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2014 SkS News Bulletin #1: Keystone XL Pipeline

Posted on 7 February 2014 by John Hartz

  • 7 facts that weren’t in the new State Dept. report on Keystone XL
  • Approving Keystone XL could be the biggest mistake of Obama's presidency
  • EPA scrutiny could be lynchpin to Keystone review process
  • Keystone a green light? Not so fast
  • Keystone pipeline: Americans divided on impact of report’s findings
  • Keystone pipeline: Obama’s unpleasant options
  • Keystone review leaves door open for Obama approval, or rejection
  • Keystone XL decision highlights coziness between oil and gas industry, Obama Administration
  • Keystone XL unites environmentalists and landowners in pipeline battle
  • Obama won’t rush Keystone decision, White House says
  • So what exactly is Obama's red line on Keystone XL?
  • Ten key numbers in the Keystone XL pipeline report
  • The anti-Keystone forces are already winning
  • White House vows to keep Keystone call above 'political influence'

7 facts that weren’t in the new State Deptartment report on Keystone XL

The State Department released its final supplemental environmental impact statement on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on Friday. Critics and supporters of the pipeline alike have awaited the report, ever since President Obama last year singled out carbon pollution as a parameter in Keystone’s national interest calculation.

7 Facts That Weren’t In The New State Department Report On Keystone XL by Ryan Koronowski, Climate Progress, Jan 31, 2014

Approving Keystone XL could be the biggest mistake of Obama's presidency

I have made my position on the Keystone XL pipeline quite clear. Approving this hotly debated pipeline would send America down the wrong path. The science tells us now is the time that we should be throwing everything we have into creating a clean 21st century energy economy, not doubling down on the dirty energy that is imperiling our planet.

Now that the State Department has just released a final environmental impact report on Keystone XL, which appears to downplay the threat, and greatly increases the odds that the Obama administration will approve the project, I feel I must weigh in once again.

The simple fact is this: if Keystone XL is built, it will be easier to exploit fossil fuel reserves large enough to drastically destabilize the climate. A direct pipeline to refineries and global markets makes the business of polluting the atmosphere that much cheaper and easier.

Approving Keystone XL could be the biggest mistake of Obama's presidency, Op-ed by Michael Mann, Comment is free, The Guardian, Jan 31, 2014

EPA scrutiny could be lynchpin to Keystone review process

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's critical assessment of the proposed northern leg of the Keystone pipeline could have outsized influence on the final decision of whether to approve the project, experts familiar with the process said.

Friday's State Department report contained the EPA's evaluation that crude produced from Canada's oil sands, which the pipeline would carry, are 17 percent more greenhouse gas intensive than average oil used in the United States. The EPA also said oil sands imports would be 2-10 percent more greenhouse-gas intensive than imported oil from Mexico or Venezuela that would probably replace it.

EPA scrutiny could be lynchpin to Keystone review process by Valerie Volcovici, Reuters, Jan 31, 2014

Keystone a green light? Not so fast

The U.S. State Department gives green light to the Keystone XL pipeline. That was the tenor of the media coverage and headlines after the department’s report was released last week.

Read one way, that interpretation was plausible. Read another, it was not. The conflicting interpretations, based on a reading of the document rather than spin from the Harper government and the oil industry, show why Keystone XL remains unsettled in Washington. The reason is not all politics, as is frequently asserted, although politics obviously plays a role.

Keystone a green light? Not so fast by Jeffery Simp[son, The Globe & Mail, Feb 5, 2014

Keystone pipeline: Americans divided on impact of report’s findings

In the United States, lawmakers, environmental groups and think tanks reacted to the long-awaited final environmental impact statement on the proposed Keystone pipeline.

Keystone pipeline: Obama’s unpleasant options

Friday’s much anticipated State Department report on the Keystone XL pipeline is a body blow to environmentalists but does nothing to change President Barack Obama’s two eventual choices and the fact that either one will be unpopular.

Approve Keystone and he angers his liberal base — and donors. Reject it and it remains a thorn in the administration’s side for three more years.

