New Analysis Shows Simple Math: Keystone XL Pipeline = Tar Sands Expansion = Accelerated Climate Change

By Susan Casey-Lefkowitz via NRDC’s Switchboard

New research confirms what we have heard time and again from the industry itself: the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be a direct cause of an increase in tar sands oil development. More tar sands oil taken out of the ground means more dangerous pollution that hurts our climate and health. And, this new research also shows that tar sands will cause even more climate pollution than we previously thought due to the impacts of the high carbon byproduct petroleum coke.

This is especially important in a time where our communities are feeling the damage of climate change in violent storms, wildfires, droughts and floods. Just recently a federal advisory panel—established by Congress in 1990 to analyze climate research—released the draft of its third National Climatic Assessment. The report confirmed there is “unambiguous evidence” that the earth is warming.

The Pembina Institute’s analysis, “The climate implications of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline”, shows that pipelines are a key determinant of tar sands expansion, and argues that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions associated with supplying the Keystone XL pipeline with tar sands bitumen represents a significant barrier to Canada meeting its domestic and international climate commitments.

Oil Change International’s new report “Petroleum Coke: The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sandsreveals that current analyses of the impacts of tar sands fail to account for a high-carbon byproduct of the refining process: petroleum coke. Because it is considered a refinery byproduct, petcoke emissions are not included in most assessments of the climate impact of tar sands. Thus, the climate impact of oil production is being consistently undercounted.

This analysis is making headway in Washington. Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman noted:   “The new reports show that TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is the key that will unlock the tar sands.  If the pipeline is approved, the world will face millions more tons of carbon pollution each year for decades to come.  After Hurricane Sandy, devastating drought, unprecedented wildfires, and the warmest year on record in the United States, we know that climate change is happening now, we have to fight it now, and we must say no to this pollution pipeline now.”

And scientists have been weighing in as well.

Eighteen of the nation’s top climate scientists released a letter to President Obama urging him to say no to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Dr. Danny Harvey a climate scientist at the University of Toronto and Dr. John Abraham a climate scientist at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota joined us recently in DC to focus attention on the climate impacts of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Dr. Harvey noted that “The human race is in big trouble. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real. If Keystone is approved, we’re locking in several more decades of fossil fuels and higher levels of carbon dioxide and global warming.”

And Dr. Abraham told us: “Climate change is the story related to Keystone. The drought and heat wave in Texas cost Texans $5.2 billion. Hurricane Sandy cost us $70 billion. Some people say it’s too expensive to develop clean energy. I say it’s too expensive not to. We can choose to expand clean energy or make the crazy choice to extract and use the dirtiest of the dirty.”

Unions are also speaking up. Dave Coles, National President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) – a union that includes energy workers – explained: “Climate pollution from the tar sands industry is already considerable and will only get worse with approving Keystone XL. The Keystone XL pipeline would lead to unfettered expansion of bitumen extraction in Canada which does not make sense economically nor for the environment.”

This focus on what the expansion of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will mean for our climate, comes at a time when banksfinancial analysts and industry sources are all clearly saying that regardless of whether other tar sands transportation projects move ahead, the rejection of the Keystone XL project will curtail the tar sands industry’s expansion plans.

The decision to reject or approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be one of the most important climate issues facing the Obama administration.

The public in the United States and Canada remains rightly concerned. Thousands will come to Washington, DC on February 17th, President’s Day weekend for the Forward on Climate Rally, to oppose the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and to ask for strong climate leadership and carbon standards to control power plants climate pollution.  Join us!

— Susan Casey-Lefkowitz via NRDC’s Switchboard

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10 Responses to New Analysis Shows Simple Math: Keystone XL Pipeline = Tar Sands Expansion = Accelerated Climate Change

  1. Sasparilla says:

    Someone needs to tell Henry “The new reports show that TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is the key that will unlock the tar sands.” Waxman that the tar sands have already been unlocked – President Obama approved the original Keystone and Alberta Clipper tar sands pipelines back in 2009 unlocking the tar sands, without Henry noticing apparently – and are in operation to refineries throughout the midwest of the U.S. – supposedly giving a Prius the CO2 emissions (from extraction) of a Hummer (not sure how accurate that is).

