Ahead of Keystone XL Senate Hearing, OSFC Presents the Top Ten Most Egregious Claims made by Sierra Club’s Michael Brune

As a recent op ed by the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune clearly shows, opponents aren’t giving up on their fallacious claims regarding Keystone XL, despite the fact that they have been completely discredited by experts at the State Department, highly regarded research institutions, Obama administration officials, and even prominent climate scientists.

No doubt Brune will rehash every one of those tired, debunked talking points today when he testifies before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, so ahead of the hearing let’s have a look at his top ten most egregious claims:

Brune Claim #1:Clearly, the Keystone XL fails this ‘climate test’ because the tar sands fail it.”

FACT: Brune and his anti-Keystone XL allies must be feeling pretty lonely on that argument.  The State Department has, for the fifth time in five years, found that Keystone XL will have a negligible effect on the environment, therefore passing the president’s climate test.  And let’s not forget what energy and climate experts, as well as our nation’s top regulators have had to say:

  • David Victor, a climate-policy expert at the University of California: “As a serious strategy for dealing with climate, blocking Keystone is a waste of time. But as a strategy for arousing passion, it is dynamite.”
  • David Keith, climate scientist at Harvard: “The extreme statements – that this is ‘game over’ for the planet – are clearly not intellectually true…”
  • Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and environment at Council on Foreign Relations:  “And despite fears by climate change activists that increased oil sand production has profoundly negative consequences to global warming, Alberta’s massive reserve base contributes relatively little to the problem at a global scale.”
  • EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Keystone XL: “We have been making great strides forward.  No one project is going to take that away from us, but we are going to keep building on that success moving forward.”
  • Fatih Birol chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA): “…but the difference in getting oil from oil sands when compared to conventional oil, it is such a small contribution that it will be definitely wrong to highlight this as a major source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.”

And what have Democrats in the Senate said on that point?  Of note during the #Up4Climate all-night session organized by Senate Democrats earlier this week, Keystone XL was barely even mentioned.  As the Washington Examiner explained,

“The elephant on the Senate floor, of course, was the Keystone XL pipeline, which in recent weeks gained new support from unexpected sources, including two former Obama cabinet appointees, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, as well as the president’s rich guy, Warren Buffett. But the most unexpected surely was Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of the academic journal Science and former United States Geological Survey director, whose endorsement likely is keeping legions of outraged environmental activists awake all night plotting revenge.”

Brune Claim #2:  “The Keystone XL’s purpose would be to move Canadian tar sands oil through more than a thousand miles of American farms and ranches all the way to the Gulf, where much of it would be shipped to China and other countries.”

FACT: Keystone XL opponents have been trying to make this claim for years, but the facts keep getting in the way.  In its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) the State Department confirmed once again that Keystone XL will not be a crude oil export pipeline:

“Once WCSB crude oil arrives at the Gulf Coast, Gulf Coast refiners have a significant competitive advantage in processing it compared to foreign refiners because the foreign refiners would have to incur additional transportation charges to have the crude oil delivered from the Gulf Coast to their location. The pipeline or rail-delivered crude oil would compete with seaborne crude from elsewhere that has already undergone costs of loading onto seagoing tankers and may be delivered to other countries more competitively.”

When fellow Keystone XL opponent Tom Steyer tried to make that claim in a series of anti-Keystone XL ads, the Washington Post Fact-Checker called him out, giving him “Four Pinocchios” for making “insinuations and assertions not justified by the reality.”

Brune Claim #3: “Tar sands oil is not normal crude oil. It’s heavier and more toxic, with on average 11 times more sulfur, 11 times more nickel, and 5 times more lead, as well as plenty of other carcinogens.”

FACT: As IHS CERA has said on numerous occasions, oil sands are not the most carbon intensive of crude oils, as they are comparable to other crude oils refined in the U.S.  As it elaborates,

“[S]ources of supply from other oil-producing regions are in the same range as oil sands.  For example, the GHG emissions of Venezuelan crude, the most likely alternative to oil sands in the USGC, are in the same range as oil sands.”

According to Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), 70 to 80 percent of greenhouse gases are emitted during the combustion of fuel in an engine, so the vast majority of emissions remain the same regardless of whether the crude comes from Canada, Venezuela or California. Remember also that Canada accounts for only 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and emissions from oil sands are a small fraction of that.

Brune Claim #4:Just one tar sands oil spill in Michigan fouled more than 35 miles of river. After three and a half years and more than a billion dollars, that spill still has not been cleaned up.”

FACT:  Not only was this spill in the Kalamazoo River cleaned, the company responsible, Enbridge, vowed to make the river better than it was.  As one resident, Jesse Jacox, who lives along the Kalamazoo River put it, “I’m very pleased. I mean it’s cleaner now than it was before.”  For the full story on the clean-up click here.

Brune Claim #5:[T]he corrosive nature of tar sands oil combine to increase the likelihood of spills.”