Keystone pipeline: Obama’s unpleasant options by Dan Berman and Reid J Epstein, Politico, Feb 1, 2014

Keystone review leaves door open for Obama approval, or rejection

The State Department completed its formal review of the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday, sticking to the main, highly controversial conclusion that with or without the project the relentless expansion of Canada's tar sands enterprise would proceed unabated.

But in subtle ways, it left the door open for Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama to approve or reject the pipeline's permit on the basis of the broader national interest—including the implications for greenhouse gas emissions and their own climate policy priorities.

Keystone Review Leaves Door Open for Obama Approval, or Rejection by John Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News,  Jan 31, 2014

Keystone XL decision highlights coziness between oil and gas industry, Obama Administration

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction "remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands," effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration by Sharon Kelly, DeSmog Blog, Feb 3, 2014

Keystone XL unites environmentalists and landowners in pipeline battle

With yet another obstacle removed for the Keystone XL pipeline, opponents of the project are pressing forward with a lawsuit, public protests and an effort to inject the issue into the November midterm elections.

Supporters and opponents of the transnational pipeline were both quick to claim victories regarding the US State Department report released Friday, which raised no major objections to the project. The oil industry, some union groups and congressional Republicans called on the Obama administration to move forward with the project; a coalition of landowners and environmentalists said there was still cause for denying a federal permit.

Keystone XL unites environmentalists and landowners in pipeline battle AP/The Guardian, Feb 1, 2014

Obama won’t rush Keystone decision, White House says

Barack Obama is refusing to give Ottawa the quick answer it wants on the Keystone XL pipeline in spite of a State Department report that dispels the U.S. President’s main climate-change fears.

The White House said Sunday it will wait at least another 90 days to make a final decision as it awaits vital input from other government departments and agencies, raising the possibility that the U.S. President may avoid a decision on the controversial project until after the November U.S. midterm elections for fear of alienating Democratic voters.

Obama won’t rush Keystone decision, White House says by Barrie McKenna, The Globe & Mail, Feb 3, 2014

So what exactly is Obama's red line on Keystone XL?

In the lead-up to President Barack Obama's heavily billed speech on climate policyin June, the big question among members of the White House press corps was what, exactly, he would say about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

By that point, the fault lines on Keystone were pretty clear. Congressional Republicans were demanding it be green-lighted. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney had bludgeoned the president over his non-approval throughout the 2012 campaign. Environmental groups, meanwhile, had successful harnessed grassroots opposition to the pipeline. But they hadn't managed to flip supportive Democrats.

The biggest remaining question mark, really, was where Obama stood. He had tasked the State Department with studying the Keystone proposal in depth, weighing its economic and environmental impacts. On the eve of his speech, people wanted to know if he would jump ahead of that review.

So What Exactly Is Obama's Red Line On Keystone XL? by Sam Stein, The Huffington Post, Feb 3, 2014

Ten key numbers in the Keystone XL pipeline report

On Friday, the State Department released it final environmental impact statement on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport heavy crude oil extracted from bitumen deposits in Canada to the United States. Here are 10 key numbers from the analysis you need to know:

Ten key numbers in the Keystone XL pipeline report by Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, Feb 3, 2014

The anti-Keystone forces are already winning

The State Department has released its environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, concluding that building it would not much change climate emissions one way or the other, because if the pipeline were blocked, the oil would just be transported by rail or other smaller pipelines. This led top Dem donor Tom Steyer to write a letter to John Kerry arguing against the analysis and urging rejection of Keystone.

The State report was a blow for the climate movement, but not in the sense that is commonly understood. Indeed, Even if Keystone ultimately gets approved, the battle waged by anti-Keystone activists could very well contribute to a much more substantial victory later.

Here’s why. Keystone has always been largely a symbolic fight over a much larger goal, not an end in itself. By building up the pressure and attention on climate change, anti-Keystone forces — including Bill McKibben — have helped create the political environment necessary for strong action on climate change.

The anti-Keystone forces are already winning by Ryan Cooper, The Plum Line, Washington Post, Feb 3, 2014

White House vows to keep Keystone call above 'political influence'

White House press secretary Jay Carney vowed Monday that the Obama administration would not allow the approval process for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline "to be subjected to ideological or political influence."

