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2013 SkS News Bulletin #1: Alberta Tar Sands, Keystone XL Pipeline, and Forward on Climate Rally

Posted on 23 February 2013 by John Hartz

  • Adding to Canada's environmental downfall
  • Biggest environmental rally in decades
  • Keystone XL and Obama's legacy on climate change
  • New study to examine health impact of Alberta tar sands
  • Ominous sign for Keystone XL
  • One-sided poll tells the story big oil wants you to hear
  • Solutions for climate change aren’t either/or
  • Supporters Of Keystone XL outspend opponents
  • Tar sands mining uses up almost as much energy as it produces
  • What will Obama's 'green quarterback' mean for Keystone XL?

Adding to Canada's environmental downfall

The choice President Obama has faced in recent weeks – whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline – has been framed as a choice between losing the support of environmentalists or alienating America's key ally, Canada. Here's a better approach: President Obama should use the Keystone XL pipeline issue to send a message to Canada that its environmental policies are damaging to both Canada and the world.

The Keystone XL pipeline will only add to Canada's environmental downfall by Heather McRobie, The Guardian, Feb 21, 2013

Biggest Environmental Rally in Decades

As many as 40,000 protesters from 30 states descended on the White House on Sunday and demanded that President Obama kill the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. By the estimates of organizers, it was the biggest protest march for climate change action in the nation's history.
In about 18 cities from Boston to Los Angeles, thousands more participated in solidarity rallies—and helped garner unusual nationwide media attention for an issue that has typically slipped under the local media radar.

Biggest Environmental Rally in Decades Attracts Nationwide Media Attention by Stacy Fieldman, Inside Climate News, Feb 18, 2013 

Keystone XL and Obama's legacy on climate change

Does the president have courage to say 'no' to a project that will lock us into decades of dependency on this dirty energy?

Keystone XL decision will define Barack Obama's legacy on climate change by John Abraham, Environmental Blog, The Guardian, Feb 22, 2013

New study to examine health impact of Alberta  tar sands

An independent study will soon be launched into the health effects of the oilsands on nearby communities.

Partially funded by the provincial and federal governments, the study will be overseen by University of Calgary sociology professor Cora Voyageur and will re-examine cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan, a native community about 220 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

Links to other health issues, including autism, will also be explored as researchers try to determine if contaminants from industrial developments are causing illnesses in residents of Fort Chipewyan and Fort MacKay, the native community closest to operations in the oilsands.

New study to examine health impact of Alberta oilsands by Marty Liinkenberg, Edmonton Journal, Feb 20, 2013

Ominous sign for Keystone XL

In yet another potentially ominous sign for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, John Kerry used his first major address as secretary of state on Wednesday to make an urgent call for comprehensive action on climate change.

John Kerry comes out swinging on climate change; ominous sign for Keystone XL by Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press/MacLeans, February 20, 2013

One-sided poll tells the story big oil wants you to hear

After a weekend during which tens of thousands of Americans took to the streets to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and demand solutions to the climate crisis, the American Petroleum Institute (API) is touting a one-sided poll they claim shows Americans supporting the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline.

However, a closer look at their poll questions unveils a biased survey which failed to equip respondents with the basic facts of the project before asking them to form an opinion. Instead, API crafted a poll to ensure they got the types of answers they were looking for by totally ignoring the environmental and economic realities of the toxic pipeline from Canada.

One-Sided Keystone XL Poll Tells the Story Big Oil Wants You To Hear by Grace McRae, Sierra Club Compass, Feb 20, 2013 

Piscataway Nation welcomes Canadian Chiefs, Forward on Climate Rally to Washington, DC

On February 17, I am joining tens of thousands of people on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., along with tens of thousands more in cities and towns across the nation, in what will be the largest climate action in US history.
The Piscataway Tribe has graciously extended a welcome to our First Nation guests from British Columbia, Canada, and to ALL of us. Thank you Chief Billy Tayac and thank you everyone who is descending on Washington, DC, from around the nation for the Forward on Climate Rally!

Piscataway Nation Welcomes Canadian Chiefs, Forward on Climate Rally to WDC by Evangaline Lilly, Sierra Club Compass, Feb 16, 2013

Solutions for climate change aren’t either/or

Last week, we posted a video interview with Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, in which he explained why the organization had decided to break a 120-year prohibition on civil disobedience to protest the Keystone pipeline. In this guest post, Brune shares his thoughts on Sunday’s climate change rally and responds to some of the critics who question whether Keystone is the right focus for the environmental movement right now.

Solutions for Climate Change Aren’t Either/Or by Michael Brune, Moyers & Company, Feb 20, 2013

Supporters of Keystone XL outspend opponents

At least fifty oil companies, business trade associations, labor unions, and political groups with combined lobbying budgets of more than $178 million lobbied Washington in support of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in 2012. And the dozen groups lobbying against the environmentally risky project had 2012 lobbying budgets of less than $5 million total, a ThinkProgress analysis reveals.

