Just say NO to Keystone XL Pipeline

From Natural Resources Defense Council.

121 responses to “Just say NO to Keystone XL Pipeline

  1. The fact is this oil will reach market in the US or Asia. It can only be marginally delayed. Even Europe is a pretty easy reach through a potential link to Churchill or even the rail that already exists. The only thing that can change that is economics or some international treaty that Canada is highly unlikely to sign. Basically face it: This battle is already lost.

    Better, I think, is to ignore the pipeline and spend the time and energy that would be wasted fighting this battle on ramping up renewables in every way possible such that this oil–all oil–will be a far less valuable resource and further expansion will be slowed. As well, spend the energy fighting for market mechanisms to price oil appropriately to its true externalities. The pipeline is a side issue in the overall scheme of things and is a losing proposition to fight.

  2. Which will solve nothing. The oil will come from Venezuela or somewhere else. OR it will just get produced within the United States. You’ll have defused one carbon bomb and will be left dealing with others that’ll take its place, leaving the net impact on carbon emissions very small.

    Hasn’t anybody learned anything from the War on Drugs? Just going after supply is going to do very little to drop demand. Get some serious carbon policy in place (treat the addiction) and the problem will fix itself.

    • I would go for both. A price on carbon is a no brainer at this point. Could even be revenue neutral as Hansen suggests.

      OTOH, tar sands are specially dirty and carbon intensive. So even if it shifted demand to other oil sources, that would already be some gain.

      • > tar sands are specially dirty and carbon intensive. So even if it shifted
        > demand to other oil sources, that would already be some gain.
        If USA will buy oil from let’s say Russia instead of from Canada, then China will be able to buy less oil from Russia, and the missing amount China will have to buy from Canada. SO NOTHING WILL CHANGE.

  3. I absolutely believe that CO2 emissions are dangerous for Earth climate and prompt and decisive actions should be taken to stop these emissions and possibly develop methods to take CO2 back from athmosphere (for example by reforestation of lands and by aforestation of deserts). But I don’t think that stopping one or other energy development project makes any difference. Actually I think that it is better to dig oil (even form tar sands) than coal or lignite. In my country 90+ percent of electricity is generated from coal. Any measure that would move the balance towards hydrocarbons would be better. In a big picture it doesn’t really matter if one tonne of CO2 is emmitted from tar sand deposits in Canada or coal mines in China.
    The small actions directed towards stopping one development will not block others, in less scrupulous countries and the demand will be met by other suppliers, possibly with higher CO2 emissions per energy units.

    I think that presious energy of anti-CO2 activists should be directed towards limiting demand – either by taxing CO2 emissions and introducing custom duties on products, based on their carbon footprint, or by setting hard legal limits on emissions (both domestic and those contained in imported goods).
    I don’t believe anything smaller can have any significant impact at all.

    Several Western European countries enjoy living standards on par with USA with much lower CO2 emissions per capita. In large part this can be explained by much higher gas prices (effectively a tax on fuel works like a carbon tax) and chain reaction – smaller and more efficient cars, lower urban sprawl, better public transportation etc.
    These emissions are still way to high – anything short of reducing emissions in developed world by ~80 percent will not be sufficient, but Europe will not go for any significant reductions without US doing the same.
    Small measures (like blocking one or another energy development project) will not help much.
    By the way – Chineese emissions are no excuse. They are way smaller per capita (only useful measure) than either in US or in Europe, moreover, big part of this CO2 is emitted to produce goods consumed in the developed world. Until our own emissions per capita are smaller that those in China we have no moral right to demand any reductions from them.

    Instead of silly wars on drugs/terror or whatever enemy moral panic chooses, USA should start and lead a global war on CO2 emissions.

  4. Since tar sands oil generates more CO2 per kilogram of product than any other form of oil, sabotaging the project is well worth it.

    • The fact of the matter is that you cannot. I live in Canada: Canada has too many options for any US-based group or action to sabotage. Plus China is a heavy investor in the oil sands…Do you think this was for no reason at all?

      I’m as green as the next person and try to do my part. But this battle is a waste of human capital that could better be directed elsewhere.

  5. “It can only be marginally delayed”
    Even a delay of a few years is a significant benefit. Also don’t underestimate the challenges of shipping oil on alternate routes. A route through BC to ship to Asia faces a wall of opposition. A route east to Churchill is possible but planning hasn’t even started. Already the oilsands is lacking outlets for oil and hence facing a depressed price. That means development will be delayed which is a good thing

    • Possibly you don’t know that there is an already extant natural gas pipeline to Quebec (Canadian Mainline) that could be converted reasonably cheaply (less than XL, actually) to oil. Alternatively, given there is already a substantial price differential, higher carbon transport methods (e.g., rail) become a distinct possibility should XL be stopped. That is what you would call a “pyrrhic” victory. In both senses of the word.

      The present Canadian government’s power base in Alberta. They will find an alternative or they will lose support in their most critical region of voters. Trust me, it won’t happen.

      Anyway, enough said. Usually I am talking on the other side of these sorts of questions. But this focus on a single project is that cannot be stopped from the US side in any case is, I think, misdirected. If the strategy of stopping single projects is to be followed, I would pick a project that is solely within the US where US action actually could lead to a real stoppage.

      • Does that include the new stronger pumps, the heaters to keep the stuff flowing and more. It may not be so trivial and it certainly will not be cheap

      • I agree that the current Canadian government is desperate to find an outlet for Alberta oil/bitumen. I disagree with you that it will be easy. The western route (Northern Gateway) faces such a wall of opposition that it is unlikely ever to be built (think massive civil disobedience and blockades by First Nations, also a new BC government adamantly opposed to it come May). The other western route (twinning of TransMountain) doesn’t have as much opposition yet, but I predict that opposition will build. As mentioned the Churchill proposal is just that – a proposal – years away from being built. The most likely short term outlet is getting Alberta oil to Eastern Canada as you point out. Even that is a slam dunk.
        Of course stopping Keystone is not going to “solve” climate change, but it will be a worthy and important victory IF Americans can win it.
        And yes the oil will come from elsewhere to some extent – but at a higher cost (good) and most likely with lower carbon emissions (also good)

      • There is significant opposition in Quebec — particularly in Montreal — to flipping the direction of the relevant pipeline. It is not a slam dunk.

      • NOT a slam dunk – agreed – I left out the crucial word

  6. Pete Dunkelberg

    The first two comments (at least) are too much like the Rhetoric of Reaction. At least the comments are not totally negative; they suggest doing something else instead. “Instead” is automatically wrong, or at least seriously inferior. Do both things.

    btw 1) do you think it is perfectly easy to move the tar sands carbon to market via a completely Canadian route? Did Canada chose a longer southern route and the delays of getting permits just to be neighborly and give the USA a share of the profit?
    2) No matter how many solar panels are installed, it won’t help if we burn all the carbon anyway. Keep your eye on the ball. What needs to be done is

    Stop Burning Carbon.
    Since we are not going to dig/pump it all up and then leave it unburned, this means
    Leave it in the ground.

    We have to start somewhere, and turning the XL pipeline into a pipe dream is a very good place to start, partly but not only because of its symbolic importance. Start the ball rolling and then keep it rolling.

    Economics? If carbon fuels are charged with all the costs the companies are now able to “externalize” IOW charge to humanity overall (don’t forget wars) and if subsidiesGlobally, subsidies to fossil fuels may be on the order of US$ 600 billion per year, of which the GSI estimates about US$ 100 billion is provided to producers. Nobody knows the real number, however,….” were recognized and stopped, the economic equation would support non-carbon energy.

    So we have not an economic issue but a cash flow issue: those who enjoy current cash flows also have the $power$ to keep them in place.

    • A Eli understands it the route to Houston was chosen because the refineries there are set up to handle the heavy Orinoco oil, which is why Venezuela and Texas are joined at the hip, politics be damned.

  7. John Kerry as secretary of state offers a glimmer of hope, especially as he’s dumping any oil holdings and stock that conflicts with his stated pro-science stance on AGW. The 120 year old Sierra Club’s also announced they’ll be doing civil disobedience for the first time, targetting Keystone XL.

  8. I agree that we have to pick our battles.

    Tar Sands is a very expensive source of fuel. We can only hope that solar and wind power gets to the point where it is competetive with oil derived from those sources

  9. This is a bit of an aside to the main discussion here, but worth mentioning: The first person who speaks on this video, Danny Harvey, has written a textbook on global warming that I found to be very useful in understanding the science better: “Global Warming: The Hard Science” by L.D. Danny Harvey. I think it is a particularly good book for people who have a good background in the physical sciences since he takes a pretty physically-based approach.

