EPA Keystone XL Comments: Lots of Hype, Nothing New

Opponents of Keystone XL seized on the Environmental Protection Agency’s public comments on the Department of State’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS), but the fact is EPA’s comments were hardly unexpected and offered nothing that hasn’t already been considered in the past four and a half years of review. Remember that EPA has been a consulting agency through this process.

As one news outlet reported already, EPA’s comments are unlikely to have much impact. Rather, as Michael Marx, director of the Sierra Club put it recently, the effort fits in nicely with opponents’ delay campaign: “The theory has always been delay, delay, delay. We know the key to expanding the tar sands is getting the oil to market. So our strategy is to block the infrastructure.”

Further, the concerns raised by EPA over Keystone XL’s impact on greenhouse gases and climate change have been addressed and debunked:

  • “One of the world’s top climate scientists has calculated that emissions from Alberta’s oil sands are unlikely to make a big difference to global warming… ‘I was surprised by the results of our analysis,’ said Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria climate modeller, who has been a lead author on two reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. ‘I thought it was larger than it was.’… ‘The conventional and unconventional oil is not the problem with global warming,’ Dr. Weaver said.” (Globe and Mail, February 2012)
  •  “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, [Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and environment at Council on Foreign Relations] says. Though increasing oil sands production, which many expect will triple by 2030, will grow Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions to a huge extent if business-as-usual practices continue, the added carbon dioxide emissions are marginal in the U.S. and global contexts. Studies show CO2 output from oil sands production is equivalent to 0.5 percent of U.S. aggregate emissions from energy use and less than 0.1 percent of total global emissions.” (Scientific American, March 2009)
  •  “…regarding the Keystone pipeline, the administration should face down critics of the project, ensure that environmental standards are met and then approve it. As Nature has suggested before (see Nature 477, 249; 2011), the pipeline is not going to determine whether the Canadian tar sands are developed or not. Only a broader — and much more important — shift in energy policy will do that. Nor is oil produced from the Canadian tar sands as dirty from a climate perspective as many believe…” (Nature editorial, January, 2013)

EPA also raises questions with the State Department assessment on whether oil sands would be produced without Keystone XL. This, too, has been fully vetted, including an OSFC post this past February:

In the event that Keystone XL is not approved by the Obama Administration, Canada will have its biggest economic incentive yet to approve infrastructure that could transport oil sands crude westward to willing Asian markets. A Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce report estimated that in 2012, Canadians lost $50 million dollars per day because of their restricted access to markets. Rather than moving south to Gulf Coast refineries, oil sands crude would be refined in countries like China where current emissions standards allow three times more sulfur dioxide than in the United States. Although China recently announced stricter regulations, Beijing has already admitted that implementation will be delayed.  Without firm regulations in place, there is no financial incentive for Asian refineries to meet a higher environmental standard – and a country that produces 25 percent of global GHG emissions (tops in the world) will have an even greater and more reliable supply of oil to import.

The bottom line remains: after four and half years, Keystone XL has been thoroughly debated. Perhaps John Kerekes, central region director for the American Petroleum Institute said it best when he told Politico, “We’ve had hearing after hearing and there are no new issues. The State Department has heard it all. Congress has heard it all. [The media] has heard it all. It’s time to wrap this thing up.”

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