"I think we have seen political interference in this process already," Carney said. "And that's helped delay a process that by tradition has been run out of the State Department through administrations of both parties, and it's important that everyone let that process be carried out appropriately on the merits."

White House vows to keep Keystone call above 'political influence' by Justin Sink, E2 Wire/The Wire,

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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. Re: the article by Michael Mann (in the Guardian) is quite good, especially his points about Path Dependency and Presidential Leadership.  I knew a guy who invented an alternative for the "qwerty" keyboard in the 1930's, but it never caught on, even though you could type much faster on it.

    But there's another aspect of 'Presidential Leadership' to point out: the pipeline may be irrelevent.  For the last 20 years, solar PV generation has doubled, globally, every two years.  Only 8 more doublings (16 yrs), and solar PV can power the entire world.  And with each doubling, the cost per panel drops by 40% (google 'citibank energy darwinism').  Renewable technologies, like Wind and Solar, are exploding right now, and the energy landscape is unlikely to look, in a decade, anything like it does today.  For example, Citi calculates that in just six years, Solar PV will be the cost-choice for residential power most places on Earth, and Wind will be the cost-choice for utility-scale power everywhere. Not for nothing did Warren Buffett just plunk down a billion of his own money on Windmills in Iowa.  The smart money is already fleeing fossils: over 70% of investment in power generation in the next 2 decades, according to Citi, will be directed at renewable energy.

    They will likely approve Keystone because there's an election six months later.  But America is about to be overrun by events, having proven itself unable to anticipate them.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] The majority of the tar sands bitumen will be refined into either gasoline or diesel fuel for the transportation sector.

  2. While I grasp that building the pipeline makes getting the oil out of this region of Canada easier and thus could result in the release of vast amounts of CO2 over the coming decades if nations keep buring fossil fuels, including tar-sands oil, in an unabated fashion going forward, I don't see how building the pipeline means all or even most of the tar-sands will be exploited.

    That is, it seems readily apparent to me that a rational carbon tax--one that taxes fossil fuels according to their relative carbon loads--would render tar-sands oil prohibitively expensive compared to other fossil fuels, which would in turn be taxed at a rate that encouraged a transition to renewable green energy sources as they come on line. In other words, my understanding is that a robust, rational carbon tax scheme would impose taxes on fuels based on their carbon footprint, and since tar-sands-derived oil has a significantly larger carbon footprint than "conventional" oil, it would therefore be assessed a commensurately higher tax. If Canada refused to do this at the "wellhead", couldn't the US impose a tax on the incoming oil?

    In any event, of this is not how a carbon tax scheme is supposed to work, then I must be missing something fairly basic and would appreciate being corrected. I'd especially appreciate being set straight, since in my mind I have long imagined that the necessary carrot aspect of a carbon tax stick is that it makes it more cost effective for fuel users to shift to greener energy sources. It thus seems to me that the key goal of any carbon tax a nation or group of nations might impose would be to price the highest carbon fuels out of the market, wherever they come from. If that isn't the idea, then what is?

    Ubrew--regarding keyboards, I'm not sure the notion of having "invented" a layout applies to the process of coming up with more efficient keyboard layouts. My understanding is that all you need to do to make a more efficient layout is to place the most frequently used characters on the "home row" and then distribute the other keys based on the frequency with which they are used. People had access to this kind of information at the start of the typewriter age but I believe at the time the technology they had made such layouts problematic.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Given the state of national politics in both Canada and the US, the prospects for  enacting a carbon tax in either country in the near-term future are very slim. 

  3. If the White House were keeping Keystone "above political influence" it would have been rejected without question. 

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  4. Unfortunately we still live in times when 'democracy' is misunderstood to be 'the wealthy majority gets its way'.

    Democracy needs to be the protection of everyone from the unsustainable and damaging pusuits and desires of others.
     And it is time to clarify that to be protection of 'future humans and all opther life' from the unsustainable and damaging pusuits and desires of others.

    Anything less than implementation of that form of 'democracy' is unsustainable and unacceptably damaging.

    Popularity needs to be understood to only really matter in things like 'entertainment ratings'. The best undertanding constantly developed and improved through additional research needs to 'rule', even if it isn't popular.