    [Response: Available here.]

  10. And let’s not forget “The Greenhouse Effect–What It Is, How It Works,” by yours truly, available in Kindle form for $2.99 from amazon.com.

  11. A number of folks here agree with my take…

    As dirty as the tar sands are, the oil will be burned, whether it is the US or Chindia. The people will demand it (at least enough of them will until it is too late to do anything otherwise). Humans are terrible at discounting the future, we cannot help it, we evolved that way.

    Efforts are better spent trying to kill coal as there is a chance that AGW will kill the economy enough such that the tar sands are never fully exploited…

    Over the past year or so as it has become apparent that the real danger was AGW and not peak oil, it has also become apparent that we are incapable as a species of modifying our behaviour to avert the full fury of what we have wrought…. Maybe when a 6 billion of so of us have perished, we will start to figure it out….

    • A defeatist take on it. As I’ve said before, “Despair is not adaptive.” Attitudes can and do change, sometimes with surprising speed.

      It is better to analyze possible ‘escape modes’ and proceed on the assumption that they can be made to be at least partially effective–and by ‘proceed’ I mean full force. That’s hard to do when despairing of the efficacy of one’s actions.

      • Sorry, but naive optimism/hope is hardly the cure… Our species is so far in overshoot that the well motivated actions of a prescient few will make little difference to those currently living. If current efforts can limit the future C02 levels to ~800 ppmv, i.e. the planet will not completely fry it will be no small victory. It is all about damage control now, nothing more…

        Do you really think that the earth can support ~7 billion people in some kind of happy steady state in the face of AGW and declining fossil fuels, i.e. oil? I suggest you look up the Export Land Model, then look at recent developments in Egypt, noting the evolution of its net oil exports and the rise of social unrest. It is no surprise that the MSM talking heads have never noticed the connection or are afraid to discuss it…

        For civlization to be anything but a transitory blip, H. Sapiens had better figure out a new value system..

  12. I think that delay is an important strategy. The tar sands are not economical, especially if some limits or taxes on C02 can be put in place. We need to buy or gain time for a better solution. If we really burn a major part of the tar sands, as some are suggesting here, there really is little hope for our grandchildren and further generations.

  13. At some point we have to stop burning coal and oil. That point should be sooner rather than later. A universal carbon tax would do the trick, but you have to get governments to do this, and people are scared of any new “tax”.

    In the mean time, perhaps there could be a moratorium on new oil wells/coal mines. This would force the price up, and thus be a defacto carbon tax.

    Except I imagine that this will be incredibly difficult politically. We in Australia are committed to digging and drilling our mineral/coal/oil/gas resources as fast as we can for as long as we can. I can’t imagine the US or Canada or anywhere else being different.

    • That’s why it is important to keep reiterating, loudly, that the BC carbon tax has functioned as a tax cut due to the income tax credit attached.

      • I live in BC. The following is similar to a post I made elsewhere a few months ago:

        For people unfamiliar with it, the BC carbon tax was introduced on July 1, 2008 at $10/tonne CO2 equivalent, and raised by $5/tonne each July 1st since then, to its present rate of $30/tonne. The government redistributes what it collects through a combination of personal and corporate income tax rate reductions, and tax credits for low earners. (My son, for example, who earns a low wage at this point in his apprenticeship, receives more in carbon tax credits paid out in cash than I pay in the tax to heat my home.)

        I keep records of all my energy purchases. My vehicle is owned by my incorporated business. During its last fiscal year I paid $245 in carbon tax on the gasoline it burned. However, the reduction in the provincial corporate income tax rate resulted in a savings of $314 in taxes for my business. So I’m ahead there. I have changed the way I use my vehicle since the tax was introduced. I also have a strong incentive to replace it with a more fuel efficient vehicle when that time comes.

        I use natural gas to heat my home. Last year I paid just under $60 in carbon tax on that fuel. Of course I also buy electricity, but it is produced primarily by hydro means here, so it is not subject to the tax (or at least I don’t see it on my bill). However, the personal income tax rate was reduced when the carbon tax was introduced. When I recalculate my income taxes based on the old rates, I saved $573 last year. So I’m way ahead there. Approximately 62% of the energy I use in my home is for space heating. The cost of fuel is still too low for me to (thinking short-term $ only) justify the capital expenditures to reduce that amount (over and above the insulation that I already have, or by changing the furnace for a more efficient model, or switching to a heat pump, etc.).

        A consistent financial signal, increased at a rate that is published well in advance so that people can make adjustments, will change individual and corporate behaviours around the use of fuel. Under the scheme we have here, energy conservers win in two ways: They pay less in fuel costs, and they benefit from the redistribution of the tax paid by high energy users. Anyone who cannot figure this out and speaks against a revenue neutral carbon tax is, in my opinion, an idiot.

        Lastly, I think a better way of viewing it is as a tipping fee. We expect to pay for the costs of removing, say, sewage or garbage we produce. The atmosphere performs the service of removing from our immediate vicinity the CO2 we emit and diluting it. So we should pay for that service.

      • ktorsten, I’m very grateful to hear some firsthand experience. And I completely agree with the ‘tipping fee’ concept–to me, that’s a big part of the point. Use of the atmosphere as chemical dump can’t be free.

      • Susan Anderson

        Thanks Torsten for sharing your excellent work with us. Your points are well taken.

    • I live in the SUV (Stupid Useless Vehicle) capital of the world, Colorado: Even when petrol was topping US$4/gallon, I still saw folks tanking up their giant grocery-getters (most are SOVs): that means, the price of fuel isn’t high enough yet.

      Me, even with a 35 mpg weenie car, was beginning to work out how to not commute as much. Bottom line? There are MANY people who do not share the values many of us here hold dear. Until that changes and the cost of energy wakes SUV drivers the **ck up, nothing is going to happen. I’ll keep yelling and screaming and trying, however….

  14. Pete Dunkelberg

    Try to follow along. To avoid great disaster, we must
    Stop Burning Carbon
    Leave it in the Ground.
    Some just repeat “Resistance is useless.” and (in effect) “Leave someone else’s carbon in the ground.”
    Regarding carbon still in the ground and have political trouble getting out, resistance is clearly not useless. Why stop this carbon source? It is a large and symbolic source. It is numerically significant. Saying “No” on principle would I think the world new hope.

    PS no you don’t know the future.

    • I agree that we must stop burning carbon. But limiting supply in one place will not get us there. It is simply barking at the wrong tree. We must limit demand. Otherwise oil wil be pumped elswhere.

      Being frank: average US/Canadian citizen emits about 17 metric tons of CO2. Average Swiss or Swede (I am neither) about 5, despite living in a harsh climate (it is quite cold out there in Sweden).
      You (Americans, Canadians) simply consume way too much fossil energy, and only method I can think of that can curb it is high enough carbon tax.

      Other developed nations have to reduce their fossil energy usage as well, since even the 5 tons per person is too much (and most industrialised countries emit more), but as shown by example of these countries it is feasible and can be achieved within currently available technologies by highly developed nations.
      All that is needed is a political will and implementation of adequate measures. I am pretty certain, that once US shows leadership the others will follow.

      • And the tarsands are one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions in play in North America today. Let the Germans fight lignite, which they are burning in much too large quantities, even as they also build solar capacity in laudable amounts. (And let the Danes, Indians, and Chinese, inter alia, do likewise WRT their coal consumption.)

        The fight may be global, but it is also fought on national and local levels. It’s not ‘either/or,’ as has been pointed out above.

      • Pete Dunkelberg

        I agree that we must stop burning carbon. But limiting supply in one place will not get us there.

        I agree that one thing isn’t everything, so we have two points of agreement. I did not mean to suggest that stopping the pipe line is the only good thing to do.

    • You are right of course :-)

    • It’s only numerically significant if you assume that it can all be extracted in a relatively short period of time. In practice, it is highly unlikely that more than the equivalent to 5 to 10 ppm increase in CO2 over 100 years could be attributed to Alberta tar/oil sands, even if you allow for current production to triple.

      Andrew Weaver estimates that the global temperature change attributable to 170 billion barrels of oil sands is 0.03 deg C ( http://climate.uvic.ca/people/nswart/Alberta_Oil_Sands_climate.html). Keystone XL would represent perhaps a third of this. As a single project it’s a lot, but hardly a global catastrophe either.

      170 billion barrels by 2100 represents about 5.3 million barrels per day. Current production is around 1.7 million per day.

    • You make a key point: Given a choice, for some odd reason many groups in the US have decided not to work on keeping US carbon in the ground (particularly coal) where the groups actually can theoretically exert direct political control. Rather they are attempting to force someone else to leave their carbon from a single development in the ground that while bad is arguably less bad than developments in their own country (e.g., coal and isn’t there tarsands work going on in Wyoming or somewhere, I think?). I just do not see that course as politically or environmentally effective.

