"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."

-- Barack Obama, January 21, 2013

The president made climate change and the transition to clean energy a centerpiece of his inaugural address. Those were welcome words even for a diehard cynic like myself.

Since the inauguration those of us concerned about the impact of climate change on future generations have watched for signs of what the administration's climate policy will be during the president's second term. So far, the tea leaves have been grim.

Keystone XL Pipeline

The decision to approve the Keystone XL pipeline will facilitate further expansion of the tar sands in Canada. Whether you view the pipeline approval as a disaster or a another nail in the climate coffin, there is no one that claims it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The release of a the draft supplemental environmental impact statement on March 1 does not bode well. Typical of news politicians hope to bury, it was released on a Friday afternoon at 5, guaranteeing weekend coverage. The content was a rehash of the 2011 version except for the glowing presentation of the revised route. It maintains the position that the pipeline will have little impact on tar sands development.

Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area.
In other words, the administration is not worried about the impact of the pipeline on climate change. However, for pure comic relief, there is considerable concern about protecting the pipeline from climate change.
The pipeline would be buried deep enough to avoid surface impacts of climate changes (freeze-thaw cycles, fires, and temperature extremes).
There is not much I can add to Michael Brune's diary, "Keystone XL: Cynicism on the Potomac."

Heavy oil refining capital of the world

One of the things that has always irritated me in discussions of the climate effects of the Keystone XL pipeline has been the lack of attention to greenhouse emissions from refining heavy oil and tar sands. Most life cycle analyses tend to focus on extraction-related emissions. Here are the weasel words from the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement about refinery emissions for West Canada Sedimentary Basin crudes (aka tar sands bitumen):

WCSB crudes are more GHG-intensive than the other heavy crudes they would replace or displace in U.S. refineries, and emit an estimated 17 percent more GHGs on a life-cycle basis than the average barrel of crude oil refined in the United States in 2005.
Notice the basis of comparison is the 2005 US refinery mix, which already had a substantial heavy oil component. The meaningful comparison would be against emissions for light sweet crude. The most systematic analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from US refineries by crude grade indicated a large carbon footprint for heavy oil and tar sands diluted bitumen.
Fuel combustion increments observed predict that a switch to heavy oil and tar sands could double or triple refinery emissions and add 1.6-3.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually from fuel combustion to process the oil.
Moreover, there are no immediate plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from refineries. Given how politically explosive that would be in some states, we will not see anything anytime soon. If our rush for heavy oil increases our carbon footprint, too bad.

Hazardous emissions also substantially increase with heavy crude grades. While the EPA has proposed tighter emission standards, a final rule has not been issued and no there is no timetable for implementation.

Keep these issues in mind as you read recent comments from the head of Energy Information Agency at the Department of Energy.

The U.S. might consider exporting light, sweet crude to Mexico in a swap for heavy crude, Adam Sieminski, administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, said today at a conference in Houston.

Mexico produces mostly heavy crude while its refineries are set up to run light, sweet oil, Sieminski said. Many U.S. Gulf Coast refiners are configured to run heavy crude while the U.S. is boosting production of light, sweet oil.

The administration is giving serious consideration to shipping all that light sweet crude being extracted from the Bakken and other shale formations to Mexico in exchange for heavy crude with its large greenhouse gas and toxic emissions.
Light, sweet crude from the Gulf Coast is already being exported to Canada, Sieminski said at the Platts North American Crude Marketing Conference.

Swapping grades with Mexico “certainly makes sense, given the amount of light sweet crude oil being produced in the United States,” Stephen Schork, the president of Schork Group Inc. in Villanova, Pennsylvania, said by phone. “We have too much of it. We need more of the heavier, sour Mexican crudes to blend to get to that optimal medium-sour blend U.S. Gulf Coast refiners are geared for.”

All of that sure sounds like the administration plans to make the US the heavy oil refining capital of the world, at least in terms of capacity. Meanwhile, we will have all the environmental impacts from the fracking boom and all of the environmental impacts from refining heavy oil, including the massive carbon footprint.

A member of "frackademia" to head the Department of Energy

The likely successor to Dr. Stephen Chu as Energy secretary is Dr. Ernest Moniz. Chu was a strong proponent of clean energy and once called coal his "worst nightmare." Moniz, on other hand, has been heavily involved in industry-sponsored efforts to sell hydraulic fracturing as safe and shale gas as the perfect bridge fuel.

In case you have not heard of the Frackademia scandal, several universities received large sums of money from the oil and gas industry and produced a bevy of industry-friendly reports without disclosing the industry largess.

Those efforts to justify and promote aggressive drilling for natural gas in shale formations recently erupted in scandal at three highly-regarded universities: Penn State University, the University of Texas at Austin and the State University of New York at Buffalo. Each time, critics of industry-friendly research ferreted out the university’s failure to fully disclose industry ties and ran to the media, which reliably produced ‘gotcha’ stories and nicknamed the practice “Frackademia.”
Dr. Moniz heads the MIT Energy Initiative, also funded by whose who in oil and gas.
That professor, nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, is director of the MIT Energy Initiative, a research arm that has received more than $125 million in pledges from the oil and gas industry since 2006, according to the Public Accountability Initiative, a non-profit that blew the whistle on UBuffalo.

The four “founding members” of MITEI — BP, Shell, Italy’s ENI and Saudi Aramco — each agreed to pay $25 million over five years for the right to help manage research projects, maintain an office at MITEI headquarters and “place a researcher in a participating MIT faculty member’s lab,” according to the MITEI website. Ten “sustaining members” commit $5 million each for fewer rights, but still get seats on MITEI’s executive committee and governing board.

Moniz lead the publication of a report in 2011 that has become the playbook of the shale gas industry, "The Future of Natural Gas."
“The Future of Natural Gas” was a magnum opus that crowned natural gas as the “bridge to a low-carbon future.” It cited vast new supplies of cheap, clean-burning gas from shale drilling and recommended a switch from coal to natural gas in U.S. electric power generation, industry and transportation.
Of course, Moniz and company discounted evidence of substantial methane emissions from shale gas drilling operations.

None of these decisions and appointments have been finalized yet, but the trend is disconcerting. We are not talking about wild rumors. What we have is an outline of an energy policy that appears to be built around importing heavy oil, exporting light sweet crude and refined petroleum products, and using shale gas as a power generation bridge fuel for the foreseeable future. These do not sound like policies meant to cut greenhouse gas emissions and speed the transition to low carbon sources of energy.

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 09:21 AM PST.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS.

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