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2013 SkS News Bulletin #8: Alberta Tar Sands and Keystone XL Pipeline

Posted on 20 April 2013 by John Hartz

  • Cooking the books
  • Dilbit or not? Wabasca crude is the question
  • GOP still pushing false Keystone job numbers
  • How the Keystone XL pipeline would hasten climate change
  • Keystone opponents deepen criticism
  • Keystone pipeline hearing in Nebraska
  • Keystone XL oil pipeline exacerbates climate change
  • Keystone XL pipeline press conferences
  • Tar sands is worse than you can imagine
  • U.S. House tries again to force Keystone pipeline approval
  • Why Tar sands pipelines guarantee disaster

Cooking the Books

A new report out today from environmental groups shows that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would, if approved, be responsible for at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, comparable to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants.

Cooking the Books: The True Climate Impact of Keystone XL by David Turnbull, Apr 16, 2013

Dilbit or not? Wabasca crude is the question

“Can the oil accurately be described as tar sands oil, or a type of diluted bitumen (dilbit)?” the EPA asked in an April 5 letter to Exxon.

Dilbit or not? Wabasca crude is the question by Maria Gallucci, InsideClimate News, Apr 18, 2013

GOP still pushing false Keystone job numbers

The Keystone XL Pipeline has been catapulted back in the spotlight of the House of Representatives this week, with Republicans continuing to waste taxpayer dollars rehashing who has the power to approve the project. Meanwhile, the State Department will be hosting a public hearing in Nebraska today to give residents a chance to comment on the pipeline that will disrupt their local communities.

Grade inflation: GOP still pushing false Keystone job numbers by Tiffany Germane, Climate Progress, Apr 18, 2013

How the Keystone XL pipeline would hasten climate change

A new report found the pipeline would send at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year into the atmosphere -- equal to emissions from 51 coal-fired power plants.

Revealed: How the Keystone XL Pipeline Would Hasten Climate Change, Environment News Service/Alternet, Apr 17, 2013 

Keystone opponents deepen criticism

Two new reports, put out by a cross-section of U.S. environmental and public interest groups, are attacking central rationales for the construction of a major new Canada-U.S. oil pipeline proposal, which has emerged as an emblematic cause for green groups who have angrily denounced a U.S. government approvals process.

Keystone Opponents Deepen Criticism of Proposed Pipeline by Carey L. Biron, Inter Press Service (IPS), Apr 16, 2013

Keystone pipeline hearing in Nebraska

Opponents and supporters of a massive Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline converged on a snowy Nebraska town Thursday for what could become a pivotal moment for the project.

Despite a spring storm that brought sleet and snow to Nebraska, the U.S. State Department hearing in Grand Island was expected to draw at least several hundred people from the state as well as activists from outside the region who consider the state a key battleground over the Keystone XL pipeline.

Keystone pipeline hearing draws opponents and supporters in Nebraska, AP/Politico,  April 18, 2013 

Keystone XL oil pipeline exacerbates climate change

A new study suggests that permitting more tar sands oil to flow would raise greenhouse gas pollution by the equivalent of nearly 40 million cars and trucks.

Keystone XL oil pipeline exacerbates climate change by David Biello, Scientific American, April 17, 2013

Keystone XL Pipeline press conferences

Prior to the Keystone XL public hearing held Thursday, April 18, at the Heartland Convention Center in Grand Island, two simultaneous press conventions were held only several hundred feet apart, yet remained worlds apart in their perspectives regarding the highly controversial Canadian tar-sand pipeline.

Keystone XL Pipeline press conferences by Greg Awtry, York (Nebraska) News Times, Apr 19, 2013

Tar sands is worse than you can imagine

AlterNet is teaming up with the Post Carbon Institute to bring you mind-blowing images and stories that will inspire you to take action.

Tar Sands Is Worse Than You Can Imagine: Incredible Images You Have to See by Leslie Moyer, AlterNet, April 15, 2013

U.S. House tries again to force Keystone pipeline approval

A House subcommittee has taken the first step toward legislation that would push through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, bypassing the State Department and the White House while limiting other regulatory and court reviews.

House Tries Again To Force Keystone Pipeline Approval by John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News, Apr 17, 2013

Why tar sands pipelines guarantee disaster

We just don't know what the exact magnitude of the disaster will be.

Why Tar Sands Pipelines Guarantee Disaster by Michael Brune, AlterNet, Apr 10, 2013


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Comments 1 to 15:

  1. If you have a plan not to use the oil which Keystone would deliver, why do you need Obama to reject it? Why not let the market stop it. Global warming is caused by consumers, not suppliers.

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  2. @jyushchyshyn:

    If the Keystone XL were to be approved, the refined product would be sold to the highest bidder -- most likely China.