      Leaders lead, and I would truly hope the US would do just that. Going after this single development where there is no control from the US side is a great example of going off on a siderail.

      Resistance is least futile where you exert at least some control. Defeat Murray and then Canada will likely be an easy next target as the necessary atmosphere and political will will have been generated. You have my support on that, btw.

  15. I think there’s a misapprehension here. People aren’t just trying to stop Keystone and the tar sands exploitation. There are efforts all over the place targeting different fossil fuel developments. Should we say that each of those efforts is individually silly because on its own it won’t do much? EACH one of them is important.

    Keystone just happens to be particularly big and, well, relatively new in the public perception. In addition, I believe that people along all three of the major proposed exit routes have legitimate reasons to now want a massive bitumen pipe going through their back yards. NiMBY? Yeah. But this is NiMBYing something that has no good rationalization to exist anyway.

    • Perhaps as you say “people aren’t just trying to stop Keystone and the tar sands exploitation”, but Tamino’s blog post headline and the embedded video make it abundantly clear that a lot of people in the U.S. think that this is the most important issue of the day, the place to draw a line in the tarsand. U.S. coal is a much bigger carbon culprit, so why the focus on stopping Canadian bitumen? Especially when, as I commented earlier, a carbon tax would result in leaving both coal and bitumen in the ground by hastening the move to renewables?
      By the way, I am a Canadian, and I have communicated my concerns about carbon emissions to Peter Kent, the Canadian Minister of Environment.

      [Response: I never said, or implied, that I regard Keystone as the “most important issue of the day.” In my opinion it’s not. But it is an *opportunity*. A damn good one.]

      • Tamino, You are correct – you indeed did not indicate that Keystone is the “most important issue of the day.” I apologize for the misinterpretation.

  16. There is no group in the US opposed to letting global warming get worse that has “decided not concentrate on leaving US coal in the ground.” Don’t make stuff up, and don’t make this a US-versus-Canada issue. Both coal and oil need to be switched away from as fast as possible.

    I suspect one or more of the “people” posting here may have the same IP address. tamino?

  17. Horatio Algeranon

    “A line in the tar sand”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    Keystone is a line in the tar sands
    That America should not traverse
    Vetoin’ is a line of adjoined hands
    That Obama should not disperse

  18. Don’t take me wrong, probably there are many good environmental reasons to stop development of tar sands and the pipeline. Simply I don’t think that reduction of CO2 polution is one of them. The efforts with this goal should be diverted elsewhere, because oil companies will find other sources. One should also remember that coal is actually worse than oil, and increased oil prices increase the relative attractivity of coal.

    Just by chance The Economist published recently very interesting graph showing my earlier point – the size of the “effectu carbon tax” levied on the transportation fuel in various countries.
    It clearly shows carbon tax in the range of $300 per ton of CO2 is possible.
    It only needs political will.

    [Response: You underestimate the impact of killing the Keystone XL pipeline. Not only will it be harder to develop tar sands as a fossil fuel source (a *crucially* important goal), if the USA finally has the guts to say “no” to a new source of carbon pollution, it just might be the “shot heard round the world.” It’s ironic that tout the importance of “political will” when you’re not willing to see this.]

    • I have no problem with a “shot heard round the world” or “we need to limit tar sands growth” type arguments, or even NIMBY arguments.

      I take issue with straw man arguments along the lines of keystone being a climate bomb that will make it impossible to reach appropriate carbon targets. Bill McKinben makes these kinds of statements at almost every opportunity, quoting James Hansen in the process. Unfortunately, he’s quoting what is probably the one stupid thing Hansen has ever said on the subject of carbon and climate.

      It’s very easy to show that while it is very important to limit growth of tar sands development, it is not crucial for global climate to stop it entirely.

      A reasonable compromise would be to limit tar sands to US pipeline capacity to somewhere in the range of 1 to 5 million barrels per day and recognize it as an important strategic and transitional resource for North America. Take that as a victory (which it would be) and move on on the much larger fight to de-carbonize the economy by 2050.

  19. dennis hibbert

    1) We’d be better off burning no fossil fuels at all, yes.
    2) In 2012 Canada exported more crude to the US than in any previous year.
    3) The only part of the Keystone XL pipeline the Federal government has a veto over is the tiny part crossing the US/Canada border. The rest of the pipeline is under construction or getting ready to be, especially the part from the bottleneck in Cushing, Oklahoma to the refineries on the Gulf Coast.
    4) Oil from the oil sands/bitumen sands in Alberta is being got across the border in tank cars and that effort is ramping up very fast. Canadian oil is also flowing through the existing Keystone pipeline–that’s what it was built for– as it has for a decade or so.
    5) As the efforts in 3) and 4) increase in effect, the drawdown of the backlog at Cushing will allow more Canadian crude to reach the Gulf where it sells at Brent (effectively: world) prices. This earns more money for the producers in Canada and boosts production there.

    First conclusion: You cannot STOP the Keystone XL pipeline. Even the Governor of Nebraska backs it now that the route through his state has been shifted farther from the main part of the Oglalla aquifer.

    6) The amount of CO2 emitted by production and consumption of oil-sands crude is very small compared to the amount emitted by coal-burning power plants in the US.
    7) China is approaching the point of burning more coal than the rest of the world put together, including the US.
    8) India hopes to join China in level of coal use.
    9) There are proposals in the works to build at least five terminals in coastal Oregon and Washington to be used to ship US coal to Asia.

    Second conclusion: Keystone XL, symbolic value or not, is not worth the effort to “stop” nor is it possible to stop it in any meaningful way. Coal is much worse–it’s worse now and will become increasingly worse as China and India increase their consumption. Work to stop coal use in the US and work to stop expansion of export of coal, especially to Asia.

    [Response: If the President of the United States and the Secretary of State resolve to kill the pipeline, I advise you not to underestimate their ability to do so.

    I also advise against underestimating the power of such a symbolic act, and warn strongly of the symbolic detriment of “letting it go” — I think we know how successful the strategy of “appeasement” is.

    I quite agree that rapid reduction of coal consumption and export is a great idea.]

  20. dennis hibbert

    I’d be really curious to watch how they (the President and the Secretary of State) tried to do it. The Alberta oil patch needs that pipeline and Alberta is the power base for Canada’s Prime Minister, who’s been critical of the White House’s response to the pipeline, as well as a large contributor to Canada’s GDP. Canada wants the pipeline and isn’t inclined to listen to the US about it. The lack of access to the Gulf is costing Canada billions in lost income every year the way they look at it.

    Popular objection has been mostly seen in Nebraska and in East Texas, but Nebraska’s Governor and DEQ are onside now. In East Texas the fight is about eminent domain being employed to seize right of way in the interests of a foreign company, but hasn’t been too effective so far. TransCanada, the pipeline company, established a good record working with all interests in Nebraska in order to find a more acceptable route; it has yet to show such in East Texas but the game isn’t over. Landowners in Texas have more clout than the oil patch does, but that oil represents a lot of money for refineries in Houston and Port Arthur. State government hasn’t sided with the landowners so far. I don’t know if the White House could make use of this situation, and it’s worth recalling that Obama did invite TransCanada to resubmit their application.

    One possibility, I suppose, would be continuing to study the application and putting off making a decision. That wouldn’t be very satisfactory, particularly as it would be pointed out that the oil was entering the country anyway and would continue to do so. That same point would be made if the permit is finally rejected, and would itself have symbolic value that (my guess) the White House would not welcome

    Burlington Northern Santa Fe (Warren Buffett, prop.) and Canadian National Railway (Bill Gates, major shareholder) are coining money at the moment, ordering in new tank cars and building and expanding oil loading and unloading terminals as the oil from the oil sands (and from the Bakken, in North Dakota) flows in. It’s expected that this situation will be temporary and will be scaled way back if the permit is approved and the pipeline crossing at the border is built, but it could continue if the permit is denied. Could? It would, causing higher oil prices to some extent–which might help cut consumption, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    What else could the Federal government do? It would have to be within the law. Turn the EPA loose on TransCanada? Infractions can cause delays if caught, and cost money, but stopping this behemoth of a project will take a lot more than fines. Can someone suggest what approaches might work?

    [Response: You are simply being absurd. If you really think the President doesn’t have a long enough reach to kill this thing dead — if he were committed to doing so — then you’re pretty clueless about the way politics really works. If you really think killing it wouldn’t have a tremendous effect, you’re equally clueless.]

  21. “I quite agree that rapid reduction of coal consumption and export is a great idea.”

