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Congressional leaders urge State to consider Keystone XL's significant climate impact

Anthony Swift

Posted July 10, 2013

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Today Representative Henry Waxman and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse submitted a detailed letter to the State Department urging it to correct significant mistakes in the analysis of the climate impacts of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  In their letter, they noted that the agency’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) underestimated the cost of transporting tar sands by rail and ignores the views of numerous market experts. The Congressional leaders observed that the Administration’s own estimates of the social costs of carbon show that the additional carbon pollution from Keystone XL will impose $71 billion in costs.  Waxman and Whitehouse concluded that a ‘thorough, unbiased, and comprehensive” analysis of the tar sands pipeline  “would show that the Keystone XL pipeline fails the test the President set forth and must be denied.”

Their letter compiles an enormous body of evidence demonstrating the fatal flaws in State’s analysis that led the Department to ignore Keystone XL’s significant climate impacts. The Congressmen note the recent rejection of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline by British Columbia and the growing public opposition to tar sands pipelines throughout Canada demonstrates that tar sands expansion isn’t inevitable.

Waxman and Whitehouse pointed out the significant obstacles to moving tar sands by rail, noting that there are significant economic and logistical obstacles which make moving large volumes of heavy tar sands by rail an unworkable option. State ignored many of these differences and assumed that tar sands producers could replicated the light crude by rail boom seen in North Dakota’s Bakken producers. The Congressmen observed this was an apples and orange comparison, citing analysis by the International Energy Administration:

“After discussing the boom in moving Bakken oil by rail, IEA discussed the prospects for using rail to transport tar sands product, “We do not, however, expect rail boom on a similar scale than in [the] case of US [light tight oil] as most Alberta crude production is in the form of bitumen.”

They also showed that State’s misinterpretation of industry data led it to paint an inaccurate picture of how much heavy crude is actually moving by rail:

“The State Department cited two analyses that projected 200,000 or 250,000 barrels of tar sands would be moved by rail to the Gulf by the end of this year. But according to the Reuters analysis, the State Department misinterpreted one of those analyses, and the other one is being reevaluated in light of the fact that the numbers are nowhere near that high now, halfway through the year. Goldman Sachs estimates that no more than 30,000 to 60,000 barrels of tar sands and other Canadian heavy crude, combined, will move by rail to the United States this year.”

Waxman and Whitehouse also observed that the energetic actions of Canadian officials, the Alberta government, and oil industry representatives give lie to the argument that Keystone XL isn’t necessary for tar sands expansion. 

The Congressmen go on to show that once the additional emissions from co-products of tar sands besides gasoline and diesel where considered, the increased emissions from replacing conventional crude in the Gulf with tar sands from Keystone XL would among to 24.3 MMTCO2e each year. Over the project’s minimum lifetime, that amounts to 1.2 billion MMTCO2e. The legislators noted:

"Finally, if the climate change effects of the Keystone XL pipeline are not considered to be significant, it is unclear whether there is any individual project in the United States that would ever be considered significant."

Representative Waxman and Senator Whitehouse concluded:

“We request the State Department to acknowledge that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would have significant consequences for climate change. The harm from climate change is mounting, and the need to act becomes ever more urgent. Given the multiplicity of sources of greenhouse gases and the size of reductions needed from current levels, stopping a single project alone could never be sufficient to avoid a dangerous degree of climate change. Yet in the absence of comprehensive economy-wide action, there is no choice but to combat climate change on a project-by-project basis. The alternative is business-as-usual rising carbon pollution that would doom us to devastating climate disruption.”

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Donna rollerJul 11 2013 11:14 AM

Thank you to representative Waxmen and senator Whithouse. I am a Nebraska land owner near the KXL route. I have been to many hearings at every level, federal state, county, and this is one issue that has frustrated all of us in Nebraska as we have seen it first hand over and over. ----the corruption, pay offs, behind closed door meetings with Trans Canada, conflict of interest in the review process at every level. This whole review process of the KXL has shown the emence corruption in our democratic government. I can only hope the common sense and what is the right thing to do will prevail. And has anyone thought that this nation should not endanger the very state and land and water that provides a great percentage of what everyone in this nation eats and the water that grows that food? The pipeline will make a lot of people hungry when our land and water is contaminated here in Nebraska.

Maurine WhiteJul 15 2013 07:06 PM

I am a geologist with a degree from Univ of Texas and extensive field experience in oil/gas. I have made extensive studies of proposed corridor for Keystone XL. It is a serious mistake to ignore environmental facts of tar sands weight per distance of pipeline, possible breaks, and groundwater contamination of the major aquifer,the Ogallala, in transport over an earthquake zone and agricultural states.

Joseph ToomeyJul 17 2013 04:57 PM

It looks like NRDC's neurotic jihad against the Keystone XL pipeline disintegrated in a 73 tank car conflagration in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, a catastrophe that killed 50 people and left another 2,000 homeless. The oil is on the move one way or the other and no amount of politicizing it in the U.S. will change that outcome. The only question is whether more towns will be at risk of the same fate as that of Lac-Megantic. Do let us know if NRDC thinks rail car transport is a better option than pipeline. You can also explain it to the families of the deceased.

Charles BlakeJul 19 2013 07:40 AM

Neither rail cars nor pipelines transport "tar sands." They transport diluted bitumen, and the dilution ratio can be altered depending on the needs of the transport vehicle. Its absurd to say that tank cars cannot carry bitumen.

Please start working with some facts....

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