    The primary cause of manmade climate change is the burning of fossil fuels. Keeping the reamaining deposits of fossil fuels in the ground ensures that they will not be burned. 

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  3. I'd like to address the idea that stopping Keystone XL will result in the oil sands being left in the ground.

    The permit that the White House will accept or reject applies to the portion of the pipeline that actually crosses the US / Canada border, not to the rest of it.  Last year Canada exported more crude oil, mostly from the oil sands but some from the Bakken (which is mostly in North Dakota and Montana, not Canada) than in any previous year, and did so without the Keystone XL.  The oil was taken by truck from the fields to rail-loading terminals, and that whole part of the rairoad industry is being expanded rapidly.  This effort will grow anyway, but especially if Keystone XL is turned down.

    The TransMountain pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby near Vancouver is to see a second pipeline open by 2017, in the existing right of way; no approvals needed.  The resulting combined capacity will be 850 000 barrels a day, which is larger than the planned capacity for Keystone XL.  This pipeline supplies crude to refineries in Washington State.

    Enbridge is planning expansion of its existing network for delivering oil that will make its way to the Gulf Coast, aiming for a daily volume that, again, is larger than that planned for Keystone XL.

    The above two projects aren't getting the attention Keystone XL is, but they represent more than twice the capacity that pipeline would have, and they serve to carry Canadian oil to the US.

    The southern portion of the Keystone XL-associated, get the crude to the Gulf Coast, program is already under construction, and will help drain the backup at Cushing, Oklahoma, which has pushed down crude prices in the Midwest.  There is no Federal approval required, as the pipeline will operate within the US.  Currently, Midwest refiners are taking advantage of this low-cost crude to produce gasoline and diesel and sell those products, at world not Midwest prices, to Latin America and the Caribbean, just as Gulf Coast refiners would be able to do with crude delivered by Keystone XL.

    So:  Keystone XL would lower the price of transporting Canadian crude to Gulf Coast refineries but that oil is making its way there now and will continue to do so, in increasing quantity, Keystone XL or not.  Denying the permit will not keep the oil sands from being used--will certainly not result in the oil remaining in the ground.

    The way to keep oil in the ground is to reduce the demand for the products refined from it, not to convince ourselves that pushing up the transport price of crude will get people out of their cars.

    All this is taking attention away from the huge amounts of coal which is not only still being used in the US (though use is declining)  but which the US is exporting to Europe in large quantity.  Export terminals planned for locations on the coasts of Oregon and Washington will allow a great deal more coal to be sent to eastern Asia, if those ports are built.  Coal is a worse producer of greenhouse gases and other nasties than crude from the oil sands is.

    In view of all the above, focusing on Keystone XL seems to me to be a case of skewed priorities.  Coal is a worthier target but it isn't getting the attention it deserves.

    By the way:  tar is a refinery product, not a type of oil.  Canada's oil sands produce bitumen, which is heavy oil.

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  4. Synapsid:

    Stopping the Keystone XL piplein will not, of and by itself, prevnet the further mining of the Alberta Tar Sands. On the other hand, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will ensure the mining of the Alberta Tar Sands for at least the next 50 years. 

    The construction of a second TransMountain pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby near Vancouver is not a "done deal" by any stretch of the imagination. For example, 

    The leader of British Columbia’s opposition New Democratic Party said increased oil-tanker traffic from Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (KMP)’s proposed pipeline expansion is bad for the province, the Vancouver Sun reported.

    Adrian Dix is opposed to Vancouver becoming a “major oil export port,” as a result of Kinder Morgan’s plan to expand its Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta, the newspaper quoted Dix as saying today. Dix is campaigning to unseat the governing Liberals.

    Kinder Morgan, based in Houston, is proposing a C$5.4 billion ($5.3 billion) expansion of its Trans Mountain line to 890,000 barrels a day from 300,000 currently. British Columbia’s election is May 14.

    Source: British Columbia’s Dix Negative on Trans Mountain, Sun Reports by  Rebecca Penty, Bloomberg, Apr 22, 2013


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  5. Monday, April 22, 2013 was the final date for receipt of comments on the US State Department's most recent draft Supplemental EIS on the construction of the northern leg of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

    To access the comments submitted by the US Environmental Protection Agency, click here.

    To access the comments submitted by a consortium of sixteen environmental and public interest organizations based in the US and Canada, click here

    The analysis submitted by the sixteen member consortium is in the form of a 216 page report. Appended to this report is a 64 page "Market Report" prepared by The Goldman Group, LTD.    

