The Pipeline, the President, and Climate Common Sense
By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director
“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” -President Obama, June 25, 2013
Today President Obama clarified the murky decision around the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline into a crystal clear question about the pipeline’s climate implications. And to this question there is an unequivocal answer. The State Department, the U.S. EPA, climate scientists, and even Wall Street and industry analysts agree that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will create massive amounts of carbon pollution.
The first place to start is the State Department’s own flawed review of the proposed project, which assumed that the development of Canada’s dirty tar sands is inevitable with or without the pipeline. This assumption is wrong (more about that later.) But the State Department still finds that emissions from electrical generation for operation of the pipeline pumps alone would create approximately 3.19 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year. That’s equivalent to emissions from 626,000 passenger vehicles operating for one year or 398,000 homes using electricity for one year. That’s a lot of carbon pollution.
The State Department’s environmental impact reviews have concluded that tar sands is 17 percent more carbon intensive than conventional crude oil. EPA’s evaluation puts that number as high as 37 percent. Given the Keystone XL pipeline capacity of 830,000 barrels per day, U.S. EPA estimates that Keystone XL will add 18.7 million metric tons of CO2 carbon pollution per year. That’s a lot more carbon, but it still doesn’t scratch the surface.
Our partners at Oil Change International looked at the true cumulative emissions of the pipeline and estimated that the Keystone XL pipeline will be responsible for at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. That’s the emissions equivalent of putting 37.7 million additional cars on the road. They also looked at petroleum coke (or petcoke) from the KXL pipeline –- a solid coal-like byproduct of tar sands refining. This dirty waste product has been gaining attention in Detroit where a massive pile threatens the surrounding community. The burning of petcoke from Keystone XL tar sands will add another 16.6 million metric tons of CO2 pollution per year to the Keystone XL grand total.
So now back to State Department’s assumption that tar sands development is inevitable. This idea dates to the department’s earliest reviews of the proposal, when oil industry lobbyists enjoyed unfettered access to State Department officials, carbon pollution had little bearing on the department’s decision, and the Keystone XL pipeline proposal looked like a sure thing. But times have changed.
Later this week, the Sierra Club and our partners will release new evidence from federal officials, Wall Street, industry analysts, and refining executives admitting on the record that Keystone XL will directly determine the amount of tar sands mined from Alberta, Canada. And proving once and for all that there is nothing ‘inevitable’ about tar sands or about Keystone XL.
Proposed tar sands pipelines across Canada have been firmly rejected. Canada’s international reputation has been tarnished by its aggressive promotion of dirty tar sands and its efforts to challenge climate action around the world. Here in the United States, a national movement has grown to prevent this pipeline, to prevent all tar sands pipelines, and to demand action on climate solutions. The cheer from this movement today at the president’s words shook the nation.
The State Department is now reviewing more than 1.1 million comments opposing the pipeline. The climate impacts – as well as the risks to human health, private property rights, wildlife, drinking water, farms, and ranches – are lost on none of the millions of Americans from all 50 states who oppose this pipeline.
The president's promise to use climate pollution as the standard by which Keystone XL will be decided means his decision will now be easy. Now it all comes down to common sense. And the massive climate implications of Keystone XL will lead the State Department and the Obama Administration to reject the pipeline.