Supporters Of Keystone XL Outspend Opponents 35 To 1 by Josh Israel, Think Progress/Climate Progess, Feb 20, 2013

Tar sands mining uses up almost as much energy as it produces

The average "energy returned on investment," or EROI, for conventional oil is roughly 25:1. In other words, 25 units of oil-based energy are obtained for every one unit of other energy that is invested to extract it.
But tar sands oil is in a category all its own.
Tar sands retrieved by surface mining has an EROI of only about 5:1, according to research released Tuesday. Tar sands retrieved from deeper beneath the earth, through steam injection, fares even worse, with a maximum average ratio of just 2.9 to 1. That means one unit of natural gas is needed to create less than three units of oil-based energy.

Oil Sands Mining Uses Up Almost as Much Energy as It Produces by Rachel Nuwer, Inside Climate News, feb 19, 2013

What will Obama's 'green quarterback' mean for Keystone XL?

U.S. President Barack Obama is poised to nominate his "green quarterback," a longtime air quality expert who has been a champion for tougher carbon emissions standards, as head of the powerful Environmental Protection Agency.
Gina McCarthy, who currently heads the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, reportedly has the inside track to replace Lisa Jackson, who officially stepped down from the agency last week.
The 58-year-old McCarthy's ascension proves the president is serious about battling climate change, observers say, and certainly isn't expected to help clear the path for TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

What will Obama's 'green quarterback' mean for Keystone XL?, The Canadian Press/CBC News, Feb 21, 2013

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Comments 1 to 8:

  1. Stopping the Keystone Pipeline will not stop global warming, nor will building it stop people from driving electric cars or installing solar panels on the homes. OPEC oil is not green. The amount of natural gas which OPEC nations flare is enough to supply the combined needs of Germany and France. And it would be good to end the threat of oil spills from oil tankers.

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  2. jyushchyshyn,

    The bottom issue with this pipeline (also expressed by Mike Mann on his FB page) is that it will widen the bottleneck of Alberta tar sand mining operations, potentially making the operation of retrieval all of that tar sand (including EROI of only 2.9:1) economically viable. The insuing exploitation has the potential of 0.5K global warming.

    I would go further with my comment here: this is the investement fosterring more FF extraction. With every infrastructure investment like this, the longer and better it serves its purpose (i.e. the more tar sand oil it tranports) the better its economic return value. We want all investments to have the best returns. But in this case, it is in contradiction to the assertions by scientists that all high-emission FF should be left in the ground.

    The issue has nothing to do with your assertions about what OPEC nations are doing or about oil spills from tankers.

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  3. jyushchyshyn:

    Anyone could claim "stopping fossil fuel development X will not stop global warming" and be correct for any single fossil fuel development.

    However, if such an excuse is allowed to stand for the aggregate of fossil fuel developments under consideration, then we will have failed to achieve any sort of decarbonisation whatsoever.

    Suffice to say, such an unproductive course of action is unwise.

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  4. Speaking of "Forward on Climate", the San Diego Forward on Climate rally featured a genuine "boots on the ice" climate-scientist, Dr. Jeffrey Severinghaus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

    Here are a couple of video clips of his remarks -- shaky video, not a great vantage point,  but the sound quality isn't too bad:

    Video clip #1

    Video clip #2

    In a sane world, Fox News, talk-radio hosts etc. would have Dr. Severinghaus on speed-dial.

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  5. A question. From Oil Sands Mining Uses Up Almost As Much Energy As It Produces, there are two quotes:

    The average "energy returned on investment," or EROI, for conventional oil is roughly 25:1... Tar sands retrieved by surface mining has an EROI of only about 5:1

    When the entire life cycle of the fuels is considered—including production, transportation and burning the final product— the greenhouse gas differential between conventional oil and tar sands oil is about 20 percent.

    How is it that these two quotes are not in contradiction to each other, so that there is a factor of 5 in terms of EROI and only 20% in terms of CO2 emission?


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  6. JoeT@5,

    Let's consident an example:

    Say, you want to buy 100kg of gasoline.

    1. If from conventional oil: EROI 25:1 -> they need to produce 104kg and burn 4kg of it (assuming the process is self bootstrapping at 100% efficiency) in order to sell you 100kg -> their emissions + youres emissions from 104kg of gasoline burning
    2. If from tar sands: EROI 5:1 -> they procude 120kg and burn 20 -> their emissions + youres emissions from 120kg of gasoline burning

    So the emission difference is 120 - 104 = 16 which is 16/104 = 15% of the conventional emissions.

    That 15% is the ideal minimum with a rather simplistic if not silly assumption of 100% efficiency at the refinery. In the real world, due to that efficiency being below 100% and likely the tar sand mining operations sourcing  their energy insitu bootstrapping from the "dirtier tar sand", therefore less evnironmentally friendly to start with, the actual figure of 20% more emissions sounds reasonable.

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  7. chriskoz@6

    Thanks. That was very helpful.

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  8. Wow. When someone brought up that API opinion poll I was suspicious of it but I couldn't find the questions to check. I wouldn't have believed that it could be as blatantly biased as that. At least now if ever anyone quotes the results in support of their argument you have definitive proof that they are not genuinely sceptical.

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