Common sense on Keystone XL and GHGs

The US State Department released its Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Assessment on the Keystone XL oil pipeline today, and it contains a lot of good news for Alberta.  You can read the Executive Summary of the Assessment here or the full report may be accessed here.

At first glance, the report is unconditionally good news for the project and for Alberta.  I hope to have the time to read it in more detail over the next few days, and also to tuning into comments from other sources on this project. Based on my early read, here are some thoughts:

On GHG emissions, a key objection that many have to increased oilsands imports, the assessment concluded that “crude oil delivered to PADD II and PADD III refineries by the Project are likely to be replacing heavy crude oil from other less reliable and diminishing sources. Assuming constant demand for refined oil products, the incremental impact of the Project on GHG emissions would be minor.” In the detailed report, the analysis confirms that, “…the proposed Project would not substantially influence the rate or magnitude of oil extraction activities in Canada, or the overall volume of crude oil transported to the U.S. or refined in the U.S.”  Together, these supported that conclusion that, “from a global perspective, the project is not likely to result in incremental GHG emissions.”

The analysis takes an important further step in assessing the future impacts of the pipeline on GHG emissions, and comes up with what you will likely find to be a surprising conclusion. They find that, “it is likely that GHG intensity for future reference crude oils (i.e. alternatives to oilsands) will be trending upward while the GHG intensity for WCSB oil sands-derived crude oils will be relatively constant to slightly upward. If this is the case, the differential in life-cycle GHG emissions for fuels refined from these crude oils is likely to decrease.”  In other words, if you look ahead to the operational horizon of this project, other sources of crude will become more emissions intensive faster than oilsands.

This report is a welcome break from the rhetoric that would suggest that oilsands, in and of themselves, are responsible for an atrocious climate crime. The reality, of course, is that oil in general is tied to carbon emissions, and thus to climate change.  If you want a reduction in carbon emissions, fight for a carbon price not for blocking a single source of oil.

7 responses to “Common sense on Keystone XL and GHGs”

  1. Alberta prof: State Dept. report good news for pipeline | BILATERALIST

    […] You can read his full commentary on the report at his blog, Rescuing the Frog, here. […]

  2. State Dept. gives good news to oil sands - Savage Washington - Macleans.ca

    […] reading the report, but environmentalists are already attacking it. An Alberta business professor opines that it is full of good news for the oil […]

  3. David Sands

    Andrew, I suspect we’ll see many groups arguing State still got it wrong.

    The comment about the intensities of other crudes rising while oil sands derived does not, or rises less, is something I’ve tried to explain repeatedly, but obviously I lack the credibility of an objective third party. And, I disagree that oil sands necessarily will remain steady or rise slightly in intensity: The record shows significant reductions, but critics dismiss the chance that R&D will continue that record.

    (To be fair, it’s not for State to guess at the next breakthrough. And to be equally fair to “my side,” it’s not unreasonable to expect that there will be one. Look around your own campus at how many researchers are working on it.)

    I don’t think *we* should be vehemently arguing about the 17% figure, either. Our studies show 5% to 15%. NRDC argues something like 82%. Greenpeace keeps yelling 300%. The EPA is, what, 42%? Yes, they are all different contexts, but how fair is that “positioning” of the discussion to the average person who may want to reach an informed opinion without devoting hours to sorting the entrails? Not very, I believe.

    The quote I read in the Journal from Friends of the Earth (Shaun’s story) was that they were pleased that State found “much higher” intensity in oil sands. I doubt very much FoE et al are actually going to adopt the 17% number. I could, if permitted. I’d be happy to see *one* distracting, unhelpful propaganda argument removed from this discussion, and move on to: It’s 17% higher, can something be done about that, or is it better to drill baby drill somewhere else?

    Thanks for the post.

    – David Sands (who is a GoA PR guy)

  4. cc'd

    What appears to be absent in the report is a discussion of the climate change accord agreed to by both the U.S. and Canada. With many nations showing effort to adhere to these targets, how does it appear on the international front with Canada committed to a 17% reduction by 2020, or 607 MT of CO2?

    Approval of the pipeline guarantees increased ability of our resource to ship across the border into a thirsty neighbours cup. So with an increase in production comes an increase in emissions. With current oil sands growth, CO2 emissions are expected to increase by about 100MT.

    The graphs here:
    http://www.climatechange.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=DC025A76-1
    show a big gap to make up an international target.

    I would expect a state report detailing the environmental impacts of an international project would mention what that project would do to an international agreement, but unfortunately, the DOS did not conduct a review of the impact on Canada’s emissions.

    Oh well… maybe next time…

  5. EEDC Oilsands Event Recap

    […] be produced domestically or imported into the US is not that large. As far as Keystone XL goes, the bureaucrats at the State Department realize this, and the EPA comments which followed didn’t actually say much more than that.  We can and […]

  6. Keep Alberta Oil in the Ground

    […] Keep Alberta Oil in the GroundBy Andrew on July 11, 2011 In case you missed it, today’s Globe and Mail features an op-ed by 350.org founder Bill McKibben titled Keep Alberta Oil in the Ground. In the article, McKibben specifically mentions an Economy Lab post of mine on the Keystone XL pipeline debate.  I have also run some similar numbers on this blog here and here. […]

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