03/04/2013 12:22 pm ET Updated May 04, 2013

State Dept. Keystone XL Study Ignores Climate Impact

The U.S. State Department's "Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Keystone XL Project" released on Friday evening, makes no mention at all of the impact on the world's climate that would result from construction of the proposed Pipeline.

The study does discuss "Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project," but not the proposed project's impacts on climate change. It finds that climate change will have no significant impact upon either the construction, or the operation, of the Pipeline.

In fact, a separate section, "Summary of Impacts," summarizes the "Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project" by saying, "Climate change would have no substantive effects on construction of the proposed Project," and, "Climate change would have no substantive effects on operation of the proposed Project." That is the only attention this study devotes to climate change.

Environmentalists oppose this Pipeline almost entirely because of the impact that it would have on climate change: speeding it up. They are mostly uninterested in the impact climate change will have on the Pipeline.

NASA's James Hansen warned on 9 May 2012 in The New York Times, about the Alberta Canada tar-sands oil that this Pipeline would transport, by saying "It Will Be Game Over for the Climate" if this Pipeline to a Texas port ever does get constructed. He presented no analysis there, however, of the climate-change impact specifically of the Keystone XL. He simply said that "Canada's tar sands ... contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history," and that "That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control." Those were unanalyzed bare assertions.

Neither Hansen, nor anyone else, has actually performed any rigorous analysis of the various respective scenarios, in which the XL is built, versus each alternative possible scenario for Canada's tar-sands oil to get transported to the world's oil markets - such as via construction of an alternative pipeline, to either the West Coast of Canada, or the East Coast of Canada, both of which options are also being considered by Canada.

It is known that the cheapest way for Canada to get its tar-sands oil to major refineries, and thence to markets around the world, would be via the XL Pipeline to Texas, which is why there is such intense lobbying for it to be built. The refineries and ports on the Texas Gulf Coast are the cheapest for a pipeline to reach. It would maximize the profits for Alberta's tar-oil producers, the amount of this oil that's burned, and thus the speed of climate-change.

What would actually be needed, for a real environmental impact analysis, and which the Obama Administration still refuses to supply, is an analysis of the main economically competitive pipeline-routes and destination-points, as regards the respective effect that each pipeline, if it were built, would have upon the average shipment cost for Alberta's tar-sands-oil producers.

The cost to produce Alberta tar-sands oil, inclusive of shipment-costs (whether that be via XL or some other pipeline) is inevitably extremely high, not only because this oil requires far more refinery processing than normal oil, but also because Alberta is deeply landlocked and thus far from global ports - the shipment costs will eat up a lot of what would otherwise be profits for Alberta's oil producers.

The oil-producers in Alberta naturally want their cost of production to be low enough to make it profitable for them to mine this oil. At present, the shipment-costs are prohibitive - basically via rail. XL is certainly the likeliest shipment-means to enable a substantial portion of Alberta's tar-oil to be profitably exploited. Consequently, XL will result in a higher percentage of this oil being mined, and thus sold and burned, than would any other pipeline - either to the East Coast, or to the West Coast.

The Alberta tar-sands-oil producers will sell very little of their oil if the shipment-costs to world markets are high. Being price-competitive for only their own local market, in their little-inhabited vast wild and rural region, would mean that almost all of this oil will stay in the ground. Environmentalists want that, because they want the dirtiest energy-sources to be uncompetitive in an economic sense. Ultimately, clean fuels will become much cheaper, and Alberta's oil might therefore never be burned, if the XL isn't built. The stakes for preventing catastrophic runaway global warming are actually enormous, not because of the effects of climate-change upon the pipeline, but because of the pipeline's effects upon climate-change. And yet the Obama Administration is simply ignoring it.

An authentic environmental impact statement would thus need to consist almost entirely of analyses of the respective cost-impacts of each of those three prospective pipeline-routes, so as to come up with scientific estimates of precisely how much more of Alberta's tar-oil will be burned if XL is built, than if it is not built. The hope of environmentalists, of course, would be that, if the XL is not built, this oil would stay in the ground, not be burned at all. But no such analysis has even been performed.

Only then would it be possible for XL to be subject to anything more than the present massive lobbying campaign by the industries supporting the burning of this oil, versus the grassroots citizens' organizations that are opposing it.

The "Executive Summary - Draft Supplemental EIS" that the State Department issued along with the report, and which much of the press based their news reports on, is deceptive in presenting their study's section 4.14 as being titled "Climate Change" (see page ES-24 there, showing the "Contents" of the report) when in fact the full report shows the title of that section as being instead "Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project." This was the only one of the study's 43 sections whose title was thus abbreviated in the "Executive Summary" that most reporters saw. This abbreviation of the title there gave reporters the false impression that this section dealt with what they assumed it did: the proposed pipeline's effect on climate change. However, if one actually looks at that section in the full report, this topic is not covered there, nor is it covered anywhere else in the report.

Furthermore, the "Executive Summary - Draft Supplemental EIS" adds its own supposed summary of the full report, by means of an extensive 23-page discussion up front, on page 14 of which discussion appears a section that is promisingly titled "Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change." Here is what that section of the supposed "Executive Summary" says:

ES.5.5.1 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Construction and operation of the proposed Project would generate GHG emissions from several sources or activities as described below. ...

During the construction period, GHG emissions from these sources and activities would be approximately 240,423 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). Emissions during operation of the proposed Project would be approximately 3.19 million metric tons of CO2e per year, almost entirely due to electrical generation needed to power the proposed Project's pump stations. The annual CO2e emissions from the proposed Project is equivalent to CO2e emissions from approximately 626,000 passenger vehicles operating for one year or 398,000 homes using electricity for one year.

Those numerical estimates apply only to the emissions that the pipeline itself will generate; and yet, those estimates don't appear in the report itself, neither in "Climate Change Impacts on the Proposed Project," nor in "Summary of Impacts." Apparently, the only reason they were presented in the supposed 'Executive Summary' that reporters saw was to suggest the full report dealt with the climate change impacts of the proposed project.

On the present course, it is clear that XL will be built, and that the climate change impact of the proposed project will simply be ignored. Clearly, this is what the Obama Administration wants.

The press and environmental organizations have been going along with it, by only saying the report doesn't adequately deal with climate change. We are sleepwalking into runaway ecological feedback loops, which will produce a wrenchingly hotter world. This is how corrupt things have become.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They"re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST"S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?