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Keystone XL tar sands pipeline: Splitting the project means double the trouble

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted February 27, 2012 in Moving Beyond Oil, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, Solving Global Warming

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Bullying American landowners and stockpiling pipe for a rejected project show the arrogance of the Canadian pipeline company TransCanada as it tries to reanimate the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  The latest is that TransCanada is proposing to split the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in two in order to get around the U.S. process to review international pipelines for their national interest. TransCanada says that it will seek the presidential permit for the border crossing, but move ahead separately with the southern portion of the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Oklahoma to the Gulf. This is a ploy to avoid a review that will show how the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will raise U.S. oil prices, send tar sands overseas, endanger U.S. homes and waters, and contribute to worsening climate change. What part of “no” does TransCanada not understand? Texans, Nebraskans, and folks all across the country are saying that whether in a hundred pieces or one piece, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest. At a time of public worry about rising gas prices, lawmakers should be concerned about a project that will in diverting oil from the Midwest gasoline refining operations to Gulf Coast diesel refining operations thereby raising U.S. oil and gas prices.

Here is a video clip of a recent protest of Texas landowners in reaction to TransCanada’s bullying and the threats that the tar sands pipeline would pose to homes and waters.


So what exactly has TransCanada proposed today? TransCanada announced that it has let the State Department know that the company will submit a new application for a presidential permit for the northern portion of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from the border crossing in Montana to Steel City, Nebraska on the Kansas border where an already existing part of the pipeline starts. TransCanada would supplement this application with the proposed route through Nebraska after that has been determined in cooperation with Nebraska. But there is some question as to how long this would take since Nebraska does not currently have laws in place to do this assessment. TransCanada will then apply separately to the various federal and state permits for the southern portion of the pipeline from Cushing Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast.

Raw tar sands oil going from the Midwest to the Gulf for refining means serious pipeline safety issues for landowners and environmental justice impacts of tar sands refining. Concerns of Texas landowners over TransCanada's high-handed attempts to take their land through eminent domain will all remain the same in the case of an Oklahoma to Texas tar sands pipeline.

And the southern route pipeline will still provide the main service to oil companies that Keystone XL would provide: it will divert tar sands from the Midwest to the Gulf, raising American oil prices and likely also gasoline prices. An Oklahoma to Texas tar sands pipeline will mean more tar sands converted to diesel and available for export overseas. It will mean less tar sands remaining in the US, even while Americans bear the risks of the pipeline.

TransCanada is clearly trying to circumvent the process that we have in place for approving international pipelines by now going around the presidential permit national interest determination requirement for the part of this pipeline that will hurt the U.S. economy. Whether in pieces or as a whole, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest.

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Steve ThompsonFeb 27 2012 06:44 PM

Despite the presence of the oil sands, Canada is importing increasing volumes of oil from Venezuela and OPEC among others as shown here:

While the reserves in the oil sands are massive by world standards, both the environmental and capital costs involved in producing additional quantities are prohibitive. As well, the most easily mined sands are already being exploited; oddly enough, estimates show that only 20 years of reserves are left in the "sweet spot".

Anna SchmidtFeb 27 2012 07:28 PM

Tell TransCanada to build a refinery up there and stop bullying Americans.

BSFeb 27 2012 08:46 PM

Even Obama has come out in support of the southern leg of Keystone.

You guys have gone from at least trying to come up with valid reasons for opposing this to outright gossip and lies.

Also, what is so hard to understand about basic economics? If you increase supply, you make prices go down. Pipelines from the northern border to Oklahoma and llinois have spare capacity because there isn't enough demand in those areas. So by building capacity to the Gulf Coast, the supply of Canadian crude will increase, putting downward pressure on oil prices (Canadian crude will get more expensive and all others will go down for a net decrease in the average price per barrel).

BSFeb 27 2012 08:50 PM

Steve--Canada imports oil because the tar sands can't get to the east coast.

Do you have any data to back up your second paragrah? (That's a hypothetical question since I know you don't.)