    So do I. And US groups DO have some control over that. In fact I think that would be a fantastic real AND symbolic victory.

    I disagree on the symbolic value of stopping Keystone. Even if successful, the symbol is that the US can temporarily stop someone else from extracting a single source of carbon while doing nothing about its own extraction processes in even dirtier areas.

    That is not really the best symbol to my mind especially when that oil will get to market in any case. It has to or the present Cdn govt will be in severe trouble.

    It’s the symbol heard round the world of a 350 pound obese person who cannot control their own eating trying to sit on a 150 pound person who’s gonna’ get away anyway to try to keep them from eating too much. Not a good symbol at all to my mind. And that’s how it will be seen around the world.

  22. Moderator: Please add after severe trouble…

    I generally loath the PMs environmental and science policies. They are near Stone Age. But he is a politician fighting for his position, and his true base of support is in the oil sands areas. His govt will get that oil to market.

    • You claim to loath the PM’s policies yet you counsel us to acquiesce to them. Personally as a Canadian living in BC I will fight the battle in my backyard (Northern Gateway) and I encourage the Americans to fight against Keystone.

      The symbol is not the US “stopping” Canada from extracting tar sands. The symbol would be rejecting a high carbon source of oil and killing a project because of its GHG consequences.

      PS it is ridiculous to imply that no-one in the US is fighting against new coal fired projects

      • If you are as you “claim” a BC’er, you have every right to fight there, though fighting BC coal exports might be a better high carbon source to fight if you really want to look at the overall balance of high carbon sources.

        I think you miss how the symbolism would be portrayed, but stopping _someone else_ from doing what you cannot stop yourself from doing is never a good one to my mind. Your mileage may well vary and I guess we’ll have to let history be the guide here in the end.

        Just don’t think a pyrrhic victory which is 1) doomed to fail and 2) doomed to lead to _higher_ carbon releases due to forcing the use of higher energy transport alternatives is the way to go. Given being on the weak side already, battles need to be strategically picked. That’s not the same as “acquiescence”.

        The reason it is doomed to fail is that there just are numerous other alternatives particularly rail than cannot be stopped as there are multiple routes already. For instance NAFTA would keep any transborder rail shipments from being regulated. CN/CP have already increased oil shipments into the near 200kbd (10% of all production). Churchill is already looking at booking shipments for Jul 2013.

      • Stopping mettalurgical coal (80% of BC’s exports) is not as high priority as stopping Northern Gateway. Also in case you hadn’t noticed there is a mass movement to stop Northern Gateway for a whole bunch of reasons, climate being only one, so this battle stands a good chance of being successful.

        PS I don’t think Pyrrhic means what you think it does!

    • If it results in pushing the carbon output even higher due to burning even more carbon to get it to market by more carbon intensive means, “pyrrhic” is exactly correct.

  23. Horatio Algeranon

    “Matter ‘n a Hatter”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    If Keystone doesn’t matter
    We’re madder than a Hatter
    And Cheshire cats will grin
    If Keystone means nothin’

  24. @Tamino [You underestimate the impact of killing the Keystone XL pipeline. Not only will it be harder to develop tar sands as a fossil fuel source (a *crucially* important goal), if the USA finally has the guts to say “no” to a new source of carbon pollution, it just might be the “shot heard round the world.” It’s ironic that tout the importance of “political will” when you’re not willing to see this.]

    I think just opposite. You significantly overestimate this impact. I don’t think that anyone in the world outside USA will notice until USA really commits to cut its own consumption (not production). Cutting production in any single country is irrelevant, since the oil is globaly traded commodity with supply that is still unconstrained.
    Killing the Keystone XL is like jailing one drug dealer out of one hundred and hoping that this would be a good start to cure addicts. Won’t work.

    The opposite methods is certain to work – once you cure addicts drug dealers will fold automaticaly, because there won’t be a market for their stuff.
    Only measures that would go towards very significant reduction of US energy consumption could be considered “shot heard round the world.”
    And by significant I mean really significant – for USA being most technologically advanced country in the world nothing short of the true leadership in the world will be adequate. Like cutting consumption below the Swedish of Swiss level.

    [Response: When you say things like “Cutting production in any single country is irrelevant,” I think the opposite. That’s just the kind of thinking that deniers use (I’m not accusing you of being one) to argue for inaction. I suggest your perspective is way too limited. Argue for your limitations, and they’re yours.]

    • “Cutting production in any single country is irrelevant, since the oil is globaly traded commodity with supply that is still unconstrained.”

      Cutting production would be a constraint, no? And supply is still somewhat tight, which means prices could well be driven up. That’d be a win.

  25. Lots of defeatism here.

    Basically there are three ways out for the oil: South to the US, east to Europe, or west to China. North remains a pipe dream: for all the drastic changes, the Arctic Ocean is still rather inhospitable.

    There are no usable pipelines right now. The oil companies and their enablers would like you to think that opening one is simultaneously critical for jobs, and irrelevant for the environment because the oil is coming out no matter what. These are contradictory, which should be the first hint the oil companies are lying: pipelines are critical for expansion.

    South is Keystone XL. Y’all have covered that path in detail above.

    East is an Enbridge line that was originally built to move oil from the eastern ports to the interior. Enbridge wants to reverse it and upgrade it to handle bitumen. There is substantial opposition to that, particularly in Quebec. The current provincial government is beefing up (or trying to) environmental oversight, after years of corruption. On the one hand, they have a weak position (minority government; the vote is roughly evenly split three ways between them and the two center-right parties). On the other hand, last spring the populace got into the mood for mass protest. Finally, Europe has made some noises about whether they’d even buy the stuff. This path is in serious trouble.

    West is through First Nations lands in BC. They’re generally unconvinced. I don’t know the political situation in detail, but it’s not sounding rosy for that pipeline either.

    • Re. Arctic, you may not know the following: Churchill, Manitoba is a developed port on Hudson Bay, not the Arctic Ocean with extant rail connections to Alberta, PanaMax berths, etc. A significant amount of the grain harvested in the Cdn Plains already leaves by that route annually as well as oil a significant amount of oil already (not bitumen, true) for transhipment, in this case, to the Western Arctic. Shipping season runs Jul-> Nov as an ice free port. No icebreakers necessary. In very many ways it is a much better route from western Canada than the St. Lawrence Seaway and the shipping seasons are very comparable except for the spring/fall extremes.

      The facilities are owned by a US firm, BTW: Omnitrax. Don’t have any idea of their environmental record, personally. may be good, may be bad. I do know from a CEO speech I heard some years ago they bought the place on the promise of AGW which may either be good or bad, depending.

      • I’m quite aware of the little Arctic port of Churchill and its great ambitions. It currently handles a just barely non-negligible fraction of the grain from the prairies (Wikipedia says Churchill ships under 500k tons, CWB says it buys over 20M tons). With the recent sea ice debacle, the port can now operate a whole three months out of the year, though I’m unclear whether that includes making sure there’s an ice-free path through the archipelago.

        Somehow, the oil industry does not seem super eager to send pipelines up there.

        It is impossible to be on Hudson Bay without being on the Arctic Ocean, by definition.

      • Hudson Bay -> Davis Strait -> Labrador Sea is not exactly a route that would be considered to be in the open Arctic Ocean by sailors here in Newfoundland, anyway. These are much smaller bodies of water and my nautical charts have them as extensions of the North Atlantic. So does wiki.

        Of course, as I sail in it, I am not going to say sailing in the North Atlantic is any piece of cake.

  26. dennis hibbert

    It’s easy to say the President has a long enough reach to kill the thing dead. I’m asking how it could be done. The White House has no authority over the pipeline except to OK or not OK the part that crosses the Canadian border, and no authority over its path or what it carries. If the White House says no, TransCanada will carry on with the rest of the project. The governors of the states it crosses aren’t objecting; we’ve heard nothing from the House or the Senate that could stop it. The pipeline is legal and has billions of dollars, in Canada and in the US, and the government of Canada behind it. Keystone XL is far beyond the proposal stage. Most of the rights of way for the route have been acquired. Pipe is stacked along the way in places.

    Sure, an effort to stop the thing would be a political one if the White House were to make such an effort. What would such an effort look like? Where are the pressure points?

    The very sad part, to me, is that in the context of AGW the oilsands aren’t all that important. All the evidence of climate change that we’re seeing has as cause CO2 that was put into the atmosphere a generation ago. We’ve added a great deal more, and rate of input is still increasing, and will increase a good deal more from all the coal burning. CO2 is close to 400 ppm now and that level hasn’t been even neared for 5 million years, maybe as many as 15 million years. World production of crude hasn’t changed much since 2005, and likely can’t increase significantly, but coal consumption has nowhere to go but up–way up.

