What’s Wrong with Keystone? A Million Answers

I hope most Americans reading this joined me in participating in 350.org’s successful campaign to get a million comments against the Keystone pipeline during the State Department’s comment period.


It’s probable that the most influential letter is the one coming out of EPA, which is effectively opposing the State Department’s position by demanding more information for their environemntal impact statement (EIS). From the Washington Post:

This is not the first time EPA has questioned the State Department’s assessment of the project’s climate impact. The agency sharply criticized a previous draft EIS the State Department issued in April 2010, saying the review did not fully explore the potential environmental impact or the prospect of a more rapid transition to alternative energy that would make the imports unnecessary.

Opponents of the project, who have already generated 1 million comments on the draft review, were quick to tout the EPA’s objections on Monday. “The Environmental Protection Agency’s letter shows that despite multiple tries, the State Department is incapable of doing a proper analysis of the climate, wildlife, clean water, safety and other impacts of this disastrous and unneeded project,” said Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, an advocacy group.

I can’t recall as public a feud at the cabinet level in any country. Can you?

Like those of many others, my letter was an assertion of opposition to the pipeline without much new material. Climate Science Watch, however, put a lot of thought into their letter, and with Rick Piltz’s permission I am reposting it here for your consideration.

There are multiple reasons to reject the Draft SEIS as inadequate and misleading and to oppose granting a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Most urgently, there is an overriding ‘national interest’ in forestalling the development of a major new fossil fuel source that will exacerbate global climatic disruption and undermine the transformation of the energy system to decarbonized sources.

The most essential reason to refuse a permit for the pipeline is that granting a permit would enable the full-scale development of the tar sands — an enormous pool of carbon that the oil industry has every intention of extracting, transporting, refining, and sending into the global market to be burned.

A policy with scientific integrity and commensurate with the magnitude and urgency of the problem of global climate disruption would call for leaving the tar sands in the ground. If the tar sands can find a way to the market, they will be fully developed. If we can’t say no to this, where will we draw the line? If we allow essentially unlimited development of fossil fuel sources, including unconventional sources such as the tar sands, what hope would there be for expediting the necessary phase-out of fossil fuels and the fundamental transformation to a clean energy system? And thus, what hope would there be for meeting the U.S. responsibility to seek to prevent disastrous climate change?

James Hansen and other leading climate scientists have been admonishing the U.S. government to consider and act on this concern. Hansen has said: “We need to limit the climate forcing severely. Moving to tar sands, one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don’t understand the situation or that they just don’t give a damn. People who care should draw the line.”

Multiple additional considerations in choosing to deny the pipeline permit include:

1. Difficult-to-remediate spills from the pipeline are likely and threaten to degrade and pollute land and water resources and have harmful impacts on human health and wildlife. The tar sands pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River, which InsideClimate News recently won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on, is an example of what could be expected from the Keystone XL.

2. The argument that the pipeline and the tar sands oil it would deliver would enhance U.S. national security and energy independence is misleading. The way to enhance national security vis-à-vis oil is to break the stranglehold of oil on the transportation system, by dramatically reducing demand and developing alternative transportation energy sources. Building new infrastructure to lock the system into producing a major new source of oil supply takes us in the wrong direction, regardless of whether the oil is used in the U.S. or exported.

3. Proponents of the pipeline have engaged in a predatory relationship with Americans’ insecurity about unemployment to present what appear to be grossly exaggerated estimates of the job-creating benefits of the pipeline.

4. There are conflicts of interest in the relationship between TransCanada and the consultants who developed the Draft SEIS, which appears to compromise the independence of the assessment.

5. The Draft SEIS tries to make the tar sands climate change impacts issue go away by contending that Canada will develop and transport the tar sands regardless of whether they do it via the Keystone XL or an alternative method. Thus, the Draft SEIS suggests it is hopeless to try to stop tar sands development. But an essential premise of the Draft SEIS, that rail transport is a viable alternative to the Keystone XL for moving tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast, has been challenged by independent analysis that concludes the Draft SEIS makes misleading assumptions about transportation costs. A U.S. decision on the pipeline permit is likely to play a major role in the economics of whether full-scale development of the tar sands will be expedited.

The image is of the Enbridge pipeline failure which damaged the Kalamzoo River in Michigan. Taken by the National Transportation Safety Board, it’s in the public domain, found at the website of WKZO, a Michigan-based radio station.


  1. Pingback: Another Week of Anthropocene Antics, April 28, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  2. Meanwhile, two other tar sands pipelines have become big issues in the final stretch of campaigning for the May 14th British Columbia provincial election. Both leading parties have done a careful dance around them, but the outcome may have important implications for the Keystone debate.

    Even in crass economic terms, there is nothing in it for BC to allow expanded pipeline capacity to the west coast, along with the resulting increase in tanker traffic. Despite rising public opposition, the incumbent right-wing Liberal government has sat on the fence, hiding behind five fictitious conditions needed before supporting the northern pipeline route, proposed by Enbridge (of Kalamazoo fame). The main opposition party, the mildly leftish New Democrats (NDP), have taken a strong position against the Enbridge project. Although final approval supposedly rests with the federal government, the political reality is that opposition from a freshly elected BC government would make the Enbridge project pretty much dead in the water.

    Concurrently, Kinder-Morgan (spawn of the late lamented Enron) is talking up a major export-oriented expansion of its existing Transmountain oil pipeline, which terminates near Vancouver. The sore point for most residents would be the resulting daily supertanker shipments via the Port of Vancouver. A formal proposal to regulators has not been filed yet, and for this reason, the NDP resisted staking out a position on what it characterized to be a hypothetical project. The fairly weak argument was becoming increasingly unsatisfactory for many NDP supporters, and only the tiny Green Party had clearly opposed both projects.

    Sensing a shift in the winds, NDP leader Adrian Dix announced on Earth Day that he would not support transformation of Vancouver into a major oil-shipping port. While the NDP supporter base would have probably welcomed this change months ago, the cautious Dix was wary of being seen to oppose all resource development projects. (In fact, the NDP has shown fairly enthusiastic support for proposed LNG export projects.) Predictably, the right-wing media dumped all over Dix for this last-minute conversion, but it appears to have done no damage to his