In a letter to President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to gain approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, according to CBC News.
The letter, which was reportedly sent in late August and has not yet been made public, proposed “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector.” CBC News also said that Harper is willing to “willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions.”
Extracting and refining tar sands oil is much more energy intensive than conventional oil. Petroleum coke, a byproduct of tar sands, causes even more greenhouse gas pollution. Extraction also threatens boreal forests and peatlands, both rich carbon sinks.
In the speech detailing his Climate Action Plan, Obama said that in order to approve the pipeline, it would have to be “in our nation’s interest.” He said that interest would be served “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.”
Completing the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to a large increase in greenhouse gases, and tar sands oil production would more than double by 2025. EPA estimated that constructing the pipeline 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 completing Keystone, tar sands production is estimated to fall flat by 2020.
The U.S. government is still making its decision on whether to approve the trans-national pipeline that would cut down between Alberta and Oklahoma. Earlier this year, the State Department released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) written by a consulting firm paid by TransCanada, the company trying to get the pipeline built. It assumed that the tar sands oil would be drilled whether the pipeline was built or not, and found marginal increases in greenhouse gas emissions. After a public comment period which ended in April, State is reviewing those comments and will release a Final EIS later this year.
Without knowing exactly what was in the letter, and without knowing what the Obama administration’s response might be, it’s worth pointing out that Canada has already far exceeded the emissions targets it set for itself under the Copenhagen Accord in December 2009 (the yellow line below).