On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he wasn’t touching the Keystone pipeline decision with a ten-foot pole:
“I am staying as far away from that as I can now so that when the appropriate time comes to me, I am not getting information from any place I shouldn’t be, and I am not getting engaged in the debate at a time that I shouldn’t be,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Right now, Kerry has the State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, but if that is all he information he relies on, he won’t get the full picture. While he will see that the project will only bring 35 permanent jobs, which is true, he would also see almost no discussion of the pipeline’s impact on the climate. (Oddly, he will be able to read an extended discussion of climate change’s projected impacts on the construction and maintenance of the proposed pipeline.)
So where is a Secretary of State sincerely concerned about climate change to go to find the climate consequences of approving the Keystone XL pipeline? He could peruse a new report out yesterday from Oil Change International called: “Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline.”
The report’s recommendation:
In a world constrained by the realities of climate change, the proper measure of any project’s climate impact should not be based on the assumptions inherent in a business as usual scenario that guarantees climate disaster. Instead, the State Department should base these critical decisions on whether the project makes sense in a world that is actually seeking to minimize the real dangers of climate change. On this basis, we recommend that decision-makers consider the total amount of carbon that will be released by the project into the atmosphere.
How do they back that up?
- Using industry analysis of carbon emissions from current tar sands production, the report says the pipeline will carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year. That’s more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
- Both the IEA and the World Bank have said that if we want to avoid the catastrophic implications of warming the planet by more than 2 degrees C, we cannot burn any more than one-third of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves by 2050.
- U.S. oil demand has fallen by 2.25 million barrels per day, but if we want to cut emissions to hold global temperature below 2 degrees C, there are very few scenarios that include a Keystone pipeline pumping 3.3 million barrels or tar sands oil per day.
- Petcoke, which is a byproduct of the tar sands refining process, is exported for use as a coal substitute. Since petcoke is cheaper than coal, this encourages more coal burning, and therefore more carbon emissions. The State Department’s EIS does not acknowledge this.
- The pipeline’s pump stations will emit 4.4 million metric tons of CO2 each year, after 240,000 metric tons during the construction phase. This is like adding an extra U.S. coal plant. This pipeline, remember, will pump 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day.
- Tar sands pollute more than conventional oil — 27 million more metric tons of CO2 according to the EPA. This would be the same as 7 coal plants. Tar sands are so carbon intensive because of the way it burns, and how much energy is required to extract it. The State Department acknowledged that this will cause 17 percent more carbon emissions than regular oil.
Won’t the tar sands be extracted whether the pipeline is approved or rejected? Not so:
There are many compelling arguments against the fatalistic assertion that the tar sands will be fully exploited regardless of the Keystone XL pipeline. Other proposed pipelines also face substantial opposition in Canada and other regions of the United States. Further, increased costs associated with alternatives such as rail make it clear that the Keystone XL pipeline is far and away the industry’s first choice, and industry experts have been the first to admit this.
The State Department EIS dismisses out of hand the implications of burning the oil we’re projected to burn, saying it is business as usual. But this business is leading us to a very unusual climate future. The idea of approving the Keystone pipeline becomes more impossible as the facts become clearer. We can only hope that Secretary Kerry will stay engaged in the real debate and make the right choice for a livable climate.