More on why Keystone XL is not in the national or global interest

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The State Department's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline environmental impact statement doesn’t include any scenario in which the U.S. comes anywhere close to meeting the Obama administration's climate goals, Peter Sinclair at Climate Crocks points out. The study fails to disclose that its conclusions are only valid in the context of American and global climate policy failure. An economic analysis by the Carbon Tracker Initiative concludes that, in its Keystone XL environmental assessment, the State Department severely underestimated the pipeline’s impact on increasing tar sands oil production, and the resulting growth in greenhouse gas emissions. And citing multiple concerns that have received too little attention thus far in discussions of the tar sands, National Nurses United are calling on Secretary of State Kerry to conduct a comprehensive study of how the proposed pipeline would impact public health.

In our Comment to State Department on Keystone XL pipeline "National Interest Determination" we said:

In order to have a greater than 50 percent chance of limiting the global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees C above the preindustrial level, it will be necessary to leave most of the known reserves of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – in the ground. ...

The unstated assumption of the [Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement] on the implication of tar sands development is that the nations of the world will not implement policies needed to avoid potentially disastrous climate change. But what would be the implication of building, or not building, the KXL pipeline if the U.S. were committed to keeping as much as 80 percent of current fossil fuel reserves in the ground? It is difficult to see how developing, transporting, and refining the tar sands would be anywhere near the most economical (let alone environmentally acceptable) option for burning a strictly limited quantity of fossil fuel while expediting a phase-out.

Climate Crocks has this illuminating post, which includes a very revealing chart: State Department’s Keystone Eval: “Oh, Well, Since We’re Screwed Anyway…”

Vancouver Observer [US State Dept expects massive climate failure from President Obama, America and world]:

US Secretary of State John Kerry claims “the United States is committed to doing its part” to fight the “clear and present danger” of the climate crisis.

But a high-profile, eleven-volume, multi-year study from his own department says to expect only rising carbon emissions and broken climate promises from America.

The only future this State Department study expects will occur is one in which:

        • America fails to meet President Obama’s Copenhagen Accord target
        • America emits even more CO2 in 2040 than it does today
        • American CO2 levels are consistent with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) scenario for +6C of global warming ...

The State Department’s study that expects abject American climate failure is their Keystone XL Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).

The grim prognosis of broken climate promises and rising US emissions is hiding in plain sight in one of the most famous passages from the report — one that has been regularly quoted worldwide by politicians and major media. Here it is:

[Keystone XL] is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas (based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenarios). ... [underlining added]

[T]he State Department report doesn’t expect any future to unfold in which America comes anywhere close to meeting its climate goals. None. [Vancouver Observer: Is approving Keystone XL compatible with America's climate goals? Amazingly the latest US State Dept report didn't bother to find out.] ... The State Department seems so sure of this higher-CO2 future that they didn’t bother to include even a single scenario with falling CO2 emissions. ...

The State Department study fails to disclose that its conclusions are only valid in the context of total American and global climate failure. To appreciate how much this lack of transparency harms the public discourse, consider the key conclusion when the expected climate context is added (in bold):

In a future of dangerous climate change [Keystone XL] is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas.

As they say, context matters.

*    *    *

In our comment to the State Department we said:

Statements by oil industry executives and analysts suggest that, without the KXL pipeline, development of the tar sands would be slowed and limited. The considerable pressure exerted on behalf of the pipeline by industry interests and the Canadian government clearly indicate its importance for full-scale tar sands development. It belies the conclusion in the SEIS that this question has already been settled and is essentially independent of any decision on the pipeline permit.

DeSmogBlog reports: The "Significance" Trap: New Economic Analysis Finds that Keystone XL Would Increase Tar Sands Production, Carbon Emissions

In its environmental assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department severely underestimated the project’s impact on oil production, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s according to a rigorous economic analysis published in a new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Researchers found that, if constructed, the Keystone XL pipeline would increase global greenhouse gas emissions by roughly a whopping 5 gigatons over the course of its lifetime. ...

Joe Oliver, Canada's Natural Resources Minister, said, "In order for crude oil production to grow, the North American pipeline network must be expanded through initiatives, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline project."

In essence, construction of the Keystone XL would fundamentally change the economics of tar sands production, lowering transport costs and increasing the price that could be fetched by the oil by delivering it for export to the global market.

*    *    *

In our comment to the State Department we said:

Proponents of the pipeline have engaged in a predatory relationship with Americans’ insecurity about unemployment to present what appear to be grossly exaggerated estimates of the job-creating benefits of the pipeline.

In addition, they have downplayed the very real likelihood of difficult-to-remediate spills from the pipeline, which would threaten to degrade and pollute land and water resources and have harmful impacts on human health and wildlife.

Climate Progress reports:  Patients Are Already Suffering From Tar Sands, Nurses Say

Though the Northern leg of Keystone XL has not yet been approved, Americans have already seen what can happen to public health from tar sands pollution, the nurses said. The Mayflower oil spill in Arkansas in 2013, which spilled 210,000 gallons of Canadian heavy crude oil, brought widespread dizziness, nausea, headaches, fatigue, nosebleeds, and bowel issues to those who lived near it. Rolanda Watson, a nurse from Chicago, spoke of a December 2013 event where her clinic had to be evacuated because of a cloud of petroleum coke — the black, sandy byproduct of tar sands that is generally stored in uncovered large piles. Since the piles appeared in Chicago, clouds of black dust have been swirling in the wind, and community members have complained of respiratory problems.

“[The clouds] are covering houses, picnic areas. Children can’t play outside, they can’t eat their food outside,” Watson said. “In our clinic, we saw more respiratory-related illnesses. Asthma. These particulates aggravate and can cause bronchitis — they can cause lung diseases. And these diseases will significantly decrease your chance to fight other infections.”

The nurses were flanked by Boxer, chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), who last month called for a public health study on Keystone XL after finding out about increased cancer rates in patients who live downstream of the Canadian tar sands. She was joined by Dr. John O’Connor, a primary care doctor in Canada who treats patients in the First Nations community of Fort Chipewyan. O’Connor has drawn widespread attention among Canadian officials for alleging that his patients there have extremely high rates cancer, including a rare and incurable bile-duct cancer.

*    *    *

An invitation from 350.org to an action in Washington DC from the Cowboy Indian Alliance of ranchers, farmers and tribal communities along the pipeline route. 

The event is called Reject and Protect, and the key day will be April 27th, when we will march with the Alliance from their camp to the White House. It will likely be one of our last chances to send a message to President Obama about Keystone XL. ...

So: mark your calendars for April 27th — and start making plans to converge in D.C.

Some earlier posts:

Comment to State Department on Keystone XL pipeline "National Interest Determination"

Keystone is about more than one pipeline

On Keystone XL, John Kerry, and the global interest

This entry was posted in Climate Change Mitigation, Obama Administration, Science-Policy Interaction. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to More on why Keystone XL is not in the national or global interest

  1. Forrest says:

    This is a very informative article. The government's gross understatement of the affect of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline's cost inefficiency and potential environmental risk demonstrate once again the duality of the U.S. agreeing to global greenhouse gas emission standards and conveniently ignoring those agreements when oil companies create supposed job opportunities.

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