Keystone XL Pipeline “Flunks Climate Test,” New Report

The Keystone XL pipeline southern section (Photo courtesy TransCanada)


WASHINGTON, DC, August 29, 2013 (ENS) – Environmental advocates delivered a report on the climate effects of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to President Barack Obama today, with the intention of giving the President all the information he needs to reject the pipeline.

Sierra Club and Oil Change International compiled the report, which finds that the bitumen produced from the oil sands of northern Alberta would push climate change into overdrive. The report concludes that the Keystone XL pipeline is the “linchpin” of further tar sands expansion, and will lead to at least a 36 percent increase over current tar sands production.

“Keystone XL is a climate disaster,” said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director. “The President set a tough climate test for the pipeline, which it clearly fails to pass. There is no wiggle room here, Mr. President.”

The Keystone XL pipeline (Photo courtesy TransCanada)

The “test” was set by President Obama June 25 in a speech at Georgetown University. For the first time, Obama indicated that he might deny the TransCanada corporation the required Presidential Permit to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline across the Canada-U.S. border.

“I do want to be clear,” said Obama. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will 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,” the President said. “It’s relevant.”

The Keystone XL Pipeline would begin at the oil distribution hub in Hardisty, Alberta and extend 1,179 miles (1,897 km), to Steele City, Nebraska. There it would connect with a southern section of the pipeline to move the heavy diluted bitumen extracted from the tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. This section is already under construction. Because it is entirely within the United States the southern section does not need presidential approval, but on March 22, 2012, Obama endorsed its construction anyway.

Keystone XL Pipeline will have the capacity to transport 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen from Canada and the United States to refineries on the Gulf Coast. TransCanada has set aside one-quarter of Keystone XL’s capacity to transport light crude oil produced from Bakken shale in Montana and North Dakota.

The environmentalists’ new report is based on data from industry and financial experts such as, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Royal Bank of Canada, the International Energy Agency, the American financial services company Standard & Poor’s, the government of Alberta, Scientific American, the Financial Post, and TransCanada, the company that has applied for the Presidential Permit required for the pipeline to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

For instance, in an attempt to refute the oil industry’s argument that if the Keystone XL pipeline is not permitted the tar sands oil will be exported anyway, by rail or by other pipelines, the groups’ report quotes Standard and Poor’s June 18, 2013 publication, “For Canadian Crude Oil Producers, Growth Is Coming Down The Pipeline.”

“What’s critical to producers is to secure export capacity,” wrote Standard and Poor’s. “The proposed Keystone XL pipeline and expansions of the Enbridge system are all necessary to accommodate the near-term forecast production growth.”

National environmental and citizens groups delivered the report to the White House, while regional affiliates carried out similar events in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.

Keystone XL route
Map of proposed Keystone XL pipe route (Map courtesy TransCanada)

Brune said today, “This report takes a look behind the industry’s PR blitz and cites oil industry experts, Wall Street analysts, and Canadian politicians who say on the record that without Keystone XL the industry cannot expand production of tar sands crude, the world’s dirtiest, most carbon-polluting source of oil.”

The groups point out that climate change has already caused major damage across the United States with superstorms, droughts, increased wildfires, and floods

“There are two factors above all else that will convince the President to say no to Keystone,” said May Boeve, executive director of the nonprofit climate activist group “The irrefutable science of climate change, and a movement of people that have come together to say now is the time draw the line at this disastrous project.”

The report finds that in order to stabilize global climate change, a substantial portion of known fossil fuels must remain unburned.

“Tar sands are one of the most carbon-polluting forms of oil, and developing them must be avoided at all costs to prevent catastrophic greenhouse gas emissions,” the groups state. “The impact of expanding the tar sands through Keystone XL is too massive to be mitigated.”

“Frankly, I can’t believe we have had to write yet another thoroughly researched report to dispute the oil industry’s ridiculous assertion that a giant pipeline to the dirtiest oil on Earth won’t significantly increase carbon emissions” Steve Kretzmann of Oil Change International told reporters on a conference call today.

“Big Oil will ignore the real issues here and instead respond with expensive ad campaigns and quiet conversations in dimly lit rooms. We’re confident the President will decide this issue based on the facts, and reject this pipeline,” said Kretzmann.

Industry and financial analysts have repeatedly confirmed that Keystone XL is critical to the expansion of tar sands development in landlocked Alberta, because it would provide the industry with a major low-cost connection to export markets and world oil prices, the opposing groups point out.

“Our message with this report today is clear – the rampant burning of treasures like Yosemite is not in our national interest, and neither is the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” Anna Aurilio, DC office director at Environment America told reporters today.

The President’s decision on the pipeline permit was pushed back to sometime in 2014 by a second investigation by the State Department Office of Inspector General into conflicts of interest and misrepresentations by those charged with assessing the environmental and climate impacts of the proposed pipeline.

anti-Keystone XL protest
Hundreds of protests of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have been held. This one drew roughly 50,000 to the Washington Mall in February 17, 2013. (Photo by J. McDaid courtesy Wikipedia)

The U.S. State Department is tasked with evaluating whether or not the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest, but State Department personnel have not conducted the analysis themselves. Instead, they have contracted it out. The first Environmental Impact Statement issued in 2012 was investigated by the State Department Office of Inspector General after allegations of conflict of interest on the part of the contractor, Cardno Entrix. Conflicts were found.

A Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, SEIS, was required by a change of the pipeline’s planned route through Nebraska to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills, which lie over the Ogllala Aquifer, source of water for most of the Midwest states.

A different contractor, Environmental Resources Management, was selected for the SEIS. When this assessment also concluded that no significant impacts were expected, the U.S. Environmental Protection agency criticized the SEIS and 11 citizens’ groups called for another investigation.

Red flags went up when ERM claimed on government conflict of interest disclosure forms that it had no relationship with TransCanada or any other entity with a stake in the project “in the past three years” despite working for TransCanada and other oil companies with a stake in the Canadian tar sands. Unredacted documents revealed proof that ERM had worked for TransCanada during that three year period and lied to the State Department to conceal this work.

Gabe Elsner, who as director of the Checks & Balances Project called for the investigation, said, “The public was supposed to get an honest look at the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. Instead, ERM, an oil company contractor, misled the State Department, in what appears to be an attempt to green light the project on behalf of oil industry clients.”

On Saturday, September 21, groups opposed to the pipeline will be holding anti-pipeline demonstrations across the country.

The day, called “Draw the Line,” will feature large rallies planned in areas already affected by climate change and places at risk if strong action, such as limiting tar sands development, is not taken. More info is at

Some demonstrators will draw a line showing where sea levels threaten to rise, others of may link arms in front of refineries or tar sands industry targets to stop business as usual, still others may march with giant pipelines through the streets to send the message that “the tar sands are a climate disaster and President Obama must stop the pipeline.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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