    [Response: Just because you can’t see how it could be done, you assert it can’t be done. The real limitation is your thinking.

    Far more disturbing is your glib assertion that “the oilsands aren’t all that important.” Not only is that false, it leads to your “don’t draw the line here” attitude, which is just the kind of slippery slope which leads to not drawing any line anywhere. That’s pretty much how we got into this mess.]

    • Horatio Algeranon

      It’s easy to say the President has a long enough reach to kill the thing dead. I’m asking how it could be done. The White House has no authority over the pipeline except to OK or not OK the part that crosses the Canadian border, and no authority over its path or what it carries.

      It’s also easy to say (or imply) that the President doesn’t have a long enough reach. :)

      But more to the point, what does the relevant law say?

      What follows is from the report
      Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline: Legal Issues (Congressional Research Service)

      In most instances, decisions about the siting of oil pipelines, even interstate oil pipelines like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, are made by state governments if the state governments choose to exercise a pipeline siting authority. The federal government generally does not regulate the siting of oil pipelines, although it does oversee oil pipeline safety and pricing issues. However, the construction, connection, operation, and maintenance of a pipeline that connects the United States with a foreign country requires the permission of the U.S. Department of State, conveyed through a presidential permit. Accordingly, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would require a permit. Executive Order 13337 delegates to the Secretary of State the President’s authority to issue such a permit upon a determination that the project is in the national interest.

  27. Tamino said: “I suggest your perspective is way too limited”.

    I love your blog, Tamino. I think you offer a great perspective on climate change and abuse of statistics. It’s one of my favorite sites, because I can always rely on you to provide solid analysis with good use of data and facts.

    But, and I say this with all the respect I have to offer, I think your perspective is far too naive.

    While I see killing Keystone as a symbolic act within the President’s power, I think people are greatly overestimating its impact. It may even erode the President’s credibility with energy-policy experts who are looking for pragmatic and effective solutions, not symbolic ones.

    As mentioned before, companies are now railing oil. One of the big companies in Canada has already announced plans to rail the bitumen to the west coast to ship it out (avoiding the nasty pipeline feud going on there right now). Another suggests building a rail line to Valdez, Alaska (though that plan sounds like a long shot). Railing also offers other benefits for the shippers: the bitumen can go to refineries currently not accessible by the pipeline network, offering new markets (pretty anywhere in North America where a train tracks exist). The bitumen also doesn’t have to be diluted as they have to do with it for pipeline transport, meaning you sell a product that’s 100% bitumen instead of 70% bitumen with some byproduct, thus earning more money. There’s also talk about shipping that bitumen eastward via pipeline in Canada as well.

    The bitumen will find its way to any market that wants it. It will get turned into gasoline and diesel and it will get burned. If the bitumen doesn’t end up in the US, other oil will find its way there to replace it. The world will, realistically, not be better off without the pipeline.

    So, kill the demand. I was very happy with the President’s inaugural address, where he brought up climate change after a long and silent presidential campaign. I sincerely hope he moves forward and uses the EPA to clamp down on emissions (barring a miraculous about face in Congress and the passage of effective climate-change legislation).

    But I’m hoping for real progress, not symbols that don’t really do anything. I’ve had enough of empty words and no concrete action.

    • “The bitumen will find its way” — bitumen doesn’t find its way, humans find its way.

      You have decided to believe the Canadian oil companies that the pipelines don’t matter.

      If the pipelines were unimportant to the bitumen extraction effort, why is the Canadian oil industry fighting so hard to build these controversial pipelines?

      And you say tamino is naive?

      • You miss the point: the companies don’t care if the bitumen is moved by pipe or by rail, as long as it’s moved. I’m just pointing out that if pipe isn’t there, rail will fill the gap and does have some advantages in some ways (though I did neglect to say it’ more expensive, but far from prohibitively so, although it’s other advantages mostly make up for that).

        They’re already railing about 350,000 barrels per day out of the Bakken. Keystone XL isn’t much more than that so it’d definitely feasible.

      • I agree. The fact that the oil companies, the Alberta government (in the pocket of industry) and the Harper gov’t (in the pocket of industry) all BADLY BADLY want pipelines tell us all we need to know about whether pipelines are important to the industry or not

    • And what is the cost factor of rail vs. pipeline? I found this discussion interesting, but it didn’t answer the question:


      Ah, here we are:


      Shipping oil by rail costs an average $10 per barrel to $15 per barrel nationwide, up to three times more expensive than the $5 per barrel it costs to move oil by pipeline, according to estimates from Wolfe Trahan, a New York City-based research firm that focuses on freight transportation costs. Wolfe Trahan also notes that using rail tank cars allows oil producers to separate grades of crude more easily and ensure their purity than when different oils are mixed in a pipeline.
      Argus Media reports that rail rates for unit trains moving Bakken oil to major refining centers on the Gulf Coast are about $12.75 per barrel to St. James, Louisiana and $12.25 per barrel to Port Arthur, Texas. The unit train delivery rate to New York Harbor is around $15 per barrel.

      Triple the cost for transport? Somehow I think that that is a significant ‘constraint’ on oil supply, or its price point at least. Especially when, as the desmogblog piece notes, rail infrastructure isn’t all that expandable, nor, in many cases, engineered for the traffic levels being seen in places like the Bakken formation wellheads.

      • It’s NOT a constraint when the present discount is $50/barrel. Which is precisely what the discount it.

      • Okay, think of it this way:

        Right now, the price for oil around Cushing, OK, (WTI) is about $97. This is discounted to the world price because there’s not a huge amount of pipeline capacity getting to the Cushing market to coastline markets, like the Gulf Coast, where the oil sells for $116, about $20 more (it sells higher because it’s based on the world price).

        Now, imagine a train moves oil from western Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast or on the east coast or on the west coast through the rail system. Now that oil can fetch far higher world oil prices, making up for more that the extra cost of railing. And, just because rail wouldn’t be perfectly adequate now, doesn’t mean it won’t be. They make bigger engines which can pull longer trains. They’re getting far more efficient at planning rail movement. If the market needs it, the rail system will be modified.

      • Well, I’m thinking of it this way: at $97 a barrel, a $10 surcharge is a 10% price bump.

        And as an old Canadian National employee, I seem to recall that roadbed conditions, not rolling stock, is the major limiting factor in rail transport. Has that changed in recent years?

  28. Susan Anderson

    One might substitute fuel sources in progressively dirty exploitative, and inefficient forms In the classic progression
    First they came for the socialists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.
    tar sands is near the bottom – another metaphor: the 6th circle of hell?

    Consider everyone within reach of this truly massive project:
    which includes these maps:

    Tar Sands Development, Existing and Planned
    Pipeline Expansion, 2009-2035
    Updated Continental Maps: Sea Level Rise and Tar Sands Depletion

    It is truly disgusting stuff, and we seem willing to pillage our real treasures in service of the fake stuff that doesn’t last. Peak oil is now a distant meme in the long line of “wait” promoted by a couple of persistent monopolizers of what should be a more forward-looking discussion.

    Even if we are not successful in slowing this down, the idea that we do nothing because we will not be so is disgustingly dispirited.

  29. @tamino
    Even if my opinion on this particular issue is identical with deniers it does not invalidate it automaticaly. They may be right for wrong reasons.
    I think that fighting against this pipeline is a proxy fight, that can give environmentalists a feeling of success without fighting the really tough fight.

    The deniers are in denial because the know that the real fight with CO2 emissions will have very large impact on the way people live in USA – smaller cars, smaller hauses, increased use of public transport, less air travel etc.

    But this is end of topic for me. I value your blog very much and don’t want to use too much of your valuable time on this fruitless discussion.

  30. dennis hibbert

    Well, I have asked how the White House could stop Keystone XL. That would be because of the limitation of my thinking, if you like. No examples have showed up. Somebody?

    I did say that in the context of AGW the oilsands aren’t all that important. Leaving off the first half of the sentence makes it sound as if I’m dismissing the oil sands; we call that selective quotation and it’s frowned upon, for good reason, on this blog. My statement is based on the numbers: CO2 emission from coal-fired power plants in the US is about 30 times as large as even the new, revised-upward estimates of future emission from the oil sands. Subsequent burning of the oil reduces the proportion but not all that much: burning the oil from the recoverable oil sands (about 10% of what’s there) will ultimately contribute about 0.4 degrees C to AGW, over many decades, out of projected warming of 2 to 4 degrees C. Better if that number were zero, but recall that China is approaching the point of burning more coal than the rest of the world put together (including the US). That makes emissions from the oilsands even less of a player in AGW. Not unimportant, no. Decidedly secondary though.