FACT: This is simply false.  A report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that diluted bitumen (one of the kinds of oil that will be transported by the Keystone XL pipeline) is no more corrosive than any other kind of crude oil and therefore not more likely to spill from a pipeline. As Mark Barteau, an author of the report explained,

“Diluted bitumen has density and viscosity ranges that are comparable with those of other crude oils. It moves through pipelines in a manner similar to other crude oils with respect to flow rate, pressure, and operating temperature. There’s nothing extraordinary about pipeline shipments of diluted bitumen to make them more likely than other crude oils to cause releases.”

Brune Claim #6:The State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Keystone XL, which came out earlier this year, has several problems, which isn’t too surprising when you consider that a member of the American Petroleum Institute helped draft it.”

FACT: Last month, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report finding that Keystone XL opponents’ conflict of interest charge is without merit. The Inspector General found that the State Department “substantially followed” guidelines, the “conflict of interest review was effective,” and “the review’s conclusions were reasonable.” As Politico rightly noted, the IG’s report “marks yet another defeat for the pipeline’s opponents.” Greenwire called it “a notable blow.”  This is the second time the Inspector General’s office has looked into activists’ claims and found no wrongdoing.  As Politico reported last year, “There is no evidence of conflict of interest or bias in the State Department’s review of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the department’s inspector general has found.” Further, the State Department should select a contractor with expertise in the environmental assessment and pipeline fields.

Brune Claim #7:The report’s most wrong-headed assertion, though, was that the tar sands will be fully developed regardless of whether Keystone is built.”

FACT:  In its FEIS the State Department found, once again,

“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States. Limitations on pipeline transport would force more crude oil to be transported via other modes of transportation, such as rail, which would probably (but not certainly) be more expensive.”

The State Department explains that while its Draft EIS, published in 2013, discussed the transportation of Canadian crude by rail as a “future possibility” the FEIS shows that transportation of crude oil by rail “is already occurring in substantial volumes” and the industry is “making significant investments increasing rail transport capacity.”  This has been bolstered not only by energy experts but also by the New York Times, NPR, and CNBC, which have all reported on the significant increases in infrastructure to get Canadian oil sands to market.

The State Department also noted again that if Keystone XL is rejected, many other pipelines – those that are already in use and those that are planned – would also play a significant role in transporting Canadian crude: “Since August 2011, when the Final EIS was published, there have been a significant number of projects that would directly support the export of WCSB crudes and/or move WCSB and Bakken crudes to destination markets.”

Perhaps EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy put it best when she said recently, “If there’s oil there, someone will find it and use it.”

Brune Claim #8: “Canada cannot even get its own people to accept new tar sands pipelines within their borders. Two pipelines proposed to the west through British Columbia are stalled due to popular opposition. Two more pipelines going to the east are also heavily criticized.”

FACT: Keystone XL is just one of six major pipelines currently under consideration – two to the west coast of Canada, two to the east, and another expansion to our Gulf Coast.  Keystone XL opponents cheered last summer when the government of British Columbia announced that it opposed the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline “in its current form”- but their celebration was short lived.  After a panel of Canadian energy regulators reviewed the pipeline late last year, they recommended its approval.  As Politico Pro reported, the Joint Review Panel found that the Northern Gateway pipeline was in Canada’s best interest:

“’After weighing all of the oral and written evidence, the panel found that Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project than without it,’ the panel said in a statement.”

Brune Claim #9:Fortunately, we are hardly desperate for oil. Oil demand in the U.S. actually peaked in 2007 and has declined since then from about 22 million barrels per day (mpd) to less than 19.”

FACT:  We have the ability to be 100% liquid fuels secure in North America in the next decade by taking advantage the vast resources at home and in Canada.  Thanks to our energy boom, we are certainly slashing imports from unstable nations.  But, as IHS CERA has found, the United States will still need 5 million barrels per day (bpd) of net imports each year over the next two decades: “Oil sands are expected to remain an important pillar of US supply to meet this demand.”  The report continues,

“Increasing supply from Canada allows the United States to reduce its dependence on more distant supplies of oil by tanker, often from regions that are less stable and more susceptible to disruption. Pipeline and rail links between the United States and Canada constitute a “hardwired” link of Canadian oil to the US market— very different from waterborne shipments that can be diverted, even while en route.”

That’s not all: increasing supply from Canada also “offers an alternative to less certain heavy crude suppliers” (i.e. Mexico and Venezuela) and will “contribute to global spare capacity and price stability.”  How much better to get this oil from our friend and ally rather than unstable nations overseas?

Brune Claim #10: “It’s true that all fossil fuels come with risks, of course. But extreme fossil fuel sources, such as oil from the Arctic Sea or tar sands from Canada, come with extreme risks.”

FACT: To borrow a phrase from Brune, this whole anti-Keystone XL campaign is “not about the pipe” or what he calls “extreme fossil fuels” at all.  It’s about a far bigger effort to end all fossil fuel use in this country – a position that is far outside of the mainstream, not to mention completely outside the realm of reality.

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