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  5. All politicians need to be seen to say 'yes', not 'no'.  Yeah, its stupid, but there it is.  Hence, if we say yes to solar and wind, and electric and hydrogen powered vehicles (the hydrogen gotten by solar-hydrolysis of water), then the natural IMPETUS impetus of the trends will overwhelm fossil fuels REGARDLESS regardless of any 'yes' votes given on behalf of fossil fuels.  SUPPORT support solar and wind, and fossil is history.  Even without a punative action AGAINST against fossil for destroying Nature (and, I might as well mention though its 'not important', killing 5 million people every year with their exhaust products), the trend over the last 20 years is that renewables are going to overtake fossils, in pricing and installed base, ANYWAY anyway.  So why risk a possible Republican Senate in 2014, because you felt you had to 'take it to fossil fuels'?  This would be disastrous for America, but not for those fighting Global Warming, since fossils are soon going to be overtaken by events anyway.

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."  You win because you kept at it, not because you engaged in a fight.  The PHYSICAL physical impetus is with solar and wind - thats the history of the last 20 years.  Don't engage in a politically expensive battle.  Don't react to challenges of a fight.  Just put your shoulder to the wheel and push.  Keep in mind 2 things: 1)in a decade solar and wind with be the low-cost alternatives anyway and, 2)in a decade everyone and his great aunt are going to get the reality of climate change, and what is causing it.  In the meantime, I think America could be hurt by an action against Keystone.  Hurt in ways far beyond the issue of AGW.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] The SkS Comments Policy prohibits the use of all caps. Please comply with this policy in your future posts.

  6. Basic math shows that when it comes to climate change, the Keystone XL pipeline is meaningless.

    First, to avoid getting tangled up in endless debate over the sensitivity of the climate to greenhouse gases, let’s just assume the climate alarmists are right. They say that each doubling of CO2 warms the planet by 3°C ( More recent empirical studies have placed this number at or below 2°C (, but rather than argue, let’s just be generous and go with the 3°C value.

    Let’s start with the expected state of the atmosphere, regardless of whether or not Keystone XL is built. Atmospheric CO2 is currently around 400ppm (, and is expected to rise to at least 550 ppm in 100 years (

    What else do we know about how carbon dioxide emissions affect the atmosphere? We know that 60% of the carbon emitted doesn’t actually stay in the atmosphere, being instead recaptured by the oceans and biosphere ( We know it takes 2.13 gigatons of carbon emissions add one additional ppmv of CO2 in the atmosphere ( And we know from the molecular mass of carbon dioxide that 3.664 units of CO2 is equivalent to 1 unit of carbon. (

    Turning our attention to the proposed pipeline’s payload, we know that heavy oil from tar sands is more energy intensive to extract and refine. On a “well to wheels” basis Canadian bitumen contributes around more emissions than conventional light crude. To be precise, 559.6 vs. 438.6 kg CO2 / bbl. ( But let’s be generous and assume that this isn’t a question of burning heavy oil instead of light oil... let’s assume it’s a question of heavy oil or no oil. (i.e. if the pipeline isn’t built, Americans will just do without the oil rather than replace it with some other source of oil.) Ridiculous I know, since Americans are already importing oil from Mexico, Nigeria and Venezuela, but never mind that… we’re being generous.

    Let’s be even more generous and assume that if the pipeline isn’t built, that the oil won’t be transported south by rail, or piped to the west coast and shipped to Asia. Let’s assume it’ll just stay in the ground. Even more ridiculous, since it’s already being transported by railcar, but again... we’re being ridiculously generous.