    My point is that fighting Keystone XL is rearranging those famous deckchairs compared to reducing, drastically, the use of coal. Attention should be paid to where we can make a big difference in reducing future AGW. The amount of CO2 released by burning coal will increase more and more, much more than CO2 from burning oil will. There’s a huge amount of coal in the world, and that coal is the hope (sadly) of many nations who are trying to pull away from energy poverty.

    I’m not drawing lines anywhere. The numbers speak for themselves.

    • “Well, I have asked how the White House could stop Keystone XL.”

      Deny the permit, period. That would require a determination that it’s not in the national interest of the US. The political likelihood of that I can’t assess. But the fight is worth it: it’s a great rallying point, and if successful would have real impact. But probably wisest not to adopt a “Stalingrad mentality” around it. There are many other worthwhile fights as well.

    • “I’m not drawing lines anywhere. The numbers speak for themselves.”

      Numbers should include petcoke emissions, a tar-sands byproduct. From a DeSmog blog article: “Petcoke,” states the Oil Change website, “has even higher carbon emissions than already carbon-intensive coal, emitting between 5 to 10 percent more CO2 than coal per unit of energy produced. A ton of petcoke yields on average 53.6 percent more CO2 than a ton of coal.”


  31. Dr. Andrew Weaver summarizes his latest study thus:
    “- tar sands under active development: would add 0.01°C to world temperatures.
    – economically viable tar sands reserve: would add 0.03°C to world temperatures.
    – entire tar sands oil in place which includes the uneconomical and the economical resource: would add 0.36°C to world temperatures.
    – total unconventional natural gas resource base: would add 2.86°C to world temperatures.
    – total coal resource base: would add 14.8°C to world temperatures
    In other words: Coal presents a climate challenge 1500x greater than that presented by the oil sands.”

    I agree that it’s important to pick one’s battles, and it seems to me that stopping Mr. Peabody’s coal trains should be a higher priority than stopping this particular bitumen moving project.
    Better yet, perhaps the energy should be directed toward putting a price on carbon by means of a carbon tax, which would result in leaving both coal and bitumen in the ground without picking winners or losers.

    • The Nature editorial discussed in that CBC news story is at this link
      Their recommendations seem sensible to me, e.g. get tough on U.S. emitters, ensure that the Keystone XL pipeline meets regulatory requirements, enact a carbon tax to pay for a low-carbon energy R&D programme …

      • The problem with “bolstering Obama’s credentials among conservatives” is that they have already convinced themselves that he is a Mau Mau socialist with a bone through his nose and conservatives in the US have shown themselves to be impervious to logic or evidence.

        I am afraid that compromise is an outmoded concept in the current winner-take-all, scorched-Earth (literally) politics of the US. Any compromise must have its roots in realism, and one side, unfortunately, has rejected reality.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      From the Nature editorial:

      By approving Keystone, Obama can bolster his credibility within industry and among conservatives.

      “Nature’s Wisdom” (aka, “Nature in a Nutshell”)
      — by Horatio Algeranon

      To earn the sacred trust
      Of CFOil and crank
      Obama simply must
      Open Keystone Bank

  32. Horatio Algeranon

    “The Keystone ”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    Symbolism doesn’t matter?
    Tell it to Rosa Parks.
    First rung of the ladder,
    Key for reaching sparks

  33. dennis hibbert


    Thank you for this.

    This brings up a fascinating picture: the Keystone XL permit was denied initially because there was worry about the route running through the Sand Hills and above the Oglalla aquifer, in Nebraska. An environmental study aiming in part at finding a less threatening route was required. Obama invited the company to re-apply when the report was completed. TransCanada worked with the state of Nebraska and the USGS and various groups interested and produced the required report, which seems to have been accepted.

    Denying the permit now on the basis of national interest would call into question the original reason for denial–why bother with an environmental requirement when there was an overriding reason to reject the application anyway? That would sound more like Romney than Obama, and the cries of flip-flop would be sure to come, along with reminders that Obama had invited TransCanada to re-apply for the permit.

    Canadian-US relations would become even frostier, as well, but I wouldn’t expect that to carry much weight in Washington.

    The oil keeps flowing, via rail, truck and barge.

    • Relations between the current Canadian government and the current US government would chill. Some actual people in Alberta might be annoyed also, along with some shareholders around the country. Most of the Canadian population doesn’t care.

  34. I have to admit to being of two minds on this. After all, oil is a global commodity, and if there is demand, the supply will find its way there. It seems to me we could perhaps better spend our efforts promoting alternatives to petroleum, and especially tar-sands oil.

    On the other hand, if the pipeline is built, that will be that many more jobs dependent on oil–that many more brainwashed idiots chanting “Drill, baby, drill!” And right now, the US seems to be consciously making a commitment to its outdated energy infrastructure rather then developing a new one and leading the world out of danger and into a profitable future. If you find yourself going in the wrong direction, at some point you have to stop and turn around before you can start making progress.

  35. Horatio Algeranon

    Denying the permit now on the basis of national interest would call into question the original reason for denial–why bother with an environmental requirement when there was an overriding reason to reject the application anyway?

    People can read the relevant history from the CRS report and decide for themselves whether the above claim is accurate:

    Prior to making the national interest determination, the State Department conducts a review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For Keystone XL, a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) was issued April 16, 2010, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found the draft was inadequate. A supplemental draft was available in April 2011, and again EPA found flaws. A final EIS was announced in August of that year.
    Under NEPA practice, the final EIS would be reviewed by EPA and other interested agencies prior to issuance of a record of decision. However, a proposed route change through Nebraska put those final actions on hold.
    On November 10, 2011, the State Department announced a decision to seek additional information about alternative pipeline routes before it could move forward with a national interest determination. Specifically, concerns regarding potential environmental impacts of constructing and operating the pipeline along the proposed route through the Sand Hills region of Nebraska led the State Department to decide that an assessment of potential alternative routes that would avoid that area was necessary.
    On December 23, 2011, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011. Title V of the act addressed the Keystone XL presidential permitting process. Under that provision, the President was required to grant the Keystone XL pipeline permit within 60 days of the law’s enactment, unless the President determined that the pipeline was not in the national interest. If the President did not make a national interest determination and took no action to grant the permit, then the law provided that the permit “shall be in effect by operation of law.”
    As required by Title V of the act, on January 18, 2012, the State Department recommended that “the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline be denied and, that at this time, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined not to serve the national interest.”
    The State Department asserted that its recommendation “was predicated on the fact that the Department does not have sufficient time to obtain the information necessary to assess whether the project, in its current state, is in the national interest.”
    The State Department press release also indicated that the 60-day time period provided for the in the act “is insufficient” for a determination as to whether the pipeline is in the national interest. The State Department said that “subsequent permit applications” and “applications for similar projects” were not precluded by the denial of this particular permit application.The same day, the President stated his determination that the Keystone XL pipeline project “would not serve the national interest.” He made this determination, as required by Title V of the act, in a memorandum to the Secretary of State.

    PS: The election is over. Obama won. Romney lost. :)

  36. dennis hibbert

    Here’s some information for perspective:

    Enbridge (Canadian pipeline company) is expanding its Mainline System to Chicago. This summer Enbridge will begin construction of the Flanagan South pipeline from Chicago to the hub at Cushing, Oklahoma; Flanagan South will have a capacity of 600 000 barrels of oil per day and will be finished next year. The Seaway pipeline from Cushing to Houston is now carrying oil and has a capacity of 400 000 bopd; a parallel line to Port Arthur, on the Gulf Coast, will be finished mid-2014 and will have a capacity of 450 000 bopd.

    So: Enbridge is looking to bring Canadian oil, mostly from the oil sands, to Chicago, to feed into a new pipeline to Cushing that can carry 600 000 bopd. The Seaway and its new parallel pipeline will be able to carry oil from Cushing to refineries at Houston and Port Arthur; the combined capacity of these two pipelines will be 850 000 bopd.

    The capacity of Keystone XL is to be 830 000 bopd. Can you see why the Gulf Coast oil patch wonders why the knives are out only for Keystone XL?

    Texas producers, by the way, would love to see Keystone XL cancelled, as delivering more oil to the Gulf pushes down the price they are getting for their oil.

  37. dennis hibbert

    O Horatio,

    And George W Bush has been out of office for quite a while, but still gets brought up for comparisons.

    As I recall, the House tacked on that bit about make a determination within 60 days or the permit goes through unless the President says the pipeline is not in the national interest. This was an attempt to force Obama’s hand. As 60 days was not long enough to finish the review, the White House just said “Nope. Your words.” as regards “not in the national interest at this time.” Still, that would give what would appear to be (unless you look close) a fallback rationale if the permit were denied again–good point.

