our constitution.

If there is one individual who was responsible for breaking down this wall of presidential  immunity, it was Paula Jones,  or more specifically Paula Jones legal team.   The initial sexual harassment case began when Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas.  Paula Jones claimed that in 1991, Clinton propositioned her and exposed himself in the Governor’s mansion.   She filed in 1994, and the judge dismissed this case, on the basis that a sitting president can not be sued while in office.   Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and now is considered a landmark case.   The Supreme Court sided with Paula Jones and allowed her sexual harassment case to proceed in court.  Ultimately, the case was dismissed in a summary judgment for  lack of merit.   The decision was appealed and ultimately settled for $850,000. Paula Jones lawyers got $650,000 and she got $200,000.   Clinton through his lawyers has always maintain his innocence.   The Jones case led to the Monica Lewinsky case, and the impeachment of President Clinton, which failed during the Senate  trial phase.

If any of the many litigants are able to get their day in civil  court against President Trump,  they will be citing the Supreme Court landmark case, Clinton v. Jones which gives them the right to sue the president for actions prior to becoming president.   See Wikipedia link.   There are a lot of ironies to all this.  Clinton could have paid Jones, the $700,000 she was asking for in 1994.  Also, if Bill Clinton had settled out of court with Jones, the case would not have ended up in the Supreme Court, and future Presidents could still be claiming immunity.   It was Clinton who appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, after the appellate court ruled against him.

Paula Jones was a strong supporter of Donald Trump, yet she must now be re-thinking her allegiance in light of all the denials by Trump.

Stay tuned,



Wikipedia: Donald Trump sexual misconduct allegations

The Trump accuser who refuses to go away (Summer Zervos Case)

Clinton v. Jones (Wikipedia)






The Keystone XL Pipeline

“The Keystone Pipeline was dead. And the Dakota Access Pipeline was in even in worse shape because they built it but they weren’t allowed to hook it up,” Trump said, referencing two of the most disputed pipeline projects in the country. ” And in my first week, I approved both. It’s 42,000 jobs. The Dakota is already open and Keystone is starting; it’s actually already started. And that was done in the first week—got it approved.”

Trump said this in November 2017 when he visited Japan.  Only problem is that it’s not true.  Keystone XL pipeline isn’t starting.   The Dakota pipeline was completed before Trump took office.  It was only a problem at one of the terminal points.

The reasons for the Keystone XL delays are many, some ironically as a result of White House “pro-energy” policies.   TransCanada Corporation (symbol TRC) wanted to bring the heavy oil from Alberta’s oil sands to the refineries in Oklahoma and Houston and Port Arthur by pipeline.   The little known fact, is Obama approved many of the vital links of the pipeline,  so oil was flowing from Alberta, Canada to the refineries, before Trump was elected.   This was accomplished through completion of the Keystone pipeline Phases 1, 2, 3a and 3b.   The big controversy was on Phase 4, the Keystone to Steele City leg, shown in green.    The pipeline isn’t just about getting oil from Canada to the US.  It is also adds to the pipeline capacity to ship US oil from oil producing areas, to refineries.  Cushing, Oklahoma has a large storage capacity, so this link  (Phase 3b) was pushed when oil prices were dropping, so they could store more oil, to avoid shutting in wells or halting ongoing development.


So,  don’t think Obama was “anti-pipeline” construction since the major links of Keystone were completed during his administration.  It was the Phase 4 expansion as shown in green, that  caused so much controversy.  From 2008 to 2015, there were a number of approvals, but the final State Department approval was delayed as alternative routes were being examined through Nebraska, to avoid potential aquifer contamination.  Wikipedia has done an excellent job of summarizing these contentious 7 years of delays.   Ultimately, President Obama decided not to approve Phase 4,  on the grounds that expanding import of a “dirtier oil” with approximately 14% higher carbon emissions,  “would have undercut [the United States’] global leadership on climate change.”  So, it was a matter of how other countries might perceive this approval, and be less inclined to cut their own carbon emissions.  (See Wikipedia discussion)  Obama also downplayed the impact of the pipeline decision, as he stated,  “for years, the Keystone pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”

Trump could not immediately reverse Obama’s decision.    He issued an Executive Memorandum to expedite a new  review of the pipeline on January 24, 2017, four days after taking office. A clip from the signing ceremony is provided in the links below.  At that day,  TransCanada stock was about $48 on January 24, 2017.  (see note at bottom).

On March 24, 2017 the State Department issued a Presidential Permit to begin construction (see State Department link).   This wasn’t enough.  It had to be approved by Nebraska regulators, which  occurred on November 20, 2017.   The approved route was not the one that TransCanada wanted.

It is likely in 2018,  on the tenth anniversary of the initial application ,  all issues on the pipeline will come full circle, with new rounds of economic uncertainty and legal problems.   The cost of steel products, needed for the pipeline is going up, due to Trump’s tariffs.   The oil price seems pretty steady at $60 to $62/bbl,  instead of EIA forecast of $80/bbl several years ago.   The heavy oil from Canada sells at a lower price than the sweet Bakken and Permian  crude, from fracked wells.  The Dakota pipeline, which Trump wants to take credit for, doesn’t help the Keystone XL prospects.  So, it is difficult to know if TransCanada will still want to build the pipeline given the soft oil prices and increases in steel.

Finally, legal problems are mounting.  The National Defense Resource  Council (NDRC) has challenged the State Department’s approval in March 2017, saying it was based on old economic evaluations (2014).  They are seeking State Department documents related to the decision.   The Trump administration has provided some documents, but NDRC claims they were only a selected few of the documents they requested.  The rest is considered “privileged information”,  but the government must back their claim  with a “privilege log” – all this could come to a head soon in March.   See link from NDRC.

The pipeline is likely neither a great economic boost nor an terrible threat to global warming as Obama stated.   He recognized that without the pipeline, the heavy oil from Canada could come to the US.   In the end,  if TransCanada can’t find partners, and commitments from refiners, they may decide the pipeline expansion just isn’t worth it.  At least, at today’s oil prices.  TransCanada trades today at $44.00/shr down from $56.00 when Trump signed the Executive Memorandum in January 2017.

Stay tuned,


— Note:  Original post stated $56.00 but this was today’s price in Canadian dollars.  Stock price  was  $47.71 at the close in New York on Jan 23, 2017.


Note:  I admit I grossly simplified the story.  I had to!  See links below which do a much better job with all issues.

Wikipedia: Keystone Pipeline

March 24, 2017 State Department

Nebraska Allows Keystone XL Pipeline, but Picks a Different Path

NDRC Keystone XL Update

CNBC: Steel tariffs won’t help Trump achieve his goal of ‘American energy dominance,’ oil industry warns