On Thursday, an industry research firm announced a new study predicting that construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would have “no material impact” greenhouse gas emissions. But while proponents and media outlets quickly reported on this “independent study,” the for-profit energy research firm behind the report is anything but independent.
The findings contradict a July study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which found that over its 50-year life, the pipeline would add 1.2 billion metric tons more carbon pollution than if it carried conventional crude — more than every car in the United States releases into the air annually. The Environmental Protection Agency, in criticizing an earlier State Department analysis, warned that much more information is needed in order to accurately predict what impact the pipeline may have on the environment.
IHS is an information company that provides research for a variety of companies, at a fee. Its Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) division calls itself “a leading advisor to international energy companies, governments, financial institutions, and technology providers.”
To complete the Keystone XL study, IHS CERA relied on a “base of knowledge” from several oil sands dialogue studies, a spokesman told ThinkProgress. Among the stakeholders participating in the company’s 2012 focus group on greenhouse emissions from oil sands, he noted, were several oil companies and trade associations — many with a direct stake in the pipeline. These included the American Petroleum Institute, BP Canada, Canadian Oil Sands Limited, Chevron Canada Resources, ConocoPhillips In Situ Oil Sands Alliance, Shell Canada, Suncor Energy Inc., and even the pipeline’s owner, the TransCanada Corporation.
In addition to consulting heavily with industry sources, the company relies on payments from these same companies. In addition to the payments IHS CERA receives from the energy companies who pay for its services, several sponsor and participate in its annual CERAWeek executive conference. Among the sponsors of the 2013 conference in Houston were those likely to benefit from the pipeline: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil. Top executives from the American Petroleum Institute, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and BP are just a few of the interested parties who will be participating.
In the past, IHS CERA has been criticized for lack of transparency in its reports and for underestimating greenhouse emissions from tar sands oil. The IHS CERA Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin celebrated the great revival in oil and gas production in the United States in a 2012 New York Times while ignoring the climate change that it was helping to spur.
But while some reports correctly identified IHS CERA’s new Keystone XL study as coming from a “prominent energy industry consulting group,” others played it as a truly independent report. The Houston Chronicle posted a story Friday entitled, “Keystone XL won’t add to carbon emissions, report says: Independent study says Keystone would not add to greenhouse problem.” A Fox Business story called the company “a prominent, independent energy research firm.”
The Consumer Energy Alliance, an industry front group, boasted on its BuildKXLNow.org site that an “independent study released today finds the Keystone XL pipeline will have ‘no material impact’ on Greenhouse gas emissions.” And Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) claimed that “we have yet another study confirming” that Keystone XL “will have no significant impact on the environment.”