    In light of what Enbridge is doing, as I mentioned above, and all the oil that is being moved by rail and truck and barge (when the Mississippi cooperates), Keystone XL can be seen to be expendable, anyway.

  38. Horatio Algeranon

    “As I recall…”

    After being reminded?

    …(unless you look close)…

    As you have?

  39. dennis hibbert

    Candlemas FYI:

    Kinder Morgan (Canadian pipeline company) is building a second pipeline alongside the TransMountain pipeline that brings oil-sands oil from Edmonton to Burnaby/Vancouver, from where it is shipped to Asia and California, and to refineries at Anacortes in Washington State. The new pipeline will bring TransMountain capacity to 890 000 bopd. Again, Keystone XL is to carry 830 000 bopd.

    O Horatio:

    Sure, to both.


  40. Horatio Algeranon

    “Chewing gum while walking”

    — by Horatio Algeranon

    Chewing gum while walking
    We simply cannot do
    Killing coal and tar-sands
    Is quite impossible too.

  41. dennis hibbert

    O Horatio,

    Of course killing both is desirable. I’m saying we should make the resistance efforts proportional to the danger each of the two carbon sources represents, and coal is by far the greater danger.

    In the TransMountain comment above I forgot to say that the second pipeline is due to be in service in 2017.

  42. Its easy to see the appeal of killing the tar sands pipeline. Its a *new* way of getting fossil fuels for burning. It should be a lot easier to stop something new than to stop coal mining which has been going on a long time.

    So stopping the pipeline is a small achievable goal. The thin end of the wedge, or the push that starts the ball rolling.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      Precisely, John.

      The President could kill the pipeline with the simple stroke of a pen.

      And the action should be judged on its own merits.

      Regardless of whether TransCanada can find an alternate route to market for their tar sands, killing the pipeline would send a strong message that the President — and the US — is serious about addressing climate change and willing to bring the considerable influence of the United States to bear on the issue (which, even on the specific issue of tarsands development, is hardly limited to simply rejecting the Keystone Pipeline, which is just a first step)

      It’s actually rather silly to suggest that the effort to kill the pipeline is somehow “misplaced” simply because it will have less impact on emissions than some other actions.

      This is particularly true, given how easy killing the pipeline is relative to other things like cap and trade or a carbon tax, which have proved to be difficult to enact with the current political makeup of the US Congress (certainly far more difficult than killing the pipeline is)

      The goofy ditty refers to “walking while chewing gum” but to argue that the US can’t kill the pipeline first and then go on to do these other things actually amounts to an even goofier claim: that “we can’t chew gum and then go on to walk after we are done chewing“.

  43. After this I’ll quit beating what is apparently a dead horse!…

    I strongly disagree that “killing the pipeline would send a strong message that the President — and the US — is serious about addressing climate change and willing to bring the considerable influence of the United States to bear on the issue”. That’s precisely what it will NOT do as the US ramps up it own projects including its own oil sands projects in Utah. It looks far, far more like seeking competitive advantage for its own oil than saving the planet in any way whatever.

    But I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. I hear your POV, but do consider my own as well here.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      “I’ll quit beating what is apparently a dead horse!”

      That’s actually looking on the bright side.

      We may actually be beating a virtual horse, if the decision has already been made and the horse has either left the barn or been buried.

      And even if the horse is still with us, the probability that President Obama (or anyone else in a position of influence in this case) reads this blog is probably pretty low (if not zero), so what we say here really means very little (if anything), at any rate.

      Finally, while your ‘competitive advantage’ argument sounds a little cynical, unfortunately, it’s certainly still well within the realm of possibility, especially given all the little busy bee politicians in Utah pushing for ever more development of tarsands, oil, gas, minerals and pretty much everything else that comes out of the ground.

      Horatio use to live in Utah and knows full well how relentless the politicians there are. They’d drill for oil under your swimming pool if you left on vacation for a week.

      • Horatio: “They’d drill for oil under your swimming pool if you left on vacation for a week.”

        I used to live in Eastern Kentucky. The broadform deed doesn’t even require them to wait ’til you go on vacation.

      • “…so what we say here really means very little (if anything)…”

        Certainly, if that’s all we do. I must admit that I talk a much better game than my actions add up to (despite having done a number of the easier conservation things that one can do.) But I’m working to up my actual game a bit… mostly by attempting to construct a local climate action network in my community.

  44. dennis hibbert

    Does the part of the Keystone XL route that is south of the Canadian border require Federal approval? Someone?

    • I’m not clear on the whole picture–clearly environmental approvals are Federal, so yes, to that extent. anything beyond that has been somewhat moot, because the President has been completely behind the southern leg:

      The President said in Cushing OK on March 22, “Today, I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”


      I wrote about this during the campaign: http://doc-snow.hubpages.com/hub/Not-One-Word

      Since Horatio and snarkrates brought up the issue of eminent domain, that was a significant issue during the fall of last year, and continues to be so: just last week, Transcanada won what appears to be a legal victory against protesters who had been using civil disobedience tactics to fight the land grab.


      Perhaps scariest in all of this is the fact that there is, as far as I know, very little national coverage of this issue. It’s on the web, so you can find the information if you look, but I don’t think most people realize that this fight is going on unless they live in areas affected or are active “Greens.”

  45. We should avail ourselves of every opportunity to stop the construction of the pipeline. And I’m glad that I live in a city whose inhabitants are fighting similar threats by taking part in the so-called Greenest City 2020 Action Plan whose aim is to eliminate the negative impact that our actions have on the environment. However, I’m afraid our efforts can easily be thwarted if such crazy projects as the Keystone pipeline are approved by the government.

  46. dennis hibbert

    John Garland, Horatio
    I’m not aware of any oil sands in Utah. Can you fill me in?

    If you’re referring to the Green River Formation and related (Piceance?), there’s no oil there. Those contain kerogen, an oil precursor. It can be converted into oil with lots of energy applied and a good deal of water, both in short supply in the region; the Green River is more than spoken for. Exxon had great hopes long ago but walked away in 1982. Chevron had hoped to get the kerogen out with supercritical CO2, I believe, but gave back its leases last year. Shell has been sitting on leases in the Green River Formation for 30 years or more and has yet to put together a pilot project that I know of.
    It would be maybe the world’s most expensive oil if anyone ever figured out how to generate it.

    There was reference to editorial comment in Nature on Keystone XL, above. Here it is:

    …regarding the Keystone pipeline, the administration should face down critics of the project, ensure that environmental standards are met and then approve it…the pipeline is not going to determine whether the Canadian tar sands are developed or not. Only a broader–and much more important–shift in energy policy will do that. Nor is oil produced from the Canadian tar sands as dirty from a climate perspective as many believe (some of the oil produced in California, without attention from environmentalists, is worse.)

    The California oil referred to is from the Kern River field and has been produced for decades. We’d be better off without both that and the oil sands oil.

    As far as I know, Federal approval of the Keystone XL pipeline only applies to the part that crosses the Canada / US border. TransCanada certainly thinks so, and thus so do the customers who have signed up to ship oil on it. (Pipelines don’t even get out of the planning gate without agreement from shippers having been secured ahead of time, generally for contracts on the order of 15 years.) The company announced in early January that the part of the pipeline that will receive oil from the Bakken (North Dakota) will be built first if the customers want it in a hurry, as it does not require Federal approval. Similarly for the segment from Cushing to the Gulf. Assuming TransCanada is correct, then there are two pictures:

    Permit OKd. A pipeline will be built from Hardisty, Alberta to the Gulf Coast, crossing Alberta, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

    Permit denied. A pipeline will be built from Hardisty, Alberta to the Gulf Coast, crossing Alberta, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. There will be a gap in the line (a few miles?) at the Canada / US border. This would be the “kill Keystone XL dead” we’ve been hearing about.

    John Garland, I agree with you about whomping on dead horses. You can always trust a Newfie…

    • Horatio Algeranon

      I’m not aware of any oil sands in Utah. Can you fill me in?

      The terms “Utah tar sands” and “Utah oil sands” seem to be used fairly interchangeably, even by a company calling itself “US Oil Sands”(!) that recently received approval by a Utah state board for a mine in the Book Cliffs in eastern Utah

      But whatever you wish to call it (Oil sands, tar sands or bituminous sands), there is is clearly renewed interest of late.

      Whether the deposits in eastern Utah (which wiki refers to as “deposits of bitumen or heavy crude oil [with] the ability to generate about 12 to 19 billion barrels” based on the BLM report About Tar Sands) will ever get developed to a significant extent is certainly questionable.

