skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Anthony Swift’s Blog

Secretary Kerry has all the information necessary to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Anthony Swift

Posted March 27, 2014

, , , , , , , , , ,
Share | | |


Kerry on Climate.png

The State Department now has all the information it needs to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. NRDC has released a backgrounder that presents an overview of a compelling body of evidence that makes it clear that this project is not in the United State’s national interest. Keystone XL would significantly add to the carbon pollution that’s driving climate change, undermine the nation’s climate leadership and imperil the health and drinking water of millions of Americans. The proposed tar sands pipeline is a long term piece of high carbon infrastructure that simply doesn’t fit in a world which is committed to stabilize climate change at 2 degrees Celsius. Secretary Kerry can’t find Keystone XL in the national interest until a route through Nebraska has been determined and evaluated and the impact of that route on communities and resources can be evaluated.  But he has already has all the information he needs to reject Keystone XL on climate and other grounds. By rejecting Keystone XL, Secretary Kerry has an opportunity to build on his exemplary record on climate and signal to the world that the United Statesis serious about tackling climate change. 

"Climate change has special significance for the work we do here at State, and so do clean water, clean air, sustainability, and energy.  We’re talking about the future of our earth and of humanity.  We need to elevate the environment in everything we do." Secretary Kerry, Policy Guidance to the Department of State, March 7, 2014

Here is a short overview of some of the reasons to find that Keystone XL is not in the nation’s interest:

  • Keystone XL is not in the national interest because it would lock in high-carbon infrastructure and enable significant additional global carbon emissions. Keystone XL is a driver for tar sands expansion that simply would not happen without the project. Industry has been clear that Keystone XL is critical in driving its plans to triple tar sands tar sands expansion by 2030. The additional, or incremental, emissions from the more carbon intensive tar sands crude in Keystone XL is the equivalent of the emissions of 5.7 million passenger vehicles and would generate up to $128 billion in climate related costs over the pipelines projected lifespan, according to the Administration’s own social costs of carbon estimates.
  • Keystone XL is not in the national interest because it would undermine U.S. climate objectives and leadership. Keystone XL is wholly inconsistent with a scenario where the international community limits warming to 2 degrees Celsius. In IEA forecasts meeting that goal is dependent on significantly reduced U.S. and global oil consumption through 2035. The U.S. must be consistent in its call to reduce significant new sources of carbon.  Rejecting Keystone XL is consistent with other policies in the President’s Climate Action Plan, such as ending financial support for new overseas coal power plants. Moreover, U.S. climate leadership and credibility in negotiating robust international climate commitments depends on taking actions at home that are consistent with what the U.S. is asking other countries to do.  Rejecting Keystone XL will show the international community that the U.S. is forgoing infrastructure for large new sources of carbon.
  • Keystone XL is not in the national interest because it is inconsistent with State’s recent policy guidance on climate. Rejecting Keystone XL would allow the State to elevate climate and lead by example through strong action at home in accordance with the Department’s policy on climate.
  • Keystone XL is not in the national interest because the pipeline would further undermine Canada’s capacity to make and honor future emissions reductions. Extraction of tar sands oil is Canada’s largest growing source of emissions and the most significant barrier to meeting its international target.
  • Keystone XL’s cannot be determined to be in the national interest as there is currently no agreed route through Nebraska that can be evaluated under the National Environmental Policy Act.  The available evidence provides the State Department with a strong basis to reject however it cannot be approved until its route is known and its impact to the communities and resources along that route can be evaluated.
  • Keystone XL is not in the national interest because a mounting and scientifically recognized body of research shows that the health impacts of tar sands are considerably worse than conventional crude oil. Both State and the EPA have concluded that tar sands spills are significantly more damaging than conventional spills and more difficult and costly to clean up – it presents unique risks in water bodies and does not readily biodegrade. That is bad news for the millions of Americans relying on the water resources from hundreds of rivers and major aquifers along the pipeline’s route.
  • Keystone XL is not in the national interest because its leak detection technology allows potentially catastrophic spills to go undetected. The FSEIS found that the pipeline’s leak detection system is unlikely to identify leaks smaller than half a million gallons a day – putting frontline communities in the role of first responders.
  • Keystone XL is not in the national interest because it is a pipeline through the United State to export refineries. Over half of the crude from Keystone XL is forecast to be exported internationally after it is refined. Moreover, Keystone XL is not necessary to transport domestic crude; in fact, domestic crude oil producers in North Dakota have turned down several new pipeline applications while rail and pipeline capacity out of the state exceeds production by over one million bpd.
  • Keystone XL is not in the national interest because it would not further significant national employment growth. According to the FSEIS, Keystone XL would only create 1,950 construction jobs over two years and 50 permanent jobs

Keystone XL represents a huge step backward for our country. President and Secretary Kerry have more than enough information to reject the Keystone XL pipeline as a project that is incompatible with the nation’s climate goals, a risk to our waters, and a threat to our communities.

Photo: Secretary: Kerry discusses the threat of climate in Jakarta, Indonesia, Department of State


Share | | |


Ray Del ColleMar 28 2014 03:15 PM

"It takes more energy to extract and refine tar sands oil, leading to a higher carbon footprint than regular oil."

