Keystone XL. The opposition is trumpetted across every liberal blog practically daily. Environmental groups are using it as a litmus test. It's just taken as a given that any good environmentally-minded liberal should be fiercely opposed to its construction, rallying to block it, and mad at anyone who supports it.
And I just don't get it. So this diary is not to give information, but an appeal. I'm asking you - please, and in all seriousness, this is not rhetorical - why are we supposed to be opposed to it?
(First, full disclosure: my father is an oil executive, so I may have been exposed to some different perspectives. Then again, also full disclosure: I drive a home-converted plug-in hybrid Honda Insight and once ran a company making software for electric cars. Interpret all this as you will. Lastly, sorry for the diary not being about Iceland this time!)
I don't really need to go into the background, so let's skim. 1.7 trillion barrels of oil in the form of known Alberta tar sands. Depending on the price of oil you set and the assumptions you make, at current technology, you've got a couple hundred billion barrels recoverable worth somewhere in the ballpark of the entire annual US GDP. More in the future as tech advances or if oil prices rise or if new deposits are discovered. Basically, a Canadian Saudi Arabia. To be useful, almost all of it needs to go outside of Alberta for refining and distribution. The cheapest way to ship it is by a pipeline. The cheapest destination is the US. Hence, the Keystone XL.
Are we all in agreement on this background? Okay. So then we get to what I think is where the opposition lies:
1) We don't want all of this carbon added to the atmosphere, for patently obvious reasons.
2) They're building the Keystone XL to enable its use.
3) Therefore, we stop the Keystone XL, we stop the carbon added to the atmosphere, and if we fail, it's a huge carbon bomb.
Is this the logic? If so, it just makes no bloody sense to me, and that's where I need you to help me out here.
So you stop Keystone XL? Fine, they'll build more rail. Or road. Or multiple smaller pipelines. Or build a pipeline through British Colombia to the coast. Or through Manitoba to Hudson Bay and buy a couple icebreakers to support the tankers during the winter. Or through Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Or Northwest Territories and the Yukon. The options are practically endless. Erect a magical anti-oil field around Alberta? They'll build refineries and chemical plants and produce refined products for export on site, with oil elsewhere currently being used for chemical production going toward fuel instead. They're not just going to leave trillions of dollars in the ground if they can help it, and it would be naive to think otherwise.
Is it more expensive to ship in alternative methods than the pipeline? Yep, that's why they want Keystone XL. But to harvest many trillions of dollars, you damn well better believe they're going to do it, and yes, all of those approaches are just a tiny fraction of the value of the oil they yield.
Short of getting either Canada or Alberta to ban tar sands development, how do you actually plan to stop them from selling this oil? If you accept that stopping Keystone XL won't stop the development, then why call it a carbon bomb? Is it merely to get a symbolic victory? Then why are so many acting like it's a practical victory?
Maybe I missed a diary somewhere that explained all this.
What's the real outcome if you block Keystone XL? Well, the oil companies currently planning to buy from Alberta will switch to their backup plans to feed their refineries. Yes, they have both Keystone and non-Keystone scenarios, non-keystone involving shipping more from other parts of the world, including places like Venezuela which have a nonconventional oil deposit (the Orinoco Oil Sands) even bigger than Alberta's. The Canadian side will route their oil through any of a variety of other mechanisms - initially piggybacking on a mix of rail infrastructure, road infrastructure, and smaller pipelines, followed by the construction of new larger scale export (most likely including Cascades pipeline like the trans-Alaska pipeline (but shorter and cheaper) to feed China's insatiable demand). The net result will be five things:
1) The potential for a small amount of bottlenecking for a couple years, causing a temporary reduction of output versus what would otherwise occur. So perhaps 0.1Mbbl/d less from Alberta for a couple years (a tenth of a percent of world oil production). Maybe. Such a small amount should be more than be made up for elsewhere, and the industry is already readying for it. Oil producers don't leave that little slack in production capacity when planning their investments.
2) The oil will all still be burned eventually (barring things unrelated to keystone causing demand reduction).
3) Whatever other method is used to ship the oil out would almost certainly be less efficient, leading to more embodied carbon in each gallon of gasoline.
4) It may encourage more investment in other oil reserves elsewhere as the economic picture shifts (oil investment goes to wherever production is cheapest at a given moment; it doesn't play favorites and oil is fungible).
5) There may be a very small (probably unnoticeable) increase in the price of oil due to the decreased efficiency. Alberta's oil figures may look staggering, but they're still just a blip on global production.
I can see how #1 might appeal, but #3, combined with #2 should be a huge warning flag. Because for trillions of dollars, they will find a way to sell that oil and work around whatever geographic region blocked them, so unless that geographic region is "Alberta" or "Canada" explicitly banning production, it will burn. And to release more carbon for less gasoline, only for questionable benefit? That's terrible.
So is the goal #5? At the cost of more carbon? If you want to raise the price, wouldn't the logical thing be to lobby for carbon taxes or gas taxes or the like? That way you're not decreasing the efficiency of oil production (thus adding more carbon), and you're getting revenue. Wouldn't that be a heck of a lot more logical?
So again, in all sincerity, I'm confused, because there's a lot of people who seem gung-ho on this Keystone XL opposition. So can you explain it to me? What's the logic? And more generally, so long as consumption doesn't change, where do we want the oil that we're consuming to come from? Again, not a rhetorical question because, believe me, if I could snap my fingers and switch everyone over to driving an EV tomorrow, I would. But there's going to be a good chunk of a billion gasoline cars out there for the next several decades even if all new vehicle production switched over to EVs tomorrow (and in reality, such an event will likely take decades). We can't just pretend like people are going to stop consuming oil any day now. And it comes from somewhere. So where do we want it to come from? Albertan tar sands? Offshore gulf drilling? North shore Alaskan drilling? Venezuelan rainforests? The Niger delta? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Really, where do we want it coming from? Are we envisioning that there's some place that oil comes from where it's doesn't have negative consequences?
Sorry for these questions. I hope I don't engender hostility by asking them.