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Climate Change President Barack Obama reads a document in the Oval Office, Jan. 7, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Published on February 2nd, 2014 | by Roy L Hales

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Oil Spills Are Keystone XL’s Greatest Threat To Environment, Limited US State Department Report Concludes

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February 2nd, 2014 by  

Again, before reading this article, be sure to read yesterday’s CleanTechnica piece discussing how limited the State Department was in it evaluation of the Keystone XL.

Originally published on Reviving Gaia:

obama

The US State Department environmental assessment has identified an oil spill as the most likely threat the Keystone XL Pipeline presents to the environment. The report relies upon a Canadian Government study for its analysis of environmental impacts North of the border. The US segment of the pipeline is expected to have CO2 emissions – from “fuel use in construction vehicles and equipment, as well as, land clearing activities including open burning, and indirectly from electricity usage” – that will be the equivalent of 300,000 cars. “Climate changes are anticipated to occur regardless of any potential effects from the proposed Project,” the report states, but it also showed there is a substantial risk of a major oil spill. There were 1,692 pipeline “incidents” in the US during the six month period they studied. (1,027 of these were from the equipment used on pipelines and 321 were directly connected to pipelines.) There have been mixed reactions to this report.

Operational and proposed route of the Keystone Pipeline System. (Data source:TransCanada) – Meclee, Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Operational and proposed route of the Keystone Pipeline System. (Data source:TransCanada) – Meclee, Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, more than half of the nation’s crude (1.8 million barrels a day) came out of the oil sands in 2012. Production is expected to increase to 5.8 b/d by 2030. 99% of this oil is currently shipped across the border and refined in the US.

Clare Demerse, federal policy director at the Pembina Institute, said, “Today’s final assessment is a clear improvement over the State Department’s March 2013 draft, which argued there was virtually no connection between pipelines and the growth in oilsands production. The final assessment is updated with stronger analysis that better reflects the environmental and market realities. The assessment now acknowledges that under some circumstances, constraints on new pipeline capacity could have ‘a substantial impact on oilsands production levels.’ In other words, building the Keystone XL pipeline could help spur increased oilsands production and the carbon pollution that goes with it.”

“It is clear that current capacity to move raw, unprocessed bitumen out of Canada is hampered by relying solely on rail,”  said Elizabeth May, the Leader of Canada’s Green Party and MP for Saanich–Gulf Islands. “Any new pipeline will create expanded oil sands operations, and with them increased greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Pembina Institute has identified “pollution from the oilsands as the single largest barrier to achieving Canada’s national 2020 climate target.”

Elizabeth May wants to see the bitumen refined in Canada and is urging President Obama to say no to Keystone.

keystone pipeline construction

Truck hauling 36-inch Pipe to build Keystone-Cushing Pipeline SE of Peabody, Kansas – Steve Meirowsky, Flickr and Wikipedia

The next step, in the State Department’s process, is a 90-day “national interest determination” by the State Department, during which relevant federal agencies will provide their input. Then the State Department will give their recommendation to President Obama for final approval.

The US environmental community is asking Americans to voice their opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Friends of the Earth is partnering with CREDO, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, and 350.org to hold vigils around the nation this Monday evening including at the White House and the State Department. Click to find a vigil near you.

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, issued a statement saying, “The State Department just released its final environmental impact report on the project — and despite the spin from the oil industry, it shows our voices have made a difference. Don’t believe the media hype: with your help, we can defeat Keystone XL once and for all.”

“President Obama vowed to reject the pipeline if the project would ‘significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.’ The verdict is in: Keystone XL fails President Obama’s climate test. Evidence from the scientific community, industry analysts, and the EPA had already shown that Keystone XL would increase carbon pollution from the tar sands, and today the State Department backed away from its previous claim that the pipeline won’t have a significant impact.”

The Sierra Club has started an online petition, which you can sign here.

Friends of the Earth have another petition and also a Facebook page (Click here)

(Photo at top of page: President Barack Obama reads a document in the Oval Office, Jan. 7, 2014. – Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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About the Author

is the editor of the ECOreport (www.theecoreport.com), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America and writes for both Clean Techncia and PlanetSave. He is a research junkie who has written hundreds of articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.



  • jeremybergeron

    This is why companies like Titan Liner should be brought in for answers to the spill containment problem. Keep an eye out for them.. They specialize in spill containment. world class solutions..

  • Rick Kargaard

    Electric vehicles are a great first step, but I can only see them replacing gasoline powered cars and light trucks.
    Gasoline accounts for about 18.5% of a barrel of oil. I don’t see diesel, 10.3%, being quickly replaced for its use in agriculture an trnsportation of goods. Jet fuel accounts for over 4% and I am sure they will not run on batteries. More than 7% of oil is used for other products, many of which will be used to manufacture electric cars. The rest is used for bunker oil, heating oil, LP gas and piston aviation.
    The point is that oil is still a necessary product no matter what you use for personal transport. Raising the price raises the price of almost everything else that you consume. The U.S., with some exceptions, has very low gasoline prices compared to the rest of the world. There is room to raise the taxes on gasoline to reduce consumption and encourage electric cars. This would have less effect on the price of other products.

