Friday, the State Department released a revised draft environmental impact assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline project that irresponsibly ignored the dire environmental impacts of building the pipeline.
In response to the announcement, environmental advocates — including Bill McKibben of 350.org and Sierra Club’s Michael Brune — held a press call to highlight one of the most unbelievable aspects of the analysis: that Keystone “is unlikely to have substantial impact on the rate of development of the oil sands.” It also didn’t account for the impact on climate change and national security. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ own report stated that Keystone is necessary to increase the expansion of tar sands. In 2012, it noted that:
Production from oil sands currently comprises 59 per cent of western Canada’s total crude oil production. In this forecast, oil sands production rises from 1.6 million b/d in 2011 to almost double at 3.1 million b/d by 2020 and 4.2 million b/d by 2025 and 5.0 million b/d by the end of the forecast period in 2030. If the only projects to proceed were the ones in operation or currently under construction, oil sands production would still increase by 54 per cent to 2.5 million b/d by 2020 and then remain relatively flat for the rest of the forecast.
Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska also explained:
Tarsands does not expand unless Keystone XL is built. The State Department’s assumption that tarsands development does not change with or without this pipeline is wrong and laughable. Why would TransCanada spend billions on building the pipeline and millions on lobbying unless this piece of infrastructure is the — not a — but the lynchpin for the expansion of the tarsands. Without this pipeline Canada stays at 2 millions barrels a day, with it they get 3 million barrels a day.
With the addition of the Keystone XL pipeline, production of tar sands would more than double by 2025, leading to a sizeable increase in greenhouse gases. Estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency found that Keystone would increase annual carbon emissions by “up to 27.6 million metric tons, or the equivalent of nearly 6 million cars on the road.” Without the pipeline, tar sands production is estimated to fall flat by 2020.
The State Department’s report also made it clear that at least some of the Keystone oil will be refined and exported, thereby adding nothing to U.S. energy security, a primary reason for building it:
There is existing demand for crude oil, particularly heavy crude oil at refiners in the Gulf Coast area, but the ultimate disposition of crude oil transported by the proposed Project, and any refined products produced from that crude oil, would be determined by future market forces.
This indicates that the refineries will determine the amount of exports of refined fuels made from Keystone petroleum. There is no assurance that all — or any — of the Keystone oil will be consumed in the U.S. This means that the Keystone oil will add little to our energy security.
One thing that State got right is the dismal job increases associated with Keystone. Pro-Keystone groups like the Chamber of Commerce argue that the project would create tends of thousands of jobs, and would provide a much-needed boost to the economy. Yet the State Department’s report found that it would directly create only “3,900” temporary construction jobs. After construction is complete, the operation of the pipeline would only support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, with “negligible socioeconomic impacts.”
During his State of the Union address, President Obama expanded on his Second Inaugural address, asserting “if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.” New Secretary of State John Kerry — a long time climate hawk — reiterated the urgency of climate action in his first major speech:
The opportunity that we have now in this moment of urgency to lead on the climate concerns… We as a nation must have the foresight and the courage to make the investments necessary to safeguard the most sacred trust we keep for our children and our grandchildren, and that is an environment not ravaged by rising seas, deadly superstorms, devastating droughts, and the other hallmarks of a dramatically changing climate. President Obama is committed to moving forward on that, and so am I.
Both Kerry and Obama will play significant roles in deciding in whether this pipeline is ultimately approved. Secretary Kerry has echoed time and again the importance of acting on climate change:
I would respectfully say to you that climate change is not something to be feared in response to — the steps to respond to — it’s to be feared if we don’t… I will be a passionate advocate on this not based on ideology but based on facts and science.
Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, is confident that this fight is far from over, and that the public continues to oppose the pipeline. “I don’t think anybody is going to walk away from this fight, because we really can’t walk away from it… my guess is this will produce more determination in a lot of people.” More than 1.4 million emails and letters have poured in from the public to the State Department over the Keystone assessments so far. And, over Presidents Day weekend, more than 35,000 people circled the White House during the largest climate rally in U.S. history.
After the 45-day comment period, a final impact statement will be issued by the State Department. Obama must then decide whether opening up the tar sands to increased development aligns with his inauguration promise to take action on climate, “knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Tiffany Germain is a Senior Climate/Energy Researcher in the Think Progress War Room. Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant at the Center for American Progress.