BSFeb 27 2012 09:11 PM

Oh, and speaking of poor defensless landowners, aparently 99% of them are already onboard with the pipeline.

Bob EFeb 27 2012 10:03 PM

Where does that expert, MS hypenated last name live. Sure as heck isn't Nebraska. She wouldn't know a Sandhill if it ran in her boot. Those people spill more desil fill a tractor's tank than that damn pipeline would ever spill. She's a bunny huggin' nut from somewhere other than where she's writing about, that's clear.

Don McWethyyFeb 28 2012 06:30 PM

BS: Your handle is right. IF we could actually have an impact the GLOBAL oil supply, we could affect the price. Just until OPEC restricted their production, and the price went back up. Or, in reality, never changed.

Jean NethertonFeb 28 2012 06:42 PM

@ BS - TransCanada start pumping more oil to Cushing and the surrounding area refineries than the current capacity to refine. Refinery closures are frequent due to breakage and spills. If you read TransCanada's plan, they want to eventually bypass the mid-west and go straight to Texas. Currently the mid-west has a lower fuel price. After the bypass, their fuel costs will rise. And so will the cost of producing and shipping food from there. The oil that is piped to Texas refineries will be mainly for export. We already export more gasoline than we consume. Supply is not the problem. And I do not blame the land owners for not wanting the tarsands pipeline that will leak as it already has, crossing their property, just to enrich Canadian corporations and supply China with more fuel.

NGFeb 28 2012 08:19 PM

Actually BS, I live in Canada and we can GET oil to the East Coast (we don't have a pipeline, but there are other means of shipment). In fact, I met with a Conservative Member last week who explained to me it IS possible. We just don't because it's cheaper for us (on the East Coast) to import it from overseas.

So, instead of using our "ethical oil" here we ship it out and use the "unethical" stuff like complete hypocrites.

With respect to your comments about the economy, the pipeline - at least here in Canada - will have severe negative economic impacts long-term. In fact, our manufacturing sector is already suffering in many provinces because of the high dollar.

Canadian economists are forecasting (and not just the left-wing ones) that expansion of tar sands oil in Canada will exacerbate the onset of dutch disease.

NGFeb 28 2012 08:43 PM

If Obama cares so much about jobs -- why is he letting a Canadian company build a pipeline for US oil?

william thomasFeb 28 2012 10:33 PM

Oil sands, tar sands or more technically bituminous sands, are a type of unconventional petroleum deposit. The oil sands are loose sand or partially consolidated sandstone containing naturally occurring mixtures of sand, clay and water, saturated with a dense and extremely viscous form of petroleum technically referred to as bitumen (or colloquially tar due to its similar appearance, odour and colour).

william thomasFeb 28 2012 10:42 PM

Asphalt Listeni/ˈæsfɔːlt/ or /ˈæsʃfɛlt/, also known as bitumen, is the sticky, black and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid present in most crude petroleums and in some natural deposits; it is a substance classed as a pitch. Until the 20th century, the term asphaltum was also used.[1]

BSFeb 29 2012 08:35 AM

NG--Yes, the decision is an economic one. There is no "ethical" oil because oil is oil. If you use more Canadian oil, someone else will use more "unethical" oil. Nothing changes. So doing what's most cost effecitve is best.

Yes, I'm sure Canada does have the means to move it's oil to the East Coast by rail or truck. However, that is expensive. Risks of spills are also much higher, as is energy consumption. Lot's of things are possible. Just not pracitcal.

BSFeb 29 2012 08:38 AM

Don--Global oil demand is at record highs. OPEC has no reason to cut back. We can either increase production as fast as or faster than demand grows, or we can just let prices continue to go up. We've aparently chosen the latter.

In any case, using more North American oil will at a minimum reduce prices by the amount saved in transportation costs which are not huge, but not insignificant. Canadian oil is also cheaper.

BSFeb 29 2012 08:45 AM


There are so many inaccuracies in your statement that I'm not sure where to begin.

