State Department Assessment Blows Away Keystone Pipeline Foes’ Objections

by Marlo Lewis on February 3, 2014

in Blog, Features

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If you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and oil spill risk, you should support the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Last week the State Department issued its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Environmental activists are outraged.

Before construction can begin, State must determine that the proposed 875-mile pipeline serves the “national interest” and grant a “Presidential Permit” to builder-owner-operator TransCanada Corporation. Green pressure groups have pushed President Obama to base the national interest determination on a single issue — whether Keystone XL would increase incremental greenhouse gas emissions above the no-project baseline.

Keystone foes assumed this single-factor test would give them a slam dunk. How could expanding petroleum infrastructure not increase oil production, consumption, and the associated greenhouse gas emissions?

The FSEIS, however, concludes that Keystone XL is “unlikely to significantly affect” the rate of Canadian oil sands development. Most U.S. refineries are “optimized” to process heavy crudes such as those imported from Latin America, the Mideast, and Canada. If the Presidential Permit is denied, delivery via rail lines, tankers, barges, and other pipelines will increase, and roughly the same amount of Canadian crude will reach U.S. refineries.

Rail transport of Canadian oil, for example, has increased from practically zero barrels per day in January 2011 to 180,000 bpd in November 2013. Rail loading facilities in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin currently have a capacity of 700,000 bpd, and by year’s end capacity is expected to exceed 1.1 million bpd.

Rail Transport Canadian Crude

Here’s the kicker. Those other modes of delivery also produce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Total annual GHG emissions associated with alternative delivery scenarios are 28% to 42% greater than those for the proposed project.

Keystone GHG compared to alternative scenarios

What about oil spill risk, another common complaint of Keystone opponents?

The FSEIS estimates that oil spills along the full route (Canada to Gulf Coast) of the proposed project will total 518 barrels per year — much less than the 1,227 to 4,633 barrels per year estimated for the alternative scenarios.

Keystone oil spill risk vs alternatives

So, irony of ironies, if your chief motivation in the Keystone XL debate is to limit greenhouse gas emissions and oil spills, you should support the pipeline!

As with State’s 2011 Final EIS and 2013 Draft SEIS, the 2014 FSEIS does not anticipate significant harmful environmental impacts from construction and operation of Keystone XL.

In contrast, the FEIS does anticipate significant benefits for the U.S. economy. Construction of the proposed project would contribute approximately $3.4 billion to the GDP and support 42,100 U.S. jobs during the 2-year construction period.

Looking just at the merits of the issue, Keystone XL should be one step closer to approval. Don’t bet on it. President Obama does not want to get crosswise with eco-activist groups in an election year, and in their view nothing that improves the economics of the oil industry can possibly serve the national interest.

The “logic” of their position is absurd. If blocking new petroleum infrastructure is good, then dismantling existing infrastructure is better, and none at all is best. Mankind has been there, done that. It’s called medieval squalor. Without petroleum-based transport and oil-fueled agriculture, human life is brutal and short.

Each petroleum-related project should be approved or denied on its specific merits. Nonetheless, you know we live in dark times when the President panders to a faction contemptuous of oil’s historic and ongoing vital role in sustaining human life and welfare.


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