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  6. John Hartz:

    Yep, there's plenty of opposition to expanding the TransMountain pipeline and shipping even more oil out of Vancouver; the oil tankers barely make it under the bridge now.  There's also opposition to reversing Line 9 to take western Canadian oil to eastern Canada.  Maybe neither project will fly.  The point is that the oil industry isn't just sitting and gnawing its knuckles over what the White House will do about Keystone XL.  There are other options being worked on.  Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe is doing well shipping crude south and so is Canadian National, and both have orders in for as many tank cars as can be produced.  Cutting demand (I'm not holding my breath) would eventually stop the flow of Canadian crude south, but forcing continued trans-shipment on one pipeline route will not keep the oil in the ground and that is the topic I addressed.

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  7. @Synapsid #6:

    I highly recommend that you read Taking the Reins, a recently released report by the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute. It concludes that the public interest best served by slowing down the bitumen production of the Alberta Tar Sands. 

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  8. Yes, some, probably most of the oil, natural gas and coal, must be left in the ground, The way to do so is not to stop pipelines, but to use alternate energy, rather than gasoline and diesel for transportation. If we can get everybody to drive an electric car in the next few years, then whether or not Keystone is built will be moot.

    And concerns to the effect that Keystone XL could be used for overseas exports can be addressed by not allowing it to be used to do so as a condition of allowing it to be built.

    Unless we are hoping to get a shortage of oil, rejecting Keystone will not reduce consumption. And if we do get that shortage, expect a massive backlash. Global warming deniers already want to throw climatolgists in jail. And what is wrong with leaving Venezuelan oil in the ground?

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  9. The above article, "Tar sands is worse than you can imagine," includes a link to a video about luxury cars. What's wrong with this picture?

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  10. John Hartz:

    Yes, Albertans would be better off--we'd all be better off--if development of the oil sands were slowed, no question about it.  I'd like to be a fly on the wall when the provincial government tries to bring that about, not that that is likely.  As a colleague in the Alberta oil patch put it:  Albertans like oil companies, and they don't like taxes.  His view may be slanted, of course.  For that matter, North Dakotans would be better off if oil production from the Bakken were slowed; aside from the societal strains, 30% of the natural gas that comes off with the oil is being flared because the infrastructure to collect it and transport it to a market doesn't exist. The state government of North Dakota could stop that tomorrow:  No more oil production until NG can be collected and sent to market--no more flaring.  That's Alberta's approach.  North Dakota doesn't do that, I expect because of lost tax and severance income.

    I'm no fan of Keystone XL or of any pipeline or hydrocarbon project.  We'd be much better off if we got off fossil fuels altogether, and one useful step would be to substitute NG for coal wherever possible on the way to that fossil-fuel-free garden we can see in our dreams.  That won't happen in a hurry, particularly because as NG becomes more expensive and more is produced it will become, once again, more expensive than coal.  (There are markets for NG, and demand, but it will take higher prices than current ones to make drilling for it in the US economic again.)  My point is that Keystone XL is not the game changer / end of the world as we know it that it all too often seems to be thought to be.  Stop coal.  Put the effort being directed at Keystone XL into stopping coal.  There's great demand for coal in this world, and its production could be increased several fold as that demand grows (China; India for starters)--and that is not the case with oil.  There's a reason that more and more effort and money have been expended in more and more difficult settings (deep offshore; below the salt off Brazil) to obtain oil that is more and more expensive:  that's what is left.  All the new production we hear about is just about matching decline in production from the really big fields that have been yielding for years.

    jyushchyshyn (Kirgiz?):  An interesting idea, that of not allowing Keystone XL to be built except with the condition that products refined from the crude it would carry not be allowed to be exported.  I don't know how it would work.  The crude would belong to whoever bought it from the producing companies in the oil sands, who might be refiners or companies that will sell it to refiners.  That would happen in Canada.  The US can't interfere with internal business in Canada, and the US would not own the pipeline, either.  Besides, US Midwest refiners are doing that very thing right now, as they buy Canadian crude backed up at Cushing, Oklahoma where prices are very low because of the glut, and sell gasoline and diesel refined from it in Latin America and the Carribean at prices comparable to products refined from $100 / barrel crude available on the world market.  They're coining money at the moment.

    Recall that approval from the White House applies to the part of the pipeline that actually crosses the US / Canada border.  The White House has no control over the part of the pipeline within the country, and I mentioned earlier that the southern part of the overall plan, from Cushing, OK to Texas Gulf-Coast refineries, is under construction right now.  President Obama gave his approval but that carries no weight--he has no power to approve or disapprove that stretch.

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  11. Synapsid:

    Recommend that you acquaint yourself with the Sierra Club's Beyond Caol Campaign which began in 2002. Here's a breif overview from the Sierra Club's website.