First, we do not export more gasoline than we consume. In fact, we are a net IMPORTER of gasoline. We export a lot of diesel fuel. (go to for verification)

Second, Texas refineries do not have anywhere near enough capacity to take all this oil, refine it, and export it. If 95% utilitzation is the highest they can go, they have at best the capacity to refine 10% of the proposed capacity of Keystone XL. In other words the only possible outcome of Keystone XL is redued imports from outside North America. (see for Texas gulf coast refining stats)

Third, TransCanada is not trying to "bypass" the midwest. They have enough oil to serve both areas. Existing pipelines from Canada are not full because there is not enough demand in the areas they can currently supply. By bringing pipelines to the Gulf Coast, they will not reduce supply to the midwest. In fact, Trans Canada does not even dictate where the oil will go. The shippers (buyers and sellers) do.

MarieVHFeb 29 2012 09:47 AM

To BS and NG: There is NO ECONOMY if there is no clean air, no clean water, fertile soil...and so on, because there will be NO PEOPLE! Therefore, there will be NO economy to worry about.
I am Canadian and I could only wish to have Obama as our leader, instead of the current Conservative nimwhit we have now, Mr. Steven Harper. The Big Oil is grasping right now, but the FUTURE IS GREEN, and my electric/hybrid is arriving soon!

NGFeb 29 2012 11:32 AM

MarieVH - I am not a proponent of the pipeline (I am very much against it). If you read the globe today you will see a nice article about the environmental impacts. My point was simply that we can get the oil to the East coast we just choose not to because it's inefficient and costs less. Whether there is a greater risk in spills as BS attests I don't agree with. If we perceive risk based on volume and impact the risk assessment of shipping oil in some of the most treacherous waters on earth (where there is currently a moratorium on oil tankers passed by the federal government in 2010) is a greater concern in my opinion, particularly based on the past precedent i.e. the Queen of the North disaster.

Anyway, when advocating to stop tar sands expansion you can't just argue from an environmental perspective because some people just don't care (I do). I look at the argument as being 4-fold: (1) environmental impact, (2) economic impact, (3) first nations, (4) upholding dissent and the democratic principles of civil society.

The economy, however, is the main one people will listen to and expansion will do nothing but cripple the Canadian long-term.

NGFeb 29 2012 11:34 AM

BTW, we wouldn't want Obama -- who is publicly supporting the TransCanada development of a southern pipeline and the only reason he stopped the Keystone XL was for political reasons.

The NDP is the only Canadian party to go on record so far in opposition to the pipeline -- support them. I used to be a Tory supporter, but am no more thanks to this.

BSFeb 29 2012 11:46 AM

Marie--The environment in North America is as clean as it has been in decades. What is your point?

Green energy is growing by leaps and bounds, but it is still a tiny fraction of total energy demand. There is no way to stop using oil any time soon. It is a gradual process that will happen over many decades. Until then, we need to use the resources we have.

NG--You say, "Whether there is a greater risk in spills as BS attests I don't agree with." It doesn't matter what you agree with. Tens or hundreds of thousands of rail cars and trucks are far more prone to leaking (or catching fire and killing people) than a pipeline or a state of the art crude carrier. Statistics back that up. Believing something different doesn't change reality.

NGFeb 29 2012 04:27 PM

BS -- Read some of the risk assessment reports that have been prepared for the Northern Gateway hearings currently being conducted. You will see that the actual risk is higher for the pipeline and shipping with tankers. Maybe you would like to provide some statistics that refute this? But stats from other reports won't take into consideration the context of the BC coast.

BSFeb 29 2012 07:51 PM

I have no idea what risk assessment reports you are talking about.

At roughly 6miles/gallon, a truck would burn several hundred gallons of diesel to make a trip to the coast and back to move roughly 8,000 gallons of oil to the coast and add at least $10-15/bbl to the cost of the oil. A pipeline would consume a tiny fraction of that energy and add only a few dollars.