      As an aside, it is interesting that “US Oil sands” is actually based in Alberta(!), which sort of brings into question the argument that denying the Keystone XL permit is somehow motivated by an attempt to give US projects (eg, in Utah) an advantage over Canadian competition.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      This CRS document Oil sands and the Keystone XL pipeline also has the basic definitions “tar sands”:

      Oil sands are sometimes described as tar sands, because both the bitumen in oil sands and tar are black and sticky. The term “tar” also refers to a man-made material, generated as a by-product of heating coal to extremely high temperatures, often during gas and coke production. In contrast, bitumen is a naturally occurring substance. The U.S. Geological Survey states that tar sands is a “generic term that has been used for several decades to describe petroleum-bearing rocks exposed on the Earth’s surface.”5Although some federal government resources refer to the deposits as tar sands,6the term seems to be most applied by opponents of oil sands development, as it arguably carries a negative connotation.

      The report also states

      “The estimated resource of U.S. oil sands is located in several states in varying amounts: Alaska (41%), Utah (33%),…”
      A comprehensive assessment of oil sands-related activities in the United States is beyond the scope of this report. Efforts to extract U.S. oil sands continue at several locations, particularly in Utah. A Canadian company, U.S. Oil Sands, owns leases in Utah that cover over 32,000 acres.19
      As of the date of this report, the company is in the process of obtaining required permits to begin relatively small-scale oil sands mining operations on approximately 200 acres of state-owned lands.20
      According to the company, it plans to begin operations in late 2013
      achieving an initial output of approximately 2,000 barrels per day.

      But then you could have found this information just as easily as Horatio….

    • Horatio Algeranon

      “There will be a gap in the line (a few miles?) at the Canada / US border. This would be the “kill Keystone XL dead” we’ve been hearing about.

      A pipeline with a “gap” (no matter how small) is an “interesting” concept…and more than a little amusing, though probably not to TransCanada, who are clearly concerned about the possibility.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      “The Border Bucket Brigade”
      — by Horatio Algeranon

      If Keystone is rejected
      There’ll be a border gap
      Which might then be corrected
      With buckets and a tap.

    • Horatio Algeranon


      Just saw your comment

      A search on “Utah Oil sands” after reading Dennis’ comment above also led Horatio to information about the Canadian company “US Oil Sands” (!) (see links above).

      Still wanna stick with your “US competitive advantage” theory? :)

      Might still be true, but this certainly puts a kink in it.

  47. Don’t see how. We are looking at first oil there soon ramping up to 50K barrels soon while complaining about the same product if it comes across the border from the north. The ownership of the company is not the point. The source of the product which is being blocked/not blocked is the point.

  48. dennis hibbert

    The reason I asked is that oil sands / tar sands / bitumen sands / oil shale / shale oil get used in very sloppy ways in the news media. The Utah stuff in the linked sources is of the same kind as the Alberta sands: sand hosting bitumen. If everyone called those bitumen sands there’d be less confusion. The Green River Formation / Green River Shale that I mentioned earlier is a different critter, hosting kerogen not bitumen or any other type of oil, but those rocks are called oil shales even though they contain no oil.

    The reference to the SAGD process at one of the links nails down that bitumen sands are the topic.

  49. dennis hibbert


    Thanks PJKar, John Garland, Horatio

  50. There will be a rally in DC on Feb 17th to tell Obama to show some leadership on this issue and put an end to the pipeline.


  51. Horatio Algeranon

    The following is from KEYSTONE PIPELINE PERMIT DENIAL IS SOUND ENERGY POLICY Posted on January 20th, 2012 by Adam Riedel

    and addresses several of the key issues

    “There is a reason why TransCanada, the company proposing the pipeline, has fought so hard for the Keystone pipeline and has vowed to reapply for approval of the pipeline with a slightly altered route: distance and resistance. With regards to distance, shipping the crude to China requires getting the oil sands-derived crude to a port and then shipping this crude via oil tanker to China, no small journey. The tanker trip adds an additional cost to the transportation of the oil thereby reducing the profitability of the oil. At certain prices, such an additional cost may render the export of the oil uneconomical. Regarding resistance, the approval of a pipeline route in Canada faces equal, if not greater, resistance than in the U.S…. ”

    “why does the denial of the pipeline permit make good energy policy? The policy argument in favor of denying the pipeline permit is that a denial does not contribute to the indefinite perpetuation of a fossil fuels-based energy system. A multi-billion dollar project such as the Keystone pipeline only makes economic sense based on projections of continued utility for decades to come. Thus, it creates a strong vested interest in the continuation of an energy system based on the combustion of fossil fuels and sends an unofficial message that fossil fuels are expected to play a major role in our energy system for decades to come. In this case, it ensures the viability of a particularly carbon intensive form of oil and would likely encourage additional development of oil sands projects. While we will not wean ourselves off of fossil fuels overnight, if new low-carbon energy sources are to become a major part of the U.S. and global energy system, policy signals need to be sent to markets and participants in the energy system that the current fossil fuel-based energy system is slowly winding down, not ramping up. The denial of the Keystone pipeline is just such a signal”

    • Exactly. One candy may not make or break your diet, but at some point you’ve got to stop putting your hand in the jar.

      This would be a good time…

      • Horatio Algeranon

        “The Albertarpit”
        — by Horatio Algeranon

        We reach into the candy jar
        And think that we have got ’em
        But we get caught by Albertar
        The tarpit on the bottom.

  52. “I never said, or implied, that I regard Keystone as the “most important issue of the day.” In my opinion it’s not. But it is an *opportunity*. A damn good one.”

    Exactivaliciously !!!. The Montreal to Portland, Maine pipeline is in our backyard in south-central Maine. We don’t want that planet-killing creosote sludge coming through Maine. Or Maine willingly enabling its delivery. So we can do what we can do here in Maine. Others can do what they can do where they are. This is how all political movements work. Just like voting.

  53. Horatio Algeranon

    “The Alberta Clause”
    — by Horatio Algeranon

    You doth protect too much, I think
    When you reject the Keystone link
    But I myself have noble cause
    When I invoke the “Alberta Clause”

  54. In this fight, our enemy has made it clear by their actions that a portion of every dollar they earn will go toward funding the denial machine. This is money that will be used to vilify scientists–comparing them to mass murderers and child rapists. This does not exactly predispose me to look for a “win-win” solution that benefits them as well as me. They’ve made it clear they want a fight to the death. If I can deprive them of a little oxygen, or a lot of oxygen, I’m gonna do it.

  55. @ John Garland: “The fact is this oil will reach market in the US or Asia. It can only be marginally delayed. Even Europe is a pretty easy reach through a potential link to Churchill or even the rail that already exists. The only thing that can change that is economics or some international treaty that Canada is highly unlikely to sign. Basically face it: This battle is already lost.”

    In other news, scientists discover that cold fusion can be made to work just by predicting its ultimate inevitability in a declarative sentence on the Internet.

  56. About Keystone XL, I’m sorry (not really) for the Tea Party libertarians, but it’s not going to happen,
    Not just because it does not make any rational sense to do so from a global climate perspective, but also because :

    1) It’s still imported oil.
    2) It’s not needed (the simple CAFE standards in place and in the making will reduce oil usage by 4 Keystone XL pipelines, indefinitely)
    3) The revenue from this product will go to a few libertarian billionaires that own the refineries, and we simply had enough of their hypocrisy on environmental issues here in the US.
    4) Renewables, increasing efficiency and transition to hybrid and electric vehicles is the fastest growing energy market here, since it makes perfect business sense, which reduces the need for more imported fossil fuel in the long run.
    5) Keystone XL creates fewer jobs over it’s lifetime than the renewable industry creates every month.
    6) We do not want the people of Alberta to poison themselves, nor lead the world into a spiral of increasing GHG emissions.
    7) We recognize that the world looks at the US to set the trend in global energy and climate policies.
    8) We have a president that has a brain, and who made a promise.
    9) Sandy.

  57. Horatio Algeranon

    Michael Klare makes the case for why Keystone matters in
    A Presidential Decision That Could Change the World
    The Strategic Importance of Keystone XL

    It seems that Klare (along with oil industry executives and Canadian government officials) would take issue with those who claim (without evidence) that it doesn’t.

    “Like an army bottled up geographically and increasingly at the mercy of enemy forces, the tar-sands producers see the completion of Keystone XL as their sole realistic escape route to survival. “Our biggest problem is that Alberta is landlocked,” the province’s finance minister Doug Horner said in January. “In fact, of the world’s major oil-producing jurisdictions, Alberta is the only one with no direct access to the ocean. And until we solve this problem… the [price] differential will remain large.”