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Sunday, 03 March 2013 08:19

State Department Keystone XL Study Ignores Impact on Climate Change

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ERIC ZUESSE FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT                  climate change

The U.S. State Department’s “Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Keystone XL Project”  released on Friday evening, makes no mention of the impact on the world’s climate that would result from construction of the proposed Pipeline.

The study does discuss “Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project,” but not the proposed project’s impacts on climate change. It finds that climate change will have no significant impact upon either the construction, or the operation, of the Pipeline.

In fact, a separate section, “Summary of Impacts,” summarizes the “Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project” by saying, “Climate change would have no substantive effects on construction of the proposed Project,” and, “Climate change would have no substantive effects on operation of the proposed Project.”


That is the only section that this study devotes to climate change.


Environmentalists oppose this Pipeline virtually entirely because of the impact that it would have on climate change: speeding it up. They are virtually uninterested in the impact climate change will have on the Pipeline. 

NASA’s James Hansen warned on 9 May 2012 in The New York Times, about the Alberta Canada tar-sands oil that this Pipeline would transport, by saying “It Will Be Game Over for the Climate” (you can see his reasoning if you click on that link) if this Pipeline to a Texas port ever does get constructed. However, he presented no analysis there of the climate-change impact specifically of the Keystone XL. He simply said that “Canada’s tar sands ... contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history,” and that “That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control.” Those were unanalyzed bare assertions.


Neither Hansen, nor anyone else, has actually performed any rigorous analysis of the various respective scenarios, in which the XL is built, versus each alternative possible scenario for Canada’s tar-sands oil to get transported to the world’s oil markets – such as via construction of an alternative pipeline, to either the West Coast of Canada, or the East Coast of Canada, both of which options are also being considered by Canada.


It is known that the cheapest way for Canada to get its tar-sands oil to major refineries, and thence to markets around the world, would be via the XL Pipeline to Texas, which is why there is such intense lobbying for it to be built. The refineries and ports on the Texas Gulf Coast are the cheapest for a pipeline to reach. It would maximize the profits for Alberta’s tar-oil producers, the amount of this oil that’s burned, and thus the speed of climate-change. 

What would actually be needed, for a real environmental impact analysis, and which the Obama Administration still refuses to supply, is an analysis of the main economically competitive pipeline-routes and destination-points, as regards the respective effect that each pipeline, if it were built, would have upon the average shipment cost for Alberta’s tar-sands-oil producers.


The cost to produce Alberta tar-sands oil, inclusive of shipment-costs (whether that be via XL or some other pipeline) is inevitably extremely high, not only because this oil requires far more refinery processing than normal oil, but also because Alberta is deeply landlocked and thus far from global ports – the shipment costs will eat up a lot of what would otherwise be profits for Alberta’s oil producers.


The oil-producers in Alberta naturally want their cost of production to be low enough to make it profitable for them to mine this oil. At present, the shipment-costs are prohibitive – basically via rail. XL is certainly the likeliest shipment-means to enable a substantial portion of Alberta’s tar-oil to be profitably exploited. Consequently, XL will result in a higher percentage of this oil being mined, and thus sold and burned, than would any other pipeline – either to the East Coast, or to the West Coast.


An authentic environmental impact statement would need to consist almost entirely of analyses of the respective cost-impacts of each of those three prospective pipeline-routes, so as to come up with scientific estimates of precisely how much more of Alberta’s tar-oil will be burned if XL is built, than if it is not built. The hope of environmentalists, of course, would be that, if the XL is not built, this oil would stay in the ground, not be burned at all. But no such analysis has even been performed.


Only then would it be possible for XL to be subject to anything more than the present massive lobbying campaign by the industries supporting the burning of this oil, versus the grassroots citizens’ organizations that are opposing it.


The “Executive Summary – Draft Supplemental EIS” that the Department issued along with the report, and which much of the press based their news reports on, is deceptive in presenting the study’s section 4.14 as being titled “Climate Change,” when in fact the full report shows the title of that section as being “Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project.” This was the only one of the study’s 43 sections whose title was abbreviated in the “Executive Summary” that most reporters saw. This abbreviation of the title there gave reporters the false impression that this section dealt with what they assumed it did: the proposed pipeline’s effect on climate change. However, if one actually looks at that section, this topic is not covered there, nor is it covered anywhere else in the report.


On the present course, it is clear that XL will be built, and that the climate change impact of the proposed project will simply be ignored.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity

(Photo: ItzaFineDay)