BSFeb 29 2012 07:55 PM

I meant to add: please provide links to the reports you referenced.

By the way, if you want to transport 2 million barrels/day to one of the coasts by truck, you'll only need to have 20,000 trucks running continuously to accomplish that. Roadway accidents are pretty common, and Canada's roads are going to be a bit treacherous for much of the year. And not only are you increasing the risk of spills, you're risking the lives of the 60,000 drivers that would be hauling it. Roadway deaths are also much more likely than deaths due to pipelines.

John LiffeeFeb 29 2012 08:05 PM

Every time I read something here about Keystone there's some annoying comment from this BS person. Today I just couldn't leave well enough alone and so spent time I shouldn't have digging around to summarize what we know about this fellow:

  • He is a career oil-industry insider. (Said so himself).
  • He posts anonymously, declining to disclose his name or who he works for. So much for transparency.
  • He is either being directed by his employer to clutter up these blogs with industry talking points or somehow has the free time to sit here all the live long day and do so. (Either way, not so surprising — it's the oil industry, where companies make billions each quarter AND are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. Always plenty around to fund the shills — or layabouts, whichever.)
  • Is ill-mannered enough to choose an anonymous handle that implies that everything NRDC says is "bullshit."
  • Never addresses the PRIMARY REASON Bill McKibben and other environmental leaders have made stopping Keystone XL a cause worth drawing a line in the sand for, which is this: If Canada's Tar Sands are fully developed, the greenhouse pollution released in the process will cook our planet beyond recognition. What all this is about, more than anything else, is saying that enough is enough — we have to do everything and anything in our power to prevent the world economy from locking in another half-century of "easy answers." We have to really push ourselves to kick fossil fuels. (Personally, I don't know why NRDC isn't more aggressively placing every last message re Keystone within the climate frame.)
  • Said that in the oil industry, "Health, Safety and Environment are ALWAYS stressed above profits." Also said, "The only agenda I have is the desire that people make decisions based on facts and not myths. If I have any facts wrong, I'm always open to changing my opinion." (If you believe any of that, there's a large bridge for sale in New York City that I'd like to show you.)

Why would anything this person says be regarded as credible? He's an oil man. Would you sit down and argue the "facts" with a tobacco exec trying to tell you his product is safe? Or would you tar-and-feather him and run him out of town??

BSFeb 29 2012 08:37 PM

You got the first point right. Then you started making assumptions, so it probably shouldn't suprise you that you're way off base.

By the way, BS actually stands for "Bob Smith", a made up name I've occasionally used. BS was just easier, and since it's not my real name, it doesn't matter. If you don't believe me, try emailing me at I don't actually check the email address, so you'll have to let me know if you do.

So now back to the facts, I'd be happy to discuss them with you. Please let me know exactly where I'm wrong.

Let's start with your claim that using Canada's oil sands will "cook our planet beyond recognition". Please post data to back it up. Since we're already using a lot of oil sands, I assume you can show that the earth's warming rate has increased in recent years. No? Global temperatures have actually leveled off in recent years? The earth has warmed much slower than the IPCC predicted in 1990? I have a feeling you're going to have a hard time backing up your statement.

Here are surface temps that show no warming in the last 10yrs:

Here are University of Alabama Birmingham lower atmosphere temperature measurements showing no warming in over 10yrs:

BSFeb 29 2012 08:53 PM

BTW, here is the UAB data directly from UAB in case you don't like the source I posted:

Mark WendmanMar 1 2012 10:47 PM


as I predicted before, legislative / lobbying against KXL was ill advised ( I had no inside knowledge, but this was entirely predictable by ANYONE with common sense, which you seem to be lacking in ..... possibly ).

The goals to reduce non renewable fuel use are noble, we might already be in early throes of a clathrate gun, and stuff needs to get done.

Yet policies devoid of economic common sense are not likely to be of any real effect, economics matters, outside of NRDCs policy wonks.

