Green Groups Turn Up Heat Against Keystone

A report released Thursday by Oil Change International and other environmental groups says the pipeline is not in the national interest.

A band stands by at the Keystone XL protest at the White House on Sunday Nov. 6, 2011.
National Journal
Clare Foran
Aug. 29, 2013, 10:59 a.m.

Oil Change In­ter­na­tion­al, in part­ner­ship with the Si­erra Club, 350.org, and En­vir­on­ment Amer­ica, re­leased a re­port Thursday call­ing for Pres­id­ent Obama to re­ject the Key­stone XL pipeline.

The re­port — “Re­spond­ing to the Pres­id­ent’s Cli­mate Chal­lenge: A Fail­ing Grade for Key­stone XL” — states that con­struc­tion of the pipeline will in­crease car­bon emis­sions and speed de­vel­op­ment of Ca­na­dian oil sands. In short, it would be a sig­ni­fic­ant driver of cli­mate change.

These find­ings stand in dir­ect op­pos­i­tion to the State De­part­ment’s draft en­vir­on­ment­al ana­lys­is of the pipeline, re­leased in March, which said that Key­stone XL would not sig­ni­fic­antly af­fect oil-sands de­vel­op­ment in Canada or at­mo­spher­ic levels of car­bon di­ox­ide.

The State De­part­ment’s as­ser­tion hinges on the idea that Key­stone XL is — in a sense — ir­rel­ev­ant. That’s be­cause, ac­cord­ing to State, Ca­na­dian oil sands will be de­veloped with or without the pipeline.

En­vir­on­ment­al groups dis­agree. “Re­spond­ing to the Pres­id­ent’s Cli­mate Chal­lenge” chal­lenges this claim dir­ectly, say­ing that oil com­pan­ies won’t have the ca­pa­city to ex­tract and ship crude from the oil sands as quickly or ex­tens­ively as they could if the pipeline were in place.

In a press call Thursday morn­ing to pro­mote the re­port, Si­erra Club Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Mi­chael Brune said that more than a third of oil-sands growth could be de­ferred if the pipeline is re­jec­ted. “Key­stone XL is crit­ic­al to tar-sands ex­pan­sion,” he said. When asked if oil com­pan­ies would be able to move crude by rail or oth­er means if the pro­ject stalls out, Brune replied: “I would say we have seen rail growth in­crease, but it’s also clear that rail growth can’t meet [oil] pro­duc­tion fore­casts.”

Rep­res­ent­at­ives from 350.org, En­vir­on­ment Amer­ica, and Oil Change In­ter­na­tion­al also ar­gued that Key­stone XL would dra­mat­ic­ally in­crease car­bon emis­sions. One of the ma­jor points raised dur­ing the call was that oil sands crude ex­trac­tion is more car­bon in­tens­ive than con­ven­tion­al meth­ods of oil drilling.

“The State De­part­ment es­tim­ates that oil from tar sands is 22 per­cent more car­bon in­tens­ive than con­ven­tion­al oil,” Brune said. Adding to this, Steve Kret­zmann, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Oil Change In­ter­na­tion­al, said: “Of course the pipeline will in­crease car­bon emis­sions. The only thing that’s more cer­tain than that is that it will in­crease big oil’s profits.”

State has been tasked with mak­ing a de­term­in­a­tion as to how Key­stone XL will af­fect the en­vir­on­ment as well as if the pro­ject is in the na­tion­al in­terest. The de­part­ment is not ex­pec­ted to fi­nal­ize its re­com­mend­a­tions un­til later this year or early in 2014.

The pres­id­ent, however, has fi­nal say on wheth­er the pipeline will be ap­proved. Obama has said he will re­ject Key­stone XL if it sub­stan­tially adds to at­mo­spher­ic levels of car­bon di­ox­ide. Rep­res­ent­at­ives of the vari­ous en­vir­on­ment­al groups re­spons­ible for re­leas­ing the re­port circled back to this point throughout the call, say­ing that Obama must re­ject the pipeline be­cause it will in­crease car­bon emis­sions. “Pres­id­ent Obama can move us for­ward on cli­mate and re­ject this pipeline once and for all,” Brune said.

Read the full re­port here

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