Time for Clear Thinking on Keystone XL

The most damning statistic about TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline can be found in management’s own discussion of the project: The estimated annual rate of depreciation for “Oil pipeline and pumping equipment” is “approximately 2%-2.5%.”[1] What this means is that the entire project is based on the assumption that it will be carrying the tar sands oil for the next 40-50 years.

Tar sands oil, it is broadly acknowledged, is dirty fuel. In addition to local and regional environmental impacts, the process of producing tar sands oil generates three times the greenhouse gas pollution as producing conventional North American crude.[2] Support of the keystone pipeline is therefore a commitment to supporting one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet for the next 40-50 years.

If we acknowledge the threat posed by greater storms, droughts, and temperature extremes—if we know that we will be living in an increasingly carbon constrained world, such a commitment does not make any sense. Of course, we are not going to stop consuming oil tomorrow. But it does not follow from there that we need to make a new, 40-50 year commitment to production of the most polluting form of oil.

Investment can be better directed. At minimum, enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is a way of tapping existing domestic sources with less carbon pollution than conventional oil. More importantly, investments in biofuels, electrification, and efficiency offer potentially higher returns than tar sands even prior to considering the cost of carbon pollution. But if you do consider carbon pollution, tar sands oil is not economic as compared to these choices, almost out of the starting blocks and certainly over time.

Joe Nocera, who has written in favor of approving the Keystone pipeline several times, recently noted that his last column on the Keystone Pipeline contained a serious error:

“In my column on Tuesday, I described the strategy of anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists as boneheaded. In writing about the effect of a carbon tax on Canada’s tar sands oil, I was pretty boneheaded myself. I said such a tax would likely make tar sands oil more viable. But, obviously, it would do the opposite, by decreasing demand for oil and making the already expensive tar sands oil even less economically appealing. What was I thinking?”

Joe deserves credit here for this candid admission, but let me venture to answer his question “what was I thinking?” Turns out he also favors a carbon tax as a way of making polluters accountable for carbon pollution. But, properly understood, a meaningful fee on carbon pollution would tend to undermine the economic viability of tar sands oil—over time perhaps entirely, making the Keystone Pipeline a complete waste. To be in favor of the project, he really needed to botch the logic of the policy, and so he did.

Bottom line: If you favor holding polluters accountable for pollution, there’s no rationale for going forward with Keystone’s 40-50 year commitment to dirty fuel. Joe Nocera is not the only pundit that clings to the contradiction of acknowledging the serious problem of carbon pollution, yet favoring the Keystone pipeline. It’s time for him and others to pull off the logic blinders. Denying a permit to the Keystone Pipeline should be, as he would say, “a no-brainer.”

 Chris Arndt is a private investor and a member of the NRDC Action Fund board.





[1] http://www.transcanada.com/docs/Investor_Centre/2012_TCC_MDA.pdf

[2] http://www.pembina.org/pub/2404

A win in the Keystone XL pipeline fight

While most of us were caught up in the emerging Herman Cain scandal of last week, big news came from the White House that President Obama called for a new review and year-long delay in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.

The announcement is a tremendous victory for all those who stood up against the Keystone XL pipeline and is a real testament for the strength of a people powered movement.

Here’s a great blog post by NRDC President Frances Beinecke on the administration’s decision to delay:

President Obama took a stand for the people of Nebraska today, and Americans everywhere, when his administration stood up to Big Oil to say we won’t put our people, waters and croplands at risk for the sake of pipeline profits and dirty fuels.

That kind of leadership takes courage, and I applaud the president for doing the right thing.

The State Department has decided to conduct a new review of the Keystone XL proposal. In its statement, officials said they will analyze alternative routes for the pipeline, but they also mentioned the need to consider “environmental concerns, including climate change.” The process will likely take until early 2013.

This is a major victory. For months, we’ve demonstrated the State Department’s review of the pipeline was flawed, inadequate, and possibly even biased. This project simply cannot withstand scrutiny. We are confident that after thorough review, President Obama will kill this dangerous pipeline once and for all.

Today’s announcement confirms the President’s commitment to building a clean energy future. In July, he proposed clean car standards that will cut vehicle carbon pollution in half, reduce our oil use by 3.1 million barrels per day by 2030, and create up to 150,000 American jobs. Earlier this week, the administration moved ahead with plans to limit carbon pollution from new power plants.

These measures will unleash innovation, make the air safer for our families, and put Americans to work bringing our cars and power plants into the 21st century. Dirty tar sands oil—the production of which releases three times as many greenhouse gases as conventional crude—has no place in that future.

To learn more, continue reading “Victory in Keystone XL Pipeline Fight: Obama Administration Calls for New Review and a Year Delay.”

Watch: New Video on Stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline

Have you seen NRDC Action Fund Chairman’s Bob Epstein’s latest video on stopping the Keystone XL pipeline yet? We especially love the musical backdrop sung by American folk musician Laurie Lewis.

The lyrics, while catchy, really get to the heart of issue and spell out exactly why there’s just no good reason for Keystone to build the pipeline beyond their own profitable motives.

“Valero Oil of Texas is not the oil for me, you want to pump the tar sands to your refinery but pumping gunk from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is a pipeline to disaster and to keystone we say no.

A pipeline to disaster and to keystone we say no!

Valero Oil of Texas you lobby for the pipe, you talk about employment but we know that’s just hype. We’d rather create good jobs and a strong economy stop subsidizing oil and fund cleaner energy.”

Don’t forget to join us on November 6th in Washington when thousands of concerned citizens and activists like NRDC Founding Director John Adams led by Bill McKibben gather around the White House to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.