Picking on Canada, because it is easier for you, and part of your personal international mandate is also unwise. You may as well do the real work and debate the Saudis, The Iranians, the Venezualans and so on, why don't you as the GHG footprint of oil shipments from outside of north america are far larger than what might arise from continental pipeline shipments? Truth be told. Isn't that obvious? But it might take more effort by you than you can shoulder?

The overall goals are good, NRDCs tactics and the Sierra Club seem to be run by folks who have protested too long ( seeing everythign as an opportunity for costumes and placards nevermind the real issues of substance ), and have little actual relevant and critical needed technology expertise. Truth be told. My letter to you and Bill and NRDCs head and Mike Brune results in a simpletons response from Mike in the SF Chronicle - pablum about coal. And yes any Coal is a far larger non renewable GHG emissions source than you otherwise imply by trumping up the NON ISSUE of KXL. Do the math, if KXL's output goes to China ( instead of to Houston or elsewhere ) via pipeline AND ship across the pacific, the results of your ill advised protests results in LARGER GHG footprint than if the Tar Sands oil stays for refining in houston.

Hard to figure that one out. Really takes a rocket scientist, which you do not seem to be.

And technology and even basic financial accounting skills are missing at NRDC and Sierra Club, and by Bill, but ?desperately needed in your organizations, before parading around Washington in silly costumes about ill advised counterproductive policy proposals.

The recent battery advance by ENVIA ( doubling energy density / capacity fo manufacturable lithium ion batteries as of early February 2012 )out here in Northern California, mattered more than all the ill thought out tactics NRDCS and Bill McKibben and Sierra Club seem prone to, not infrequently either. And I agree with the ultimate goal of reducing non renewable GHG, even far faster than your seemingly poorly thought out tactics achieve or pursue. You need to think more like a chess game but connected to the real world to have any chance of durable gains that do not hurt folks livelihoods, as if at present you seem to think everyone might earn money from costumed protests ?

Immature, and certainly not sensible, and neither effective in any manner. It is just another comical protest, with results that in the end leave you exasperated, unfulfilled personally is my guess.

Reducing GHG emissions from non renewables is very important, but picking the wrong good neighbor to foist your trumped up crazy ideas upon is stupid.

Canada is a great neighbor, the false claims you and NRDC are making, are over the top to anyone with any common sense. Even our president gets it, he just wants your votes.

I have been trying to get NRDC and Sierra CLub and Bill McKibben to comprehend the actual technical issues in effective ( cost effective ) greening the grid ( which is a precursor to widescale vehicle electrification that is actually carbone neutral - in fact, unlike PV photovoltaics that relies on continuously running Natural Gas electrical power plant to be 100% available ( running burning naturual gas all the time ) as cost effective "electrical batteries" for PV photovoltaic glitch ( passing cloud transients and overnite power production ) when BATTERIES for grid scale ( whether large PV power plants or large scale distributed rooftop PV ) are needed for quality and cost effective "greened" power.

The grid needs widescale deployment of
1- massive MS CSP / MS storage ( molten salt high concentration solar thermal with molten salt thermal storage )
2 - intrinsically safe nuclear, incapable of ANY reactor meltdown ( CANDU fits the bill, has the 40 year safety record, the intrinsic failre safe multiply redundant passive safety systems and design features , which prevent any instance of any meltdown even with total coolant loss - due to multiple thoughtful design features )
3 - passive thermal wind chimney - which uses a round flat open periphery tent with "wind" turbines in the center, coupled to a thermal gradient guywire suspended thermal "chimney" to provide round the clock almost all season - glitchfree ( no PV passing cloud fast outage transients ) power production.

Any large scale deployment of Photovoltaics, NEEDs large scale ( COSTLY, prohibitively costly ) BATTERIES or other electrical power storage - that for PV passing cloud transient outages, negates the possibility of using the lowest cost PUMPED HYDRO energy storage for remedial fast dispatch for PV's weakness in electrical output.