    So we’re assuming that every barrel of oil that flows through the pipeline will either be emitted into the atmosphere or stay safely in the tar sands. We’ll also make the impossible assumption that the pipeline will run at 100% of capacity, every minute, of every hour, 365 days of every year, for the next hundred years. This makes it easy to calculate the impact on the atmosphere and the climate over the next century, since we know the planned capacity of the Keystone XL pipeline is 830,000 bbl/day. (

    From here, there’s nothing left to do but some simple math:
    • 830,000 bbl/day capacity x .5596 tCO2/bbl = 464,468 tCO2/day
    • 464,468 tCO2/day x 36,524 days/century = 16,964,229,232 tCO2/century
    • 16,964,229,232 tCO2/century ÷ 3.664 C/CO2 = 4,626,607,972 tC/century
    • 4,626,607,972 tC/century / 1,000,000,000 GtC/tC = 4.627 GtC/century
    • 4.627 GtC/century x (1-60%) = 1.851 GtC /century
    • 1.851 GtC/century ÷ 2.13GtC/ppmv = 0.869 ppmv/century

    So, if we assume that the pipeline runs at 100% of capacity, every minute of every day of every year, for the next hundred years, it would increase the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by 0.869 ppmv.

    And what impact would that have on temperature? It would raise the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration from 550 ppmv to 550.869ppmv.
    • ln((550.869)/550)/ln(2) = 0.00228 doublings of CO2/century,
    • 0.00228 doublings/century x 3°C per doubling = 0.00683°C/century

    Yes… that’s less than one one-hundredth of a degree Celsius per century. Looked at another way, even under ridiculously generous assumptions, the Keystone XL pipeline would have to run continuously at full capacity for 14,637 years in order to raise the planet’s temperature by a single degree Celsius.

    But don’t take my word for it… do the math for yourself, and no matter what assumptions you make, you’ll come to the conclusion that the Keystone XL pipeline will have no measurable impact on the earth’s climate.


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  7. Being a little more careful with tone will help with getting a respectful debate.

    One small quibble with numbers (I am not in American continent and thus have little interest or knowledge of keystone), but the 60% absorbtion is not a fixed number and will slowly decrease. At a certain point, warming oceans will emit CO2 though this isnt expected any time soon.

    However, as far as I can see, the biggest objection to any new FF infrastructure like keystone is that it delays the transition to non-FF energy structures. Investment would be better in alternatives. I would agree that it is better to kill FF by reducing demand rather than constricting supply, but constriction of supply forces raises prices which has same effect. Of course the money from this increased carbon price goes to the remaining suppliers rather than everyone as it would under a pigovian tax, but it seems such a tax is politically impossible at the moment.

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  8. Russ R., SciAm seems to be not in agreement with your numbers.

    There are also many more negative externalities of the fully-developed tar sands, not accounted for in your simple explanation. The Pembina Institute has an excellent paper on this.


    In closing, I'd suggest you lose the "A-word," as it poisons the well, wrt to constructive dialogue.

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  9. Russ,

    Deniers always claim that each single project has no measurable effect.  I will even conceed your argument.  Therefore we obviously have to stop every project because it is only by stopping them all that we have the desired effect.  Additionally there is the point that if we build Keystone, what is the reason to stop the next project?  All these projects need to be opposed since the longer it goes before they are built the more likely it is that renewable energy will price them out.

    Keystone is especially bad because of its high carbon load.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] In the interests of constructive debate, can we keep the "alarmist/denier" name-calling out of it please? The names may or may not be accurate, but name-calling not encourage respect for writers argument. That means everyone.

  10. scaddenp,

    After the numerous, ridiculously generous assumptions I made, I don't think you have any justification to quibble over my numbers.  I agree that there are other exernalities not accounted for in my analysis, but you'll find the same is true of all energy technologies (solar, nuclear, wind, battery, etc.).  We can debate the magnitudes, but you should at least acknowledge their existence.



    The Scientific American article you linked to answers a rather different question (What is the impact of the entire Alberta tar sands on global warming?) and answers that question (0.4C), making no mention of the fact that the Keystone XL pipeline would require ~6,000 years to pump that volume of crude.  It also blissfully ignores the fact that other fossil fuels will be burned if the tar sands are not.

    michael sweet,

    thank you for conceding my argument that the KXL pipeline is meaningless to the climate.  I trust you will henceforth be quick to correct those misinformed individuals claiming that the pipeline's impact will be catastrophic (or even measurable).

    In closing, I would be more than happy to not use the "A-word", but only when this site stops using the "D-word".  I fully agree that a more constructive debate will result when everyone sticks to facts and leaves out the name-calling.  

