Keystone XL report makes Obama Administration look Gutless on Climate

by Connor Gibson

March 4, 2013

Don’t worry. The U.S. State Department is okay with encouraging tar sands mining like this.

The U.S. State Department released its draft environmental assessment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline last Friday afternoon as we entered our weekends. Some of us were stunned as we watched Congress do nothing to tame the indiscriminate cuts in public jobs from the “sequester,” including hundreds of millions of dollars cut from environmental programs and protections. The announcement was further buried by today’s highly-anticipated appointments of EPA administrator Gina McCarty and Dept. of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, whom some beltway insiders speculated would be appointed last week.

While the State Department’s draft environmental impact statement acknowledges that tar sands oil production is more carbon intensive than conventional oil, the 2,000 page document seems like an easy excuse for President Obama to approve the pipeline without seeming hypocritical for breaking his State of the Unions promises on climate change.

The climate doesn’t care how any message is framed if we’re still dumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere like a global industrial sewer. Greenpeace’s Point of No Return report includes Alberta’s tar sands among the largest carbon fuel reserves on the planet, with potential for 420 million metric tons in annual CO2 emissions by 2020.

State Dept. says Keystone XL won’t increase tar sands production…Oil Industry Says the Opposite

Most uninspiring is the U.S. government’s refusal to show any leadership whatsoever on the world stage in addressing climate change. The report has a “if we don’t do it, China will” attitude, asserting that the greenhouse gas emissions of tar sands development is inevitable.

Apparently the answer is to encourage North America to mine, process, pipe and burn tar sands oil even faster, rather than acknowledging the need to abandon fuel sources that cook our climate. Oil Change International’s Steve Kretzmann points out:

By absurdly concluding that the pipeline will not impact additional tar sands production, the State Department is overlooking the fact that the pipeline is likely to trigger at least 450,000 barrels per day of additional tar sands production capacity.

This is a false assumption made by the State Department. For confirmation, look no further than oil industry analyses, such as this report from the Canadian Energy Research Institute, ascited by the American Petroleum Institute:

The oil sands production projection profile under the Realistic Scenario in CERI Study 122 forecasts a significant increase; add to that the forecast for Western Canadian crude oil production, and it becomes apparent that the current pipeline infrastructure in Alberta will not be sufficient to transport forecasted oil sands volumes. Expansion will be required.

Okay, so the pipeline is needed in order to meet demand for increased tar sands production–the State Departmentmust’ve missed that detail in their 2,000 page draft…someone please email them.

CERI also notes that TransCanada’s existing Keystone I pipeline (XL is the expansion project) was built in order to increase production of tar sands oil. Here’s the first sentence of the first page of CERI’s report:

The existing crude oil pipeline infrastructure underwent a much needed expansion recently in order to accommodate growing volumes of oil sands production. A number of pipeline expansions were completed in 2009, and two major additional pipelines became operational at the end of 2010, namely TransCanadas Keystone and Enbridges Alberta Clipper.

It’s worth mentioning that TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline leaked 14 times in its first 18 months of operation, far outpacing TransCanada’s expectations for oil leaks (yes, they assume there will be oil spills).

Even if tar sands crude replaces oil from Venezuela and Mexico, it’s a dirtier fuel–about 20% more carbon intensive than conventional crude. Between that and the absence of the assessment’s recognition of increased petroleum coke emissions from refining tar sands, the State Department let a few assumptions go on the climate impacts of Keystone XL.

Even disregarding wonky arguments over Keystone XL’s role in hastening overall tar sands production, apparently we don’t have the guts as a country to say we will not support energy sources that exacerbate global warming, which already costs the global economy $1.2 trillion each year and contributes to 400,000 premature deaths. The State Department acknowledges that denying a permit for KXL would initially slow tar sands production, which is exactly what the U.S. should be trying to do if it’s serious about cutting carbon pollution.

Imagine if our government were bold enough to announce to other countries, ‘In the best long-term interests of the world, both economically and ecologically, the United States will not approve projects that push our climate to the brink of its stability, not to mention poisoning indigenous communities in the oil industry’s path.’

Instead, Obama’s cabinet may just honor the shameful legacy of the George W. Bush administration, which not only refused to become involved with the Kyoto Protocol initiated in the 1990’s, but actively censored U.S. climate science while conspiring with companies like ExxonMobil, Southern Company and shill organizations that deny climate science to block cooperative global solutions. The United States’ contributions to global climate discussions under Obama’s leadership have been to sabotage any meaningful steps to slow the earth’s rising temperature.

For all his talk on preserving a stable climate for our children and grandchildren, where is Obama’s fear of having an energy legacy written by Big Oil? As Greenpeace Canada Climate & Energy Campaigner Mike Hudema notes:

“The truth is that we have a choice. We can spend billions to build this pipeline and the new tar sands mines required to fill it or we can invest those dollars in solutions that end our addiction to oil, improve the health of our communities and stop climate change. Our kids will only thank us for one of those choices.”

Connor Gibson

By Connor Gibson

Connor Gibson is a former member of Greenpeace's Investigations team. He focused on polluting industries, their front groups, and PR operatives, particularly on the Koch Brothers.

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.