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Sierra Daily

Mar 04, 2013

You Can Stop Worrying About Keystone XL!


It's going to be able to cope with climate change just fine, says the State Department. Last Friday's long delayed draft supplemental environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL project downplayed the climate effects of building a giant pipeline to transport the world's dirtiest oil from the tar sands hell of Alberta to refineries in Texas. But it also examined the reverse situation: "the potential impact of climate change effects . . . on the construction and operation of the proposed Project itself."

The section starts off with a discussion of what climate model to use. The IPCC's 2012 report is considered, but it's noted that since "actual CO2 levels are currently higher than what was projected in the IPCC models, this analysis has taken a precautionary approach by using the worst-case projections."

What are those projections? "By 2040–2069, the national average annual temperature is predicted to increase above the baseline of 1980 to 2009 by between 2.8°F and 6.6°F. . . . [H]eat waves and warm spells will likely be more frequent, more intense, and longer in duration." The weather's going to be ugly too, acknowledges the State Department:

Annual precipitation is expected to increase across most of the climate regions from the 1980-2009 baseline. . . . More of the precipitation is predicted to be associated with severe storm events, which are projected to increase in frequency over future time periods. . . .Increased rainfall in a shortened time span increases the likelihood of flooding, soil submersion, heavy snow, runoff, sinkholes, riverbed scour, washouts, landslides, and (in mountain regions) avalanches."

 Sounds bad! How is the poor pipeline going to be able to cope with conditions like that?

"Keystone has confirmed that [its] design standards are sufficient to accommodate an increased number of hot days or consecutive hot days. Keystone has also stated that because the proposed pipeline would be buried to at least 4 feet of cover to the top of the pipe [sic], it would be below most surface temperature impacts, including wild fires and frequent freezing and thawing."

The report is similarly reassuring with respect to flooding:

"Keystone has confirmed that the design of pipeline crossings of all waterbodies is required. . . to accommodate lateral stream migration and scour. In addition, areas where subsidence is known to be present will be designed accordingly."

Alrighty then! The upshot is that even in the worst possible scenario, with blistering heat waves, wildfires sweeping the prairies, and deluges scouring the streams and rivers, the Keystone XL pipeline will be able to carry on its business of fueling exactly those catastrophic effects. The public now has 45 days to comment on the project; you can do so here.

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

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