11/18/2014 05:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Analysis: Keystone XL Is Designed for a Burning Planet

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, now under consideration for approval by the U.S. Senate, would have a significant and dangerous impact on the climate, incompatible with the White House goal of a sustainable climate.

In line with scientific warnings, President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department have committed to limiting global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the International Energy Agency's 2°C scenario, global oil consumption would fall by 50 percent from current levels by 2050, within the intended operating lifetime of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Keystone XL environmental impact statement instead assumes that global oil demand will increase over that time period. The baseline used is the Energy Information Administration's 2013 Annual Energy Outlook, which projects that global oil consumption will increase by 30 to 40 percent by 2040. In that scenario, the world would be on a pathway for rapid and catastrophic global warming of 4 to 6°C (or greater) by 2100.

To have an 80 percent chance of staying below 2°C warming, no more than 900 GtCO2 can be burned before 2050.

In the scenario used to assess Keystone XL, over 1700 GtCO2 are burned by 2040--nearly double the safe amount.


The pipeline is intended to ship upwards of 830,000 barrels of tar-sands crude a day for a 40-year lifespan. The pipeline will add 120-200 million tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent to the atmosphere annually, with a lifetime footprint of 6 to 8 billion tons CO2e. That's as much greenhouse pollution as 40 to 50 average U.S. coal-fired power plants. Furthermore the Keystone XL pipeline is recognized by the tar-sands industry as a key spigot for the future development of the Alberta tar sands, which would emit 840 billion tons CO2e if fully exploited.

The carbon dioxide emissions produced by oil that would be moved in this single pipeline would amount to 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and half a percent of the global carbon footprint.

Only thirty-two countries have larger annual footprints than this single tar-sands project.

Originally posted at Hill Heat.