    The tar sands were unlocked by our current President nearly 4 years ago. The thing the XL was supposed to do was take the oversupply of tar oil that exists from the Keystone and Clipper pipelines (and is trapped in OK & selling at a significantly lower price than the world standard Brent Crude Price – the difference of which the refiners were pocketing) and route it down to the Gulf where it can be refined and or exported for $15 a barrel or so more (also lowering the oversupply in the midwest so that price can go up to Brent Crude Price) making our friends up north a lot more money (turning the tar sands operation from a marginally profitable business to a very profitable and viable one over the long term – this goal has been achieved, unfortunately).

    While the XL expansion (across the border) is still in question (and should be canceled if possible) it is important to note – that when it was delayed a Canadian oil company (Enbridge) immediately bought an existing U.S. pipeline flowing from the Gulf to the Midwest refineries from ConocoPhilips, given U.S. approval (since its a foreign company) to reverse the flow. Enbridge has reversed the flow (its about 400,000 barrels a day capacity with Enbridge planning on doubling the pipeline to 850,000 barrels a year by summer of 2014). The southern portion of the XL pipeline is proceeding as well since it doesn’t need Presidential approval. It’s important to prevent additional expansion, but the idea that we’d be stopping the tar sands from being unlocked with this decision is not true – that ship has sailed, courtesy of the current administration.

  2. Dano says:

    The recent AP revelation that BHO Administration suppressed an EPA report that showed CH4 migrating into drinking wells from fracking doesn’t give one hope that miraculously BHO will block a pipeline that is already being built (Texas, remember).



  3. Ed says:

    “means more dangerous pollution that hurts our climate and health.”

    Sorry, is it a presupposition that pollution hurts our climate? Also even if that’s what you believe you need to include evidence of that claim before I’ll listen to the rest of your argument.

  4. mmazzi says:

    I agree with all comments. In addition, this pipeline won’t make us foreign energy independent. We are trying to sell it to others! If it was for our use, why not build a refinery far north, just south of the Canadian border? Because they have to pipe it to the gulf to ship it to other countries. This idea that “we” will use it is a lie. Not that I would want to… I don’t support tar sands or fracking. I support solar. Germany shut down a few nuclear plants by quickly increasing solar. These PR lies are ridiculous. Natural gas might “burn” cleaner, but extracting and delivering it are processes just as dirty as coal. This president can’t be a “sell out” if he’s always been “one of them”… he’s the great pacifier… talk like a Dem, talk like an environmentalist, act like a GOP corporatocracy hired lobbyist (by “selling” their message for them). If he is concerned about his legacy, he needs to start by putting the brakes on fracking, Keystone XL pipeline, offshore drilling, GMOs, just to name a few…he needs to put money into REAL infrastructure rebuilding and not just bandaid projects that make money for a few. Big, bold, sustainable ideas like massive solar. If he wants to be remembered with the same respect as FDR, then he needs to act like him and stand up to the corporations instead of working for them.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The temperature in Sydney, Australia (it rhymes with failure, resonates with it, in fact)today hit a record of 45.8 degrees C. The denialists will need to get cracking on belittling that little communication from the infernal regions.

  6. Ozonator says:

    About 40 years ago, I recall a story about a nuclear detonation deep underground to extract oil from a tar-sands (?) situation. I am not sure how long they expected to wait until the radiation became “acceptable”. And, I have yet to hear or see the amount of natural radiation associated with the Alberta tar sands that will accumulate in the glorious Keystone pipeline.

  7. mary says:

    Project Rulison in western Colorado was the project; and no, the oil is still contaminated and still in the ground. Interesting though the gas was flared away, carrying the contamination into the atmosphere. It wasn’t tar sands but oil shale.

  8. Voluntary behavior change. Drive Easy…in the “sweet spot” of your vehicle. Conscious weaning of oil dependence will put downward pressure on the global price of oil. Remember “Supply and Demand”. Oil extraction needs oil over $80/barrel to be profitable. Find us and join us…from the grassroots. Seven years and growing.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Hey, Ed, how’s the stable? My God, it don’t get much more entertaining than this! ‘Pollution’ is inherently bad. It is in the meaning of the word. You know, like ‘moral pollution’, or ‘pollution with known carcinogens’. You never hear of ‘pollution with milk and honey’ or of religious and ethic authorities as recommending ‘spiritual pollution’ as the high road to the good life, now do you?