Former President Jimmy Carter and nine other Nobel Peace Prize winners this week called upon President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to “do the right thing” and “reject” the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Nobel Laureates’ open letter, published in Politico, is worth reading because it epitomizes the intellectual poverty of the anti-Keystone faction.
Asserting that Obama and Kerry’s stand on Keystone XL will “define” their “legacy” on climate change, the Nobels claim that rejection of the pipeline would (1) “have meaningful and significant impacts in reducing carbon pollution,” (2) “pivot our societies away from fossil fuels and towards smarter, safer and cleaner energy,” and (3) “signal a new course for the world’s largest economy.” Wrong on all counts.
As Cato Institute scientist Chip Knappenberger shows, using a climate model developed by the EPA, even if we make the totally unrealistic assumption that all the oil shipped via Keystone XL is additional oil in the global supply that would otherwise never be produced, the pipeline would have to run at full capacity for 1,000 years just to raise average global surface temperature by one-tenth of a degree Celsius. Climatologically, Keystone XL is irrelevant.
The Nobels might reply that the pipeline’s emissions are not the issue. According to them, Keystone XL is the “linchpin for tar sands [oil] expansion,” hence approving the pipeline would commit the world to a “dangerous” development path while rejecting it would move the world towards a new, cleaner path. Okay, time for a restatement of the obvious.
The U.S. economy is in the midst of a revolution in unconventional oil and gas, and the global appetite for oil and gas is growing by leaps and bounds. These trends are determined by basic economic and technological realities, not by a political decision about one infrastructure project. The Nobels’ conceit that Keystone XL is a “pivot” for the global economy and, thus, for the climate system is a reversion to the magical thinking of children.
The Nobels assert that, “The myth that tar sands development is inevitable and will find its way to market by rail if not pipeline is a red herring.” But alternate delivery via rail is not a myth, it’s a massive and growing reality. Maybe before writing to Secy. Kerry, the Nobels should read the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) on Keystone XL, especially Chapter 4: Market Analysis.
As in the 2011 Final EIS and 2013 Draft Supplemental EIS, State again concludes that “the proposed Project is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas (based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenario).” A big difference, though, is that whereas the 2011 and 2013 reports “discussed the transportation of Canadian crude by rail as a future possibility,” the FSEIS “notes that the transportation of Canadian crude by rail is already occurring in substantial volumes.” Indeed, from January 2011 through November 2013, rail transport of Canadian crude to U.S. refineries increased from practically zero barrels per day (bpd) to 180,000 bpd.
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.” [click to continue…]