Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Brief Review of the Keystone XL Saga

US President Barack Obama will soon be deciding whether or not he will increase the nation's reliance on some of the world's dirtiest fossil fuels. For those who oppose the Keystone XL the road has been long and arduous. In the coming months Obama will make the final call and for many this is a defining moment of his presidency.

If it goes forward the Keystone XL pipeline will transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude tar sands oil each day from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. With a carbon load that is three or four times that of conventional oil, this is some of the dirtiest fossil fuels on Earth.

The First State Department Report

The environmental impact study written by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) found that Keystone would not significantly increase climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions. However, sections of the study actually contradict this conclusion.  

Review of the First State Department Report

ERM was recommended to the State Department by TransCanada, the builders of the Keystone XL. This prompted a reassessment based on concerns about conflict of interest as the two companies have a history of working together. ERM is also a member of several energy industry groups that have urged the government to support the project. ERM also relied on sources that are friendly to the oil industry and have vested interests in Keystone being built.

The Huffington Post reported that ERM "did all sorts of dodgy and deceptive stuff." Grist addressed some of the flaws in the study and Bloomberg pointed to questionable behavior. However, the government sanctioned audit suggested that none of these issues amounted to serious rule breaking.

Second State Department Review

The second State Department Review came to similar conclusions as the first, however, the final round of public comments generated over two million comments opposing the pipeline.

Fossil Fuel Influence

The fossil fuel industry has spent a small fortune on advertising and public relations to win support for the Keystone XL and industry lobbyists are working hard to influence the outcome.

The Real Carbon Load

Environmentally concerned people are quick to point out that the President made it clear that he will only go ahead with the Keystone if it is in the national interest and would not contribute to climate change. More recently Secretary of State John Kerry has compared climate change to a "weapon of mass destruction." In light of the carbon impacts that the pipeline will generate it is hard to see how we can afford to build the northern leg of the Keystone XL.

According to the NRDC, during its construction and over its projected 50-year lifetime, the Keystone could lead to greenhouse gas emissions as high as 1.4 billion metric tons

As reported in the Huffington Post, a Carbon Tracker report found that, through 2050, "KXL-enabled production of tar sands oil would produce as much as 5.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent -- much higher than the maximum of 168 million metric tons that the State Department's analysis found."

The report further indicates that moving ahead with the Keystone XL will prevent the US from meeting its international commitments to cut emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It is also inconsistent with keeping temperature increases below the 2 degrees Celsius upper threshold limit agreed upon in 2009.

While a handful of companies stand to make billions of dollars, the pipeline will also generate billions of tons of carbon. This state of affairs has prompted some to call it, "a fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet".

The pipeline is not only a US issue, the implications of expanded tar sands exploitation is a global issue. No matter where we are in the world, we are all downstream from climate change.

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