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  11. Russ,

    The issue is that you are making an incorrect argument.  Since your argument is irrelevant to the discussion it is simple for me to conceed it. You are arguing that no single project measurably affects AGW therefor none should be opposed.  This only demonstrates how large the fossil fuel industry is worldwide and emphasizes that all projects need to be opposed.

    All projects are important to AGW.  All projects need to be opposed.  For several reasons I have already outlined, the KXL pipeline is especially bad and is appropriate to draw a line in the sand for.

    The tragedy of the commons is that no one individual contributes greatly to the distruction of the commons.  The combined effect of everyone is to destroy the commons.  The solution is for everyone to help conserve the commons.

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  12. Russ,

    It should be obvious to you following michael sweet@11, that your stance on unimportance of KXL is a big-time classic example of an individual involved in the tragedy of commons. If it is not obvious to you, please make yourself familiar with tragedy of commons and with specific examples of it in the past (sanitary waste in cities, acid rain, ozone hole, etc.).

    The individual here is a corporation building KXL and pocketting profit from it while dumping 'miniscule amount of CO2' as an externality. There are thousands of such individuals in CA alone (and many more will follow when tar sands are tapped for unrestrained exploration) each doing exactly the same, following your argumentation. Common here is the atmosphere - the dumping ground that cannot "self-clean", because the natural 'cleaning' processes are 1000s times slower than the dump accumulation. Therefore the dump (CO2) accumulates. So, if you, as an individual, contribute to 0.00683°C/century, thousand individuals can make it 6.83°C/century.

    The known tragedy of commons solutions involve (1) some form of governmental regulations, (2) individuals can cooperate to conserve the resource in the name of mutual benefit (3) conversion of common good into private property, giving the new owner an incentive to enforce its sustainability.

    In case of CO2 pollution, (3) does not work because CO2 is invisible gas. Efforts in (2) -  UNFCCC together with COP series - mostly failed so far. That leaves us with (1) - banning the further proliferation of FF infrastructure, in this case Obama's disapproval - as the only promissing method to solve (or at least alleviate) this problem.

    The alternative "laissez faire" attitude always results in such problem worsening, as we learned from the examples I mentioned above. The outcome of CO2 problem cannot be any different. If you argue that KXL does not play part in that picture please explain. I'll follow your arguments with interest.

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  13. chriskoz,

    I'm quite familiar with the tragedy of the commons (from a few years of economics study at both the undergraduate and graduate levels), but I don't believe your analysis of solutions is complete.

    You listed:

    1. some form of governmental regulations,
    2. individuals can cooperate to conserve the resource in the name of mutual benefit
    3. conversion of common good into private property, giving the new owner an incentive to enforce its sustainability.

    First of all, you omitted a perfectly valid solution:

    4.  Do nothing (if the costs of correcting the externality exceeds the costs of the suboptimal outcome).

    But I'll leave that one aside for now.

    Second, after excluding solutions 2 and 3, you picked up solution 1, "some form of governmental regulations" and jumped straight to "banning the further proliferation of FF infrastructure" without considering that there may be other forms of "governmental regulations" that are less drastic (and impose fewer externalities of their own).

    For example, a Pigouvian tax.

    As above, to avoid argument over the appropriate figure for the social cost of carbon (SCC) let's just use the $36/tC figure adpoted recently by the White House.  Insert a different value if you prefer.

    We've already established above that the differential CO2 emissions between the tar sands oil coming through the pipeline and conventional light crude available in the US Gulf Coast is 0.121 tCO2/bbl (559.6 kgCO2/bbl vs. 438.6 kgCO2/bbl).  That works out ot 0.033 tC/bbl. Applying a tax of $36/tC results in a charge of $1.19 per bbl to the outflow from the pipeline to correct the "externality" of using tar sands oil instead of conventional oil.

    Problem solved.

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  14. I doubt that you would find much argument amoungst climate scientists for the desirability of a pigovian tax on carbon (the "Hansen tax"). Except that it is more expensive to administer than simple ban on new FF infrastructure.

    There have been a no. of studies on cost of mitigation versus cost of adaption. (eg the Stern report). If the study considers impacts in line with the IPCC WG2 report, then mitigation is economically desirable. Further discussion on this could perhaps take place here.

