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Making The Case for Keystone XL

oil pipelineQuick facts about the Keystone XL pipeline project and Canada’s oil sands resources:

• Construction of the Keystone XL would generate 20,000 jobs during that phase, according to builder TransCanada.

• Oil sands development associated with the Keystone XL could support 117,000 new U.S. jobs by 2035, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI).

• New oil sands development could support more than 500,000 additional U.S. jobs by 2035 (CERI).

• $20 billion could be injected into the U.S. economy by the full Keystone XL project, which would pay more than $5 billion in taxes to local counties over its life.

• The full Keystone XL pipeline will be able to transport 830,000 barrels of North American oil per day – from Canada’s oil sands region as well as the Bakken fields in the U.S.

These are critical points in the debate over the pipeline and whether the United States will strengthen its energy partnership with Canada, our No. 1 supplier of imported oil. This infrastructure and full development of oil sands crude could let us see 100 percent of our liquid fuel needs met by North American sources by 2024.

The Keystone XL is in its fifth year of review by U.S. officials. Some perspective, courtesy the House Energy and Commerce Committee:

Along the way the pipeline has cleared three separate environmental reviews by the U.S. State Department. Last month the project passed muster with the state of Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality, after the pipeline’s route was adjusted to avoid sensitive areas. TransCanada has agreed to adhere to 57 special safety conditions related to the Keystone XL’s design, construction and operation, developed with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The fact is pipelines are widely acknowledged to be the safest and most efficient way to move energy products overland for long distances.

As for oil sands, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) reports this crude has similar CO2 emissions to other heavy oils and is only 6 percent more intensive than the U.S. crude supply average on a wells-to-wheels basis – measuring CO2 emissions from production through combustion. CAPP’s chart comparing crude types:

Another point made in the chart is that 70 to 80 percent of emissions occur in the combustion phase. As IHS CERA noted in a 2010 study, “combustion emissions do not vary for a given fuel among sources of crude oil.” In other words, a car’s emissions have nothing to do with the type of crude oil that’s refined to make gasoline. Bottom line: the Keystone XL-or-the-climate argument sometimes heard is a false choice.

This is a project long overdue. It has enjoyed strong support from the U.S. public, including last month’s Rasmussen survey showing 59 percent in favor. The pipeline clearly is in the national interest, and the reasons for delaying it any longer have evaporated. Worth repeating is a paragraph from a recent Houston Chronicle editorial:

President Obama has run out of reasons to block expansion of the Keystone XL Pipeline. … This is an idea whose time has come. Among themselves, this country, Canada and Mexico have abundant resources that could bring a manufacturing renaissance to the entire continent while insulating us from dependence on energy from unstable areas and unfriendly regimes. The president has called for an energy using “all of the above.” An expanded Keystone Pipeline will help deliver on that promise.

Approve the full Keystone XL pipeline.

Mark Green's picture

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Wilmot McCutchen's picture
Wilmot McCutchen on February 11, 2013

The people of Canada would prefer to "refine it where you mine it" so they would be exporting fuel and not sandy sludge.  But they get toxic sludge ponds from bitumen extraction -- the Alberta sludge ponds are an environmental blight even worse than CO2.  The people of the US would prefer an increase in the available domestic supply of gasoline so the price can come down.  But they get continued high gas prices and a risk to their groundwater.      

Pipelining sand all the way from Canada to the Gulf Coast makes no sense.  With all of the billions they profited last year from high gas prices, surely the industry can do better than the API Separator (1933) and the hot water bitumen extraction process.  If they push this, they may find that their tax breaks and subsidies will disappear.   

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on February 12, 2013

Mark, the case you claim to make for Keystone XL relies on sources which stand to profit immensely from completion of the pipeline - every one of them. I'll present more objective sources to show just a few of the ways the American Petroleum Institute is attempting to distort the picture. From the Columbia Journalism Review:

"President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline last week incited a new wave of coverage and speculation about how many jobs the line would create. Unfortunately, many outlets are still citing inflated and unreliable industry figures in the tens to hundreds of thousands while ignoring more modest and trustworthy approximations from academia and government, which place the total anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000."

From Scientific American:

"Alberta's oil sands represent a significant tonnage of carbon. With today's technology there are roughly 170 billion barrels of oil to be recovered in the tar sands, and an additional 1.63 trillion barrels worth underground if every last bit of bitumen could be separated from sand. 'The amount of CO2 locked up in Alberta tar sands is enormous,' notes mechanical engineer John Abraham of the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota, another signer of the Keystone protest letter from scientists. 'If we burn all the tar sand oil, the temperature rise, just from burning that tar sand, will be half of what we've already seen'—an estimated additional nearly 0.4 degree C from Alberta alone."

This barrage of PR from API is as predictable as the need to stop the project is compelling.

Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on February 12, 2013


Kindly allow me to add my name to the (by your suspect claim) 41% of Americans whom we can postulate are against the pipeline.

Apparently you are among the folks who think that we can continue altering the chemistry of our atmosphere with impunity. You, Sir, are mistaken. If we continue along this path of burning fossil fuels it will lead us to a place that no one wants to go. In fact it may already be too late to stop our demise.
 { } I know that you will think me just another "alarmist". That is not the case, though personally I am alarmed. If you had this information and weren't alarmed, I'd be concerned with your mental faculties.

Even if climate issues weren't an issue it's apparent that we are going to run out of fossil fuels in a short order (the fact that we are exploiting a resource with such a bad ROI factor is proof of that fact) so what is in everyone's best interest is to develop systems that will allow us to power our civilization sustainably. THAT would produce far more jobs than any continuation of this blunder of business as usual. Not to mention mitigating the obscene damage that we are inflicting on the natural system that supports all life on this planet.

For you to suggest that we should continue down this path to death is not only ill informed but irresponsible. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Edward Kerr

James Thurer's picture
James Thurer on February 13, 2013

The cited argument is very disingenuous, as it states  a projected increase on global temperatures that assumes that all of the 1.8 trillion barrels of hydrocarbons were produced and burned.

Firstly, it would be physically impossible to produce all of the hydrocarbons.  Surely the author knows this.  Secondly, at a production rate of 1 million barrels of oil per day, it would take about 5000 years to produce 1.8 trillion barrels, and at a production rate of 5 million barrels per day, it would take about 1000 years.

So what the cited argument comes down to is that performing the physically  impossible task of producing and burning all of the hydrocarbons in place would increase the temperature of the atmosphere by 0.4c over an estimated time frame of 1000 to 5000 years.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on February 13, 2013

James, you make a few assumptions that are untenable:

1) all that what's recoverable today is equivalent to what's recoverable 50 years from now

2) the oil industry will graciously cease production when Alberta assumes the climate of Acapulco

3) the destruction of boreal forest twice the size of Ireland will have a negligible effect on atmospheric CO2, and the Athabascan watershed

All assumptions are diametrically opposed to the historical record.

I understand thinking 5,000 years ahead is a strain on the imagination, but most predictions say that whether it's .4C or .1C or .05C, these changes are likely to effect the Earth's climate for 100,000 years, or 20x as long as the maximum time frame you consider. If you're of the opinion that countless generations are entitled to suffer so that we might enjoy slightly lower prices at the pump and "increased energy independence", whatever that means, our definitions of "shortsighted" probably differ as much as the oil industry's actions do from its rhetoric.

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