  • Rick Kargaard

    Come on guys
    All your opposition to the pipeline can accomplish is to stop the safest method of transport. Market forces will slow oilsands production without interference. Oil prices are already dropping due to less demand. Spend your money and effort on some real environmental challenges such as reducing the garbage being dumped in our oceans or actually go out and reclaim some land or plant a tree.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’ve got to agree with Rick. The pipeline is probably safer than shipping by rail. And stopping the pipeline will not slow the use of oil so there’s no GHG advantage.

      If this effort went into getting more people into EVs/PHEVs and onto public transportation/bikes we could cut the overall use of oil.

      The only way we’re going to stop tar sands oil is to drop the price of oil so low that it isn’t profitable to extract. And we drop the price of oil by cutting demand.

      With all the energy that’s gone into fighting the pipeline we might have been able to move thousands more into EVs and helped bring down battery costs faster.

      • Rick Kargaard

        BOB
        I agree that EVs are a good move, but more action needs to be taken to reduce the use of coal for electrical generation. Solar or wind to charge car batteries seems to be a win win situation once we are past the initial capital cost in energy.

        • Bob_Wallace

          It’s some of everything, Rick.

          More EVs will mean a better market for late night wind, more profit for wind farms, more investment in wind farms, and more wind turbines producing power during higher demand hours.

          More EVs means more places to stick supply peaks so that no power is curtailed.

          It all adds up.

          • Rick Kargaard

            It would seem to be one of the easiest ways to get investment into electrical storage

          • Bob_Wallace

            There’s a lot of storage research underway. And some storage is being installed for grid smoothing/frequency control sorts of uses. But I don’t see signs that we need large scale “time shifting” storage so far.

            Remember, there are studies which find that our grids could be transformed to 30% or more wind/solar with no changes No added storage. We’re only at about 5% wind/solar right now.

            And since those studies were done we’ve added more dispatchable natural gas while closing some non-dispatchable coal and nuclear.

            Between now and “30%” it’s not likely that there is money to be made by storing electricity. More likely wind/solar will result in other generation curtailment. Turn off the NG and save fuel. Stop the hydro turbines and use the water during peak hours.

            Adding EVs to the grid should increase the “30%” because charging will be dispatchable load.

          • Rick Kargaard

            I meant that car batteries can provide needed storage by off peak charging.

      • A Real Libertarian

        “And stopping the pipeline will not slow the use of oil so there’s no GHG advantage.”

        Ah Bob, the article says:
        “The assessment now acknowledges that under some circumstances, constraints on new pipeline capacity could have ‘a substantial impact on oilsands production levels.’ In other words, building the Keystone XL pipeline could help spur increased oilsands production and the carbon pollution that goes with it.”

        The lower the cost of transport, the lower oil prices have to go before the Tar Sands become unprofitable.

        And the more Big Oil has to spend in money, time and PR on this, the less they have to spend on other stuff like delaying EVs.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Sure, building the pipeline could increase the amount of oil coming from the tar sands, but I’m talking about the total amount of oil burned worldwide.

          Worldwide demand is the controlling variable. It will only drop if price increases or alternatives presented.

          If the oil doesn’t come from the tar sands it will come from some other place. Demand will stay high, prices will move up a bit, and someone else will crank up production.

          Fighting the pipeline is like fighting the symptom. We need to concentrate our effort on the causes.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “If the oil doesn’t come from the tar sands it will come from some other place.”

            That somewhere else will be cleaner.

            “Demand will stay high, prices will move up a bit, and someone else will crank up production.”

            And high prices will make EVs more attractive.

            “Fighting the pipeline is like fighting the symptom. We need to concentrate our effort on the causes.”

            Big Oil is mostly ignoring EVs at this point, the more attention focused on Keystone XL the less they focus on them.

            It’s like the Lord of the Rings, use a attack on the front gates to distract The Eye from the Hobbit special forces initiating Operation: Ring Drop.

          • Rick Kargaard

            After the gulf wars and the burning of Kuwait do you still think gulf oil is cleaner? Do you really think the Venezualen Orinico tar sands will be developed in a more responsible manner. Do you trust Russia to produce cleaner fuels. What do you think all the flared gas from the Bakken and other new fields is pumping into the atmosphere. Oil development everywhere is dependent on demand.The answer lies in reducing demand.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “After the gulf wars and the burning of Kuwait do you still think gulf oil is cleaner? Do you really think the Venezualen Orinico tar sands will be developed in a more responsible manner. Do you trust Russia to produce cleaner fuels.”

            They’re all cleaner than Athabasca.

            Orinico is actually extra heavy crude, not tar sands, still very dirty but it can be drilled, Athabasca has to be mined.

            Again, make Big Oil fight every step of the way while building up EVs.