Passing cloud transient outages at grid scale will cause havoc - electrical systems havoc - that you, NRDC and Sierra Club and Bill McKibben seem to obliviously ignore as if clown costumes are substantive policy.

Quoting from an comment to a recent blog posting by Mike Brune
( I do not always agree with Chris Thorne, but he speaks to reality here, and NRDC and Sierra Club and Bill McKibben need to comprehend the common sense described here )


12:05 PM on February 29, 2012

"Last June in Texas, after pressure from local activists, the city of San Antonio announced that its Deely coal-fired power plant will be phased out by 2018. Solar energy will help replace that coal power, and the cleaner air will save lives."
While the cleaner air in Texas is quietly replaced by poisoned river water in China where the solar panels will be made.
The Germans have spent over two hundred billion euro in the last decade subsidizing solar and shutting down coal lants. How's that working out for them?
German consumers are paying 3x as much for electricity as we are.
German industry is quietly pulling up stakes and leaving.
They're having increasing problems with grid instability and blackouts.
And they're making the French rich because they're having to buy huge amounts of electricity from French companies off the Eurogrid when the German "renewables" regularly prove in practice to be "unreliables" and "unpredictables".
Oh, and that French electricity the Germans are buying? It's nuclear-generated.
There's a big antinuclear movement in Germany. It is devoutly to be wished that they would finally go whole hog and prohibit the _purchase_ of nuclear generated electric power from any source, over and above forbidding nuclear plants on German soil.
That way, the rest of us would all see precisely how catastrophic these "green" energy policy prescriptions are when they aren't being quietly propped up behind the scenes.
It would mean an economic collapse and people literally freezing in the dark at times when the "unpredictables" failed to deliver urgently needed power.
And it would be HIGHLY instructive to watch happen.

Grid power is needed to be migrated to a combination of renewables and zero emissions ( nuclear, MS CSP- with MS storage ) so prohibitively costly batteries are not needed to remediate electrical power quality ( surges ) from photovoltaics at scale.

KXL actually needs to be built to lower the GHG footprint of ocean transport from other imported crude oil. You might focus on importers further away, shipping by tanker to cast your ire, till EVs are practical. I know it is easier for you to pick on Canada, they speak english, they are closer, and no one in Arabia would even let you enter their country.

There are some very few biofuels efforts that are practical ( and likely to be highly profitable, successful businesses), I now of which specifically are likely to scale well, and that is good even great, yet in the near to medium term they will hardly dent the needed scale of petroleum fuel production to compensate for needed large scale sources of fuel.

The longer NRDC, SC and McKibben keep being distracted from proper sensible tactics to reduce non renewable GHG emission ( coal being the elephant in the room, as is large scale tanker transport of petroleum from the other side of the world ) the longer your efforts will remain largely ineffective even if noisy. Even if colorful with clown costumes on Pennsylvania Avenue ( makes for great photo ops, but not much else really )

You need advice from folks you are not soliciting from, so you actually might have greater, more durable impact in your ultimate goals ( and reduce your obvious and continual frustration, that you voice plainly in your personal profile where you say the same issues keep recurring ).

Attorneys and litigation are hardly as effective as you hope.

We all need your efforts to reduce non renewable GHG emissions, but you have to apply common sense that you seem to be missing, thrashing about ineffectively it appears ( and predictably so ).

I'd recommend you engage either far more skilled technical ( engineering ) staff, or hit the books ( technical and scientific ) far more substantively that any of you NRDC, Sierra Club and Bill McKibben seem to have done yet. And then plot effective strategy. Clown parades do not count.

Substantive technical preparation matters in crafting effective strategies in addressing non renewable GHG emissions quickly but sensibly.

Envia's Lithium Ion battery advance will have far more greater permanent effects in the prospects for EV electrical vehicles, and ultimately lowering GHG emission, if the grid is properly "greened" with power that does not need large scale prohibitively costly electrical power storage.

Wouldn't you think this is of greater importance, and more durable effect ?

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