Michael Mann’s Hatchet Job on Keystone XL

by Marlo Lewis on May 13, 2014

in Blog

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Despite climategate, the death of cap-and-trade, the 17-year warming pause, the epic failure of climate models, and the growing popularity of skeptic blogs, Hockey Stick inventor Michael Mann still tries to pull rank and tell policymakers what to do because, after all, he and his “colleagues” in the climate alarm movement are “scientists.”

In a recent column inveighing against the Keystone XL pipeline, Mann notes or alludes to his scientific credentials in five places. He remains blithely unaware that scientism — the overreach of experts who try to turn science into a debate-stopping “consensus” and who claim scientific status for partisan and ideological agendas — is off-putting to many Americans and energizes the skeptic movement he despises.

In his recent column in the Guardian, Mann warns that building the Keystone XL pipeline would “greaten the risk of dangerous and potentially irreversible climate changes.” This, we shall see, is nonsense.

After taking obligatory swipes at GOP Senators and the Koch Brothers, Mann scolds Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, because she has difficulty understanding why opponents consider Keystone “such a big deal.”

Sen. Landrieu is right to be perplexed. The KXL controversy is completely artificial, a creature of green politics. As noted previously on this blog, the lifestyles of Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and IPCC scientists like Michael Mann are among the most oil-fueled in the world. If even they need oil, ordinary folks do too. And if oil is an essential commodity, then it should be brought to market by the most efficient and safest means. In the case of Canadian crude, that best delivery option is the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s this simple logic that Keystone bashers either can’t wrap their heads around or refuse to acknowledge.

Mann offers to enlighten Sen. Landrieu: “So allow me to clarify, since the answers still haven’t gotten through, no matter how many times we scientists repeat them.”

He promptly appeals to authority — his own and that of his “colleagues.” Mann cites the recently-released U.S. National Assessment on Climate report and two columns by UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon. However, although the NAC report and Moon affirm that climate change is a big deal, they take no position on the KXL. Note too that Sen. Landrieu did not question whether climate change is a big deal. Despite claiming to write as a scientist, Mann argues rhetorically, and the rhetoric in this instance is pretty sloppy.

Alas, it gets worse. In the next paragraph, Mann’s rhetoric gets downright slimy.

Mann claims his “climate scientist colleague Andrew Weaver” found that “extracting and burning all of the Keystone-targeted oil would likely result in approximately 0.4°C of additional warming.” That increment combined with past warming and warming already in the pipeline would nearly equal the 2ºC of warming above pre-industrial levels that many scientists regard as the threshold of dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system.

The artful phrase here is “Keystone-targeted oil.” What does that mean? If you assume it means all the oil that would pass through the Keystone XL pipeline, or all the additional oil extracted because of increased KXL-related market demand, you’d be wrong. What Mann means — but does not reveal to the reader — is Canada’s total oil sands resources. Here’s how Andrew Weaver summarized his research in a Huffington Post column:

We asked the question as to how much global warming would occur if we completely burned a variety of fossil fuel resources. Here is what we calculated for the following resources:

1. tar sands under active development: would add 0.01°C to world temperatures.

2. economically viable tar sands reserve: would add 0.03°C to world temperatures.

3. entire tar sands oil in place which includes the uneconomical and the economical resource: would add 0.36°C to world temperatures. . . .

So in Weaver’s analysis, burning up the “entire tar sands oil in place,” including the “uneconomical” as well as economical resources, would add 0.36°C to global temperatures — an estimate Mann rounds up to 0.4°C. However, “tar sands under active development,” which includes substantial amounts of oil that would not flow through KXL even if it were built, would add 0.01ºC to world temperatures — 1/40th the amount of warming Mann attributed to “Keystone-targeted oil.”

Even if KXL had the unanticipated impact of incentivizing development of all “economically viable” tar sands reserves, the global warming contribution would be 0.03°C — 1/13th of Mann’s figure.

Stunning. If a high school student were to make errors of such magnitude in a term paper, we could write it off to inexperience. When a scientist trained in advanced statistical methods errs so egregiously, it can only be deliberate.

Cato Institute scientist Chip Knappenberger used EPA climate sensitivity assumptions to estimate the long-term warming effects of the KXL. To determine the absolute worst case, he made the highly unrealistic assumption that 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil delivered via the KXL would be new oil that would otherwise remain in the ground.

Knappenberger found that the extra warming attributable to the pipeline “would still be less than one ten-thousandths of a degree per year.” In other words, even if the pipeline were to “operate at full capacity for the next one thousand years, it would raise the global average surface temperature by less than 1/10th of a degree!”

In a previous anti-Keystone column, Mann states that the KXL would “lower the cost and raise the convenience of extracting and exporting” Canadian crude. He is correct about that, but mistakenly believes KXL would fundamentally change North American petroleum markets rather than just make them more efficient.

Mann in that column faults the U.S. State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Assessment (FSEIS) for not performing a “full-cost accounting” of the pipeline’s environmental impacts. But that is exactly what the FSEIS does. It unambiguously concludes that global market conditions, not a political decision about one infrastructure project, will determine the extent of oil sands development in Canada. It further concludes that if the KXL is blocked, the U.S. will still import almost as much Canadian crude except that the modes of delivery — rail, barge, smaller pipelines — will actually have a larger carbon footprint.

Let’s consider the analysis of the FSEIS, which Mann fails to address in either of his Keystone-bashing columns.

The critical text is Chapter 4: Market Analysis. Like the earlier 2011 Final EIS and 2013 Draft Supplemental EIS, the FSEIS concludes that the KXL is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of oil sands extraction. But whereas rail delivery as an alternative to the KXL was a “future possibility” in the earlier reports, the FSEIS finds that transport of Canadian crude by rail “is already occurring in substantial volumes.” Indeed, from January 2011 through November 2013, Canadian crude rail transport to U.S. refineries increased from practically zero barrels per day (bpd) to 180,000 bpd.

marlo post 3

The completed Keystone XL pipeline is estimated to have a capacity to deliver 830,000 bpd of crude oil. According to the FSEIS, rail-loading facilities in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) are already “estimated to have a capacity of approximately 700,000 bpd of crude oil, and by the end of 2014, this will likely increase to more than 1.1 million bpd.”

Two maps comparing oil-related rail infrastructure in Dec. 2010 and Dec. 2013 make the big picture even clearer.

Canadian Rail Networks for Oil 2010 Big Image

Canadian Rail Networks for Oil 2013 Big Image

This is visible proof that the oil and gas industry is rapidly working around Obama’s deny-by-delay tactics to meet market conditions that exist independently of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.

Irony of ironies, if Mann really cares about limiting CO2 emissions rather than just venting spleen at oil companies or burnishing his image as a ‘progressive,’ he should support the Keystone XL pipeline. The FSEIS estimates that if permission to build the KXL is denied, U.S. refiners will still import almost as much Canadian oil via rail, barge, and smaller pipelines. Total annual CO2 emissions associated with those alternative modes are 28% to 42% higher than those associated with Keystone XL.

Keystone XL GHG Compared to Alternative Delivery Modes

I will let others with the relevant expertise debate whether Prof. Mann is a competent paleo-climatologist. His writings on the Keystone XL pipeline are indistinguishable from those of a political hack.






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