            If Keystone isn’t approved then Big Oil has been dealt a crippling blow to its creditably, if it is approved then Big Oil wins and has to deal with the fallout.

            1. Those jobs are nowhere near what was promised (only 40).

            2. Gas prices have gone up (it’s now easier to export rather then sell domestically)

            3. Meanwhile EVs have grown massively and demand reduction has lower the price of oil to the point that even the new lower price of tar sand juice is unprofitable.

            Result? The pipeline is abandoned shortly after it’s constructed.

            Congratulations Big Oil, You’ve just won the Battle of Borodino.

          • Rick Kargaard

            I think if you checked your facts you would find that only a small proportion of the Athabasca sands can be mined. You are still trusting the Venezualen jurisdiction to develop in a responsible manner. I think some despot there is likely to sell it any way he can for money to buy arms.You are forgetting many of the other energy costs from developing some other sources. There is a huge energy input just to frack the bakken formation. Canadian sands developers are reducing carbon emmissions steadily and Carbon capture is gaining ground in Alberta

          • A Real Libertarian

            “I think if you checked your facts you would find that only a small proportion of the Athabasca sands can be mined.”

            Can? Don’t you mean have to?

          • Rick Kargaard

            No

          • A Real Libertarian

            I’m pretty sure the Athabasca sands have to be mined like coal due to their absurdly low quality.

          • Rick Kargaard

            Obviously you have never actually been to the region and looked without bias. In 2011 only 51% of oil sands production came from mining. The rest came from in situ operations using a variety of methods. Some of these methods also have fairly high carbon footprints but surface disturbance is much less. Some of the oil can be pumped as is depending on the area it is from.
            Oil from the sands is not low quality. In fact at times it has commanded higher prices than conventional oil..
            Cheap canadian oil is a result of a bottleneck at Cushing which is already being dealt with by added pipeline capacity south to texas refineries. Any oil shipped through Cushing faced the same thing
            As for refining in Canada that would be fine but not likely to attract investment as long as American refineries are short of oil. I don’t believe that demand for gasoline in the U.S and Canada in the future would warrant building new refineries which have long payback times.

  • Larry

    Oil spills from pipelines are a matter of when, NOT if. Steel pipe corrodes and erodes. All welds on any pipeline are NOT perfect and few, if any, are thoroughly checked. With that fact established–why are we pursuing removal of a dirty high sulphur oil product that requires almost as much energy to produce it as it actually provides? Energy Return on Energy Invested should be the criteria for use of fossil energy resources–not how much profit certain corporations can squeeze out of consumers and government subsidies. Oil tycoons have more $ than they know what to do with now. They will have their palaces on all the high ground while the masses on the coasts all drown.

  • Steeple

    Correction. If you read the report, the amount of spills recorded is for the period of January, 2002 until July, 2012. So this is a period of over 10 years, and not six months as referenced above. Also of note is that 79% of these incidents involved 50 barrels (about 1/4 of a truckload) or less.

    • Matt

      Also note that no study says the US will benefit of this pipeline (past a couple of temp jobs to build it). In fact the company’s own report say it will result in higher gas prices in US. So we get the risk of leaks, the left over “trash” from refining it, and higher gas prices.

      • Steeple

        Matt, I was simply pointing out an error in the story.

        If you want, we can rehash the same arguments that have been made thousands of times on this issue. The fact of the matter is that this oil will move to market, either by pipe or rail. It seems pretty clear to me that pipeline movements are a lot safer and less disruptive than moves by unit trains. You may disagree.

        • Matt

          Ok but the companies involved have claimed that:
          A) The pipeline will increase the production of tar sand.
          B) The pipeline company will result in higher gas prices in the US.
          So when you consider that and the risk of spills. I don’t see a benefit to having the pipeline thru the US. And since “national interest determination” is a determining factor. Then from a pure US economic stand point it would be better not have the pipeline.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Why would the cost of gas rise in the US?

            If anything this would increase supply, not lower it. The tar sand junk would have to be sold at world prices, there is no requirement that North America use is limited to North America supplies.

          • andereandre

            The claim is mainly about the Midwest. The reasoning is that they use cheap Canadian oil at the moment. Cheap because there is too much of it. With the pipeline the value and cost of that oil will increase.

          • Steeple

            Keep in mind that Canada is our largest trade partner and our largest oil supplier. Doesn’t mean that we should do anything for them, but this would be a slap in the face to one of our closest friends. That figures into the national interest equation.

            I’d much rather take this risk knowing that this is another blow to OPEC countries who cause so much grief with their petrodollars.

          • A Real Libertarian

            “but this would be a slap in the face to one of our closest friends.”

            As a Canadian, I must say it would be a slap in the face to Harper, so do it already.

  • Ross

    Do they really think production is going to increase up to 2030? ICE cars will be the exception not the rule by then and burning oil that has been transported around the world for power is already uneconomical. These reactionary carbon nuts are giving Canada a bad reputation around the world.

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