Bloomberg News

Keystone Critics Release Report Finding Significant Carbon Rise

July 23, 2013

Carbon-dioxide emissions caused by the Keystone XL pipeline could be more than four times higher than a draft U.S. analysis found, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council report released today.

The NRDC, a New York-based environmental group that opposes the $5.3 billion project to link Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast, says Keystone would add as much as 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere over 50 years. That’s a much higher rate than estimated in a State Department draft environmental analysis.

“Tar sands oil production causes the release of huge amounts of carbon pollution, both from its energy-intensive extraction methods and refining processes and also from its destruction of boreal forests, peatlands and wetlands,” the NRDC report states.

The State Department is reviewing the environmental risks of the project, part of an ongoing evaluation of whether the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest.

Keystone’s impact on greenhouse-gas emissions has become perhaps the central issue the department is weighing after President Barack Obama said in an address last month that the pipeline shouldn’t be built if it would significantly exacerbate carbon pollution that most climate scientists believe is causing global warming.

Alberta Premier

As they await a final decision, critics and supporters of the project continue to make their case in public and to the department.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, in comments to the State Department submitted in April, said Keystone won’t have a substantial impact on oil sands development -- and therefore greenhouse-gas emissions -- because the heavy crude would find a way to market with or without the pipeline.

In a sign of the weight climate change may play in the final decision, she also noted that most large industries in Alberta are required by provincial law to reduce their emissions intensity -- a measure that pairs emissions with economic output -- by 12 percent.

The State Department’s draft analysis found no significant environmental risks to prevent Keystone from going forward. More than 1 million comments were submitted in response to the review, which has been criticized by groups like NRDC for underestimating the climate impacts of Keystone.

State Department

Anthony Swift, an NRDC attorney, called Keystone a “linchpin” of oil sands development because rail lines won’t be able to keep up with anticipated production.

Rejecting Keystone would avoid 18.7 million to 24.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, according to the NRDC report released today.

The State Department found at most 5.3 million metric tons a year of carbon dioxide, or less than 0.1 percent of total U.S. emissions, would be avoided if pipelines like Keystone from the oil sands aren’t built.

That’s because producers would find other methods to transport the bitumen mined from the oil sands to market. The State Department is reviewing the project because it crosses an international border.

Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental group 350.org, said Obama’s “protestations” about the risks of climate change won’t be taken seriously if he approves Keystone.

National Interest

After the environmental impact statement is finished, the State Department will have 90 days to determine if the project is in the U.S. national interest.

The NRDC says the State Department analysis underestimates the impact of Keystone on development of the oil sands. Its report also counts carbon emissions from the burning of petroleum coke, a by-product of the tar sands refining process, and the effects of deforestation in its estimate of carbon emissions caused by Keystone that the State Department didn’t include in its calculation.

The project proposed by TransCanada Corp. (TRP) would carry as much as 830,000 barrels of crude a day from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. From there, the bitumen would link to refineries in Texas through the pipeline’s southern leg that is already under construction.

Critics said today the NRDC analysis shows that Keystone can’t meet the climate standard Obama set. Supporters in Congress said they may seek to take the decision out of the president’s hands.

North Dakota

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican who supports the project, said he may seek to introduce his bill that would approve the Keystone pipeline as an amendment to an energy efficiency bill that could come to the Senate floor next week.

Keystone will improve U.S. energy security and create jobs, Hoeven said at a Washington event sponsored by The Hill, a Washington-based newspaper.

Hoeven said his previous optimism that Obama would approve the pipeline was diminished by the president’s climate address last month. He said he now puts the odds at 50-50.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat who backs the project, said members in Congress have a “growing impatience” with the administration on its delay in deciding the Keystone project, which TransCanada first proposed in 2008.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Snyder in Washington at jsnyder24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net


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