Report: How The State Department Got Keystone XL’s Climate Impact Totally Wrong

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Keystone XL is more important to the development of Canadian tar sands than the State Department’s final Environmental Impact Statement let on, according to a new report.

The report, released Monday by the U.K.-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, found that if the Keystone XL pipeline was constructed, it would enable oil companies to produce 510,000-525,000 barrels per of tar sands bitumen per day. The State Department’s FEIS, released in January, had concluded that Keystone XL would be “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands.”

The report also argues that the lifecycle emissions of the Keystone XL pipeline through 2050 would be far greater than the State Department estimates, with the pipeline enabling emissions of up to 5.3 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent (5316 MMTCO2e); greater than the 147 to 168 MMTCO2e that the State Department documented in its FEIS. That’s as much greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report, as the annual emissions that would come from adding one billion cars to the road. It’s also almost the same as the total amount of CO2 emitted in the U.S. in 2013.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative report also argues that other ways of transporting Canadian oil aren’t done deals. Several other pipelines stemming from Alberta are running into significant opposition, and the oil by rail industry is plagued by safety concerns.

“Several other large-scale pipeline projects — including Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Alberta Clipper pipelines and Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain pipeline — are all encountering robust opposition centered on climate and other environmental concerns,” the report reads. “Rail terminals intended to ship bitumen are also encountering significant opposition as well as calls for stricter oversight.”

Approving Keystone XL would make it difficult for the U.S. to stay within its climate targets too. The report states that all scenarios the EIS outlines of future CO2 emissions in a Keystone-approved U.S. fail to meet the U.S. goals of reducing CO2 emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

“One key takeaway of this analysis is that the scenarios modeled in the FSEIS appear incompatible with a 2°C carbon-constrained world,” the report’s authors write.

Because of these findings, the report argues that the question of whether Keystone XL would significantly increase emissions and development of the tar sands needs to be reevaluated.

“The question of whether increased production and GHG emissions enabled by KXL are ‘significant’ is highly subjective,” the report reads. “From a perspective that rates climate change as urgent and severe a threat as ‘terrorism, epidemics, poverty,’ however, even fractions of a percent of the remaining 2°C carbon budget may be too high a cost to bear.”

The report comes just days after hundreds of students were arrested at the White House in an act of civil disobedience against Keystone XL. It also comes on the heels of a recent report from the State Department’s Inspector General, which found no problem with the fact that an oil industry contractor was responsible for writing Keystone XL’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The decision to approve or reject Keystone XL is now up to President Obama, who could make a decision in late spring or early summer.