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  15. Don@2

    While I appreciate the moderator's point, I must now point out that if people in the US had been asked in--say--1936, if they thought a second World War was going to get underway in 1939 and they and their country would be dragged into it by the end of 1941, they would have been skeptical or adamantly in denial. Attitudes clearly change in response to new circumstances. Thus, while it is not exactly clear what it will take to galvanize the US into action, I don't think it makes sense to act as if building the pipeline removes any hope of acting. Maybe it will take some climate calamity five years in our future, or ten. Or maybe education and demographics will do the trick in fifteen years, but if the best counter to my point is that it is unlikely we'll see a carbon tax passed soon in the US or Canada, then that still doesn't justify the doomsday tone associated with talk of approving the pipeline.

    Even if the XL pipeline is built, the total amount of oil that can be extracted from the tar sands will not be extracted in a handful of years but would require decades of exploitation, and thus it seems to me we should not act as if approval of the pipeline guarantees that worst-case outcome.

    In my view, the XL Pipeline project is more closely akin to a battle in a long drawn out war. Nations, including both the UK and the US, have histories of losing battles and going on to win these kinds of wars. Sometimes, losing a battle is even strategically useful. If Obama chooses to fight this battle, I'd be happy, but I'm not convinced doing so is his best option. It may be that not approving the pipeline could be the straw that tilts the US even further toward the Tea Party end of rational though, and that might see us talking about President Cruz's climate policies in a few years.

    My ultimate point is that by staking out the position that building the pipeline is in effect the ultimate defeat or whatever extreme conclusion you prefer, then people are setting themselves up for a trap.

    Here's a question: If the XL Pipeline is built, will all of us just give up and accept that we are heading for the worst case rcp 8.5 scenario and stop fighting? I won't. Will you? Will Skeptical Science shut down its website, since the end is nigh? That's what it seems to me is being implicitly stated when possible presidential approval of the XL Pipeline is put forward as a "game over" outcome. Again, I don't agree with this position, and I think it is a flaw in the overall strategy we are following.

    Given the nature of reality where global warming is concerned, governments like the US and Canada will eventually impose carbon taxes or their equivalent. Given the current political reality around the world, that point just won't be soon enough to prevent a 2 degree rise, but if it comes soon enough to prevent a 3 degree rise, or a 4 degree rise, or worse, those would all still be victories.

    Again, I would like to be corrected if I am wrong in thinking that a comprehensive carbon tax plan, gradually imposed, let's say, for the sake of the argument, beginning five years from now and fully implemented in the US and Europe by 2025 would go a long way toward slowing or stopping the flow of tar sands oil. Note that if I'm wrong, I'd have to say attempts to stop using coal in particular on a large global scale must also be doomed to failure. But if I'm right, I'd suggest that educating people about the need for a carbon tax would be more useful than spouting end of days rhetoric about a pipeline project.


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  16. Russ@13,

    I don't share your opinion that Pigouvian tax is the best and only tool to resolve all tragedy of common problems. I appreciate your strong confidence in the market:

    just correct the externality with [an arbitrary] tax of $36/tC and 'problem solved'.

    No, not so simple. History shows many examples of ToC (sanitary waste in cities, acid rain, ozone hole, as I quoted above) where free market mechanisms have failed completely. Those problems were urgent at their time, and they were not solved by any tax. I would argue that if authorities decided to apply a modest tax equivalent to todays $36/t on CFC polution and said 'problem solved' we would still have CFC emissions growing today and ozone hole perhaps covering half hemisphere. The case of AGW problem is very similar in both socio-economic and environmental aspect, so similar solutions are applicable.

    When free market has been failing miserably for 100+ years, creating serious ToC problem, a simple market correction may not be enough incentive to resolve the problem. That's why we have other tools to help.

    KXL plays undeniable part in this problem. Not only as the contribution to the commons pollution. Also as the precedent of expansion over unconventional FF. Also as the nulification of your 'problem solved' $36/t market correction. The goal of such correction is to level the playing field between FF and renewables by rising the cost of FF but KXL infrastructure is to lower the cost of FF.

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