A Proud CanadianMar 29 2014 10:29 PM

You continue to redirect from the real issues by trying to make false connections.
“Keystone XL would significantly add to the carbon pollution that’s driving climate change” – yes carbon pollution is adding to climate change and then you try to imply that Keystone XL is part of that. Nicely done. Again as I’ve stated before .... and again as you know.... Canadian heavy oil will be displacing Venezuelan heavy oil at not net increase at all.
You go on to falsely imply that a pipeline is a long term piece of carbon infrastructure. Nice try. I used to think my Blockbuster video membership was forever. But things change. Replace the need for oil with something else and that pipeline will not be used. Note that the need for oil still exists.
By the way, why is this pipeline any more “peril” to Americans than rail cars and oil tankers. You know that it is not.
You also mention that the crude being sent to the Gulf will be refined and half of it exported. This is true but again a redirection. No new refineries are being built. That means that the non Canadian oil being imported now... the Venezuelan oil.... is being imported as crude with the same amount of refined product being exported.
You go on to try to link Keystone to climate change again ... “it doesn’t fit into a world etc.......”. The 99.85% of carbon pollution that is not the oilsands and the 99.99% that is not the Keystone pipeline doesn’t fit into that world as well. Your own oil production that far exceeds Canada’s. Also Saudi Arabia’s and Venezuela's oil. Your coal plants. Your drivers (75-80% of all CO2 from a barrel of oil comes out of the tail pipe). So please don’t connect climate change to that!
So with continued false statements, poor analysis, and purposeful redirects and false connections, you continue to push a poor case.
But it is your only case. You are the Attorney, International Program, Washington, DC for NRDC. You have no choice. This is your job so I don’t expect you to change your mind. I just hope others can think much more deeply about this and not get bamboozled by your glossed over and biased “analysis”
The State Department’s extensive environmental review was published earlier this year. The State Department now has all the information it needs to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Anthony SwiftMar 31 2014 11:06 AM

Proud Canadian: If you take a look at the backgrounder, its cites, or my past response – you’ll see that State found that Keystone XL will offset lighter, less carbon intensive crudes from the global market. It will not reduce the amount of VZ crude refined and consumed on the global market.

And Keystone XL IS a long term piece of infrastructure – it’s got a 50 year projected lifespan, though TransCanada has indicated it plans to treat the pipeline as a permanent piece of infrastructure. A $7 billion pipeline has a significantly greater lock-in value than a blockbuster membership.

Keystone XL – and tar sands – increase the carbon intensity of our fuels stocks. State found that impact could be as high as 1.4 billion metric tons – that’s the greater emission from the tar sands in Keystone XL relative to the crude it would displace over its lifetime. And it’s a lot of one pipeline.

There is no question that the challenge of climate change is a big one – and no single action will address it. That’s why we’re pursuing power plant regulations that will result in significant emission reductions. That’s why we pushed for stronger auto-standards – which are part of the reason that the United States has decreased its oil consumption by over 2 million bpd over the last six or seven years, and those standards are going to result in even greater fuel savings as time goes forward. We’re also pushing for policies that will enable the rapid expansion of renewables and clean energy alternatives. No single effort will solve the problem by itself – but together they can have a very significant impact.

In order to address the problem, however, you have to stop making it worse. And that’s why Keystone XL isn’t in the national interest. It makes the problem worse at a time when we need to be focusing our efforts on reducing emissions.

A Proud CanadianApr 4 2014 11:32 PM

Thanks for the response Anthony. Much appreciated.
Nothing in the backgrounder, or any other credible marketing analysis (like that of the State report) that supports offsetting light crudes. The gulf is set up for up for heavy crude. In fact, it is set up for a lot of heavy crude. Did you know that gulf coast refineries have a capacity of 8.5 Million bbls per day?
Domestic Sources 4.5Mbpd
Imports 4.0Mbpd
OPEC – 2.5Mbpd (Saudi 1.0Mbpd, Venezuela 0.7Mbpd, etc.....) 63% of imports
Non OPEC – 1.5Mbpd (Canada - .1Mbpd)
Did you know at least 1.2Mbpd of USGC refining capacity is under Venezuelan and Saudi influence
Citgo (Venezuelan refineries at Corpus Christie and Lake Charles) 590,000bpd
Motiva (Saudi Aramco with Shell) 600,000bpd
There is plenty of OPEC oil to remove off of the USGC market
If you think the Saudi’s don’t have heavy oil?
Safaniya-offshore project, 1.5 million bbl/d of Arab Heavy crude
Manifa- offshore project, 0.9 million bbl/d of Arab Heavy crude oil after completion. Projected to come online in December 2014

The point is that keystone is a threat to the OPEC foothold in US. Their refineries will become unprofitable if others are buying cheaper feedstock than they are. They will be forced to either take North American oil .... or shutdown.
I also find it odd that you use the argument that the state department uses which is that “one pipeline won’t affect oilsands growth” and use that it stating that stopping Venezuelan crude won’t stop it from reaching the global market. Push them out of the USGC and let them worry about that.
I don’t think you understood my Blockbuster reference... What I meant is that although blockbuster sold me the membership and invested a lot of money as if it were a going concern, new technology and new market conditions rendered their capital investment (and my membership) valueless. The same applies for Keystone. Reduce the demand for refined oil products and watch refineries close, heavy oil production drop, and the pipeline stay unused.. In the oil and gas industry, some oil pipelines aren’t just being stopped... they’re being reversed! LNG import terminals were once being constructed for import. A few years later, now its export.

And for the 1.4Btonnes of 50yrs. That is 28Mt/yr ……. So although the report says “the amount by which the emissions would be greater than the reference crudes for crude oil that would be transported by the proposed Project is estimated to be 1.3 to 27.4 MMTCO annually” ..... you chose the top of the range. So state found between 66.4M and 1.4Bt CO2 over the pipelines life. And of course some context………... 2013 global emissions where 36Btonnes. In 50 years that is 1.8Trillion tonnes (without assuming any growth). So say the Keystone pipeline may increase lifetime global emissions by .0037%. Given that oilsands performance has been constantly improving over time I’d suggest even that even this number is zero.
Also the State Department report uses the proper term “oil sands” and not “tar sands”. If you continue to reference the report you may wish to make that adjustment
A Proud Canadian

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Anthony Swift’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In