Monday night as part of a nationwide, 280-city protest of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“I don’t have a position on whether the Keystone Pipeline should be built. That is for the secretary of State and the president. But I will say that the decision on whether the construction should happen was a political one and not a scientific one.”Chu later adjusted that comment a bit:
Chu said, “[My] entire statement should include that the studies looking into what are the long-term effects are in fact scientific and that is the only scientific part of the decision.”Welcome to another round of the murk with which much of the Keystone XL debate has been immersed for the past five years.
Please read below the fold for more on the pipeline.
Chu's assessment of the political nature of the coming decision on the tar sands pipeline is not exactly news. Of course, the thumbs up or down on Keystone XL is a political one.
Pipeline builder TransCanada didn't boost its expenses for lobbying in 2013 for scientific reasons.
Giants like Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil and other energy oligarchs haven't spread their pipeline propaganda and campaign largesse because of devotion to scientific principles.
Senators and representatives haven't sought (unsuccessfully) to take away President Obama's authority to make this decision because they have any clue about how to count carbon emissions. Indeed, a large number of those elected politicians refuse to accept the scientific findings that make Keystone XL a no-go: climate change science.
To all but boneheads, climate science makes clear what continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels have in store for us. The climate chaos we're now seeing that scientists have been predicting would be caused by global warming will be far worse in the future unless we quickly ramp down fossil fuel use starting with the dirtiest fuels first.
Keep digging this stuff up and putting a flame to it and all those impacts we've been informed about will be enhanced—from the rise of temperatures to the rise of the seas, from the wiping out of whole species to the destruction of whole cultures, from heavier than normal snows to worse-than-historically-encountered droughts, from the creation of vast numbers of climate refugees to the generation of resource wars. A decidedly unpleasant world. Even the lucky few with piles of money to shield them from some of the effects will not escape unscathed.
The argument that has emerged in the wake of Friday's release of the State Department's supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) is not new. It's all about whether building the pipeline will make things worse than if it weren't built. That is the standard President Obama committed to in his June climate speech. A standard that an administration official reiterated on Monday. To wit:
"The President clearly stated in his speech at Georgetown in June that 'national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.' That’s the exact same standard we’ve reiterated ever since—it hasn’t changed," the official said.The SEIS states that the difference between not building Keystone XL and building it would not significantly boost carbon emissions into our already overburdened atmosphere. The authors' argument behind this conclusion is that other means of transporting the bitumen from the tar sands—notably railroads—will replace Keystone XL if it is rejected. And thus the tar sands will be extracted at just as fast a pace as before.
One big problem with this theory. TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, president and CEO of Statoil Steve Tungesvik, CEO of Cenovus Energy Inc. Brian Ferguson and the International Energy Agency all have said that Keystone XL is crucial to rapid, expanded development of the tar sands.
Canada's Environment Minister Joe Oliver said (to Greenwire, subscription required) last August:
“In order for crude oil production to grow, the North American pipeline network must be expanded through initiative, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline project.”Are they all bluffing? Do they not mean it when they say Keystone is essential to expansion efforts?
Anthony Swift writes:
State’s environmental review found that tar sands are significantly more carbon intensive than conventional crude. In particular, State concluded that tar sands crudes are more carbon intensive than other heavy crudes and are 17 percent more carbon intensive on a lifecycle basis than the average barrel of crude oil refined in the United States in 2005. According to State, the tar sands in Keystone XL would have total emissions of up to 168 million metric tons CO2e—equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of 35 million passenger vehicles. Even when you consider the increased emissions from tar sands flowing (over and above the emissions that would occur if the pipeline carried conventional oil), Keystone XL would add 27.4 million metric tons CO2e, equivalent to the tail pipe emissions of 5.7 million passenger vehicles.That is the reality.
Over Keystone XL’s projected 50 year lifetime, State estimates that Keystone XL’s increased greenhouse gas emissions could be as high as 1.4 billion metric tons of CO2e. Under the Administration’s Social Cost of Carbon guidance, these increased emissions from Keystone XL (over and above what would happen if the pipeline carried conventional oil) would generate up to $100 billion in costs.
Of course, if alternative means for transportation can be substituted and an equal amount of tar sands petroleum can be moved without Keystone XL, then that massive carbon pollution would, indeed, happen anyway. And the State Department claims in the SEIS that this would be the case, with rail being a crucial factor. But its own accounting, plus the views of many in the oil industry, throw this conclusion into doubt.
Moving tar sands by rail to the Gulf Coast, the SEIS concedes, would cost $7 to $12 more per barrel than by Keystone XL. No small difference. One that fluctuating oil prices could make even larger. And as Swift points outs, State's claim 10 months ago in the Draft SEIS that 200,000 barrels a day of tar sands petroleum would be making it to the Gulf Coast in 2013 turned out actually to be 30,000 bpd. That's the kind of botched prediction that calls into question State's assumptions on a whole range of other matters in the SEIS.
As environmental advocates have quite rightly argued, the SEIS has given President Obama the information he needs to reject the pipeline once one gets past the flawed executive summary. Building Keystone XL will significantly increase carbon emissions because that means a more rapid development of the tar sands than not building it. All the science is there for the president to make the right political decision in this matter.