    Not only is coal burning responsible for one third of US carbon emissions—the main contributor to climate disruption—but it is also making us sick, leading to as many as 13,000 premature deaths every year and more than $100 billion in annual health costs.

    The Beyond Coal campaign’s main objective is to replace dirty coal with clean energy by mobilizing grassroots activists in local communities to advocate for the retirement of old and outdated coal plants and to prevent new coal plants from being built.

    Our goals include:

    Retiring one-third of the nation’s more than 500 coal plants by 2020

    Replacing the majority of retired coal plants with clean energy solutions such as wind, solar, and geothermal

    Keeping coal in the ground in places like Appalachia and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin

    Click here for more details.

    In the interest of full disclsure, I am an active member of the Sierra Club.

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  12. John Hartz:

    Sure, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace and other organizations are doing their bit, and none of them are getting the attention that Bill McKibben has managed to focus on Keystone XL, more's the pity.


    I was a member of the Sierra Club for 24 years myself.

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  13. @Synapsid #12:

    You need to better understand the breadth and depth of the international coalition that has been created around the Stop Keystone Movement. The leadership of the Sierra Club is walking and working hand-in-hand with Bill McKibben and a myriad of others on this effort.

    Leaving aside the impact that the burning of petroleum products derived from the Alberta Tar Sands has on greenhouse gas emissions, the mining of the tar sands is one of the biggest ecological disasters ever to have been created by the human race. There are a myriad of environmental reasons why the mining of the Tar Sands should be brought to a halt.

    Your belief that the Stop the Keystone movement is diverting significant resources away from other ongoing campaigns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in North America is simply wrong.

    Your belief that Bill McKibben is focusing all of his time and energy on stopping the Keystone pipeline is also wrong. He and his colleagues in are continuing to develop a world-wide coalition of organizations dedicated to creating a grassroots movement focused on climate change. He and his colleagues are continuing their campaign to get universities and colleges to disinvest in the fossil fuel industry.

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  14. John Hartz:

    "...walking and working of the biggest ecological disasters ever to have been created by the human race...continuing to develop a world-wide coalition of organizations dedicated to creating a grassroots (!) movement...campaign to get universities and colleges to disinvest in the fossil fuel industry..."

    More power to them all; every bit helps.

    My belief that Bill McKibben is focusing all of his time and energy on stopping the Keystone pipeline--I'm unaware of that belief.  I mentioned the attention McKibben has managed to focus on Keystone XL.  He has done that.  The rest of the statement comes from you.

    Ranking ecological disasters is a fool's game.  Mining the Athabasca oil sands  has had ghastly effects over a large area.  Right up there with what coal mining has done over large areas of Kentucky and West Virginia and Wyoming and Montana, with what the US Army Corps of Engineers has been told to do to natural drainage in Florida, with what Glen Canyon Dam has done to a chunk of southern Utah, with what has been done to the East Coast from New Jersey south (with the exception of North Carolina), with what the Aswan High Dam has done to Egypt...there's no end to the list.  I don't support any of it.  I'm pointing at coal and saying that the problem it represents needs much more visibility, and I'm doing that because the potential damage from utilization of coal is of a higher order of magnitude than is the damage from oil, bad as that is.  There are vast reserves of coal, and they're found in many parts of the world, and the demand for energy in countries with large and growing populations that want a Western lifestyle--that demand will grow and grow.  (The US and Australia are among the largest exporters of coal helping to meet that demand.)  Coal is and will continue to be the favored energy source in those countries, starting with China and India and their 2.5 billion people.  Coal production can be ramped up several fold but oil production cannot.  Got that last part?  If we don't tackle that, every way we can, with much greater effort and visibility than we have so far, then all the other efforts to cut back fossil fuels will be undermined even more than they are now.

    Want a mantra?  Here:  Coal is the climate killer.  Snappy; might have legs.

    The disinvesting campaign will likely do some good, but have you looked into how much money China has put into the oil sands?  China's first-right-of-refusal agreements for Venezuela's oil?  Similar moves in Brazil (China might come to regret those)?  Disinvest in fossil fuels, for good and worthy reasons, and you will send a message all right, and China will respond with, as they say, alacrity.  That's the downside we can't avoid.

    Let's give this a rest, out of consideration for the other readers on SKS.  I'm repeating my repetitions, and hearing about coalitions of organizations dedicated to_______________(fill in the blank) lost my sympathy decades ago.  May those folks all prosper and have daughters.

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  15. Synapsid:

    The environmental/progressive community in the US and Canada is fully engaged in a multi-faceted effort to slow and eventually halt the extraction of fossil fuels in North America.  It is quite capable of adressing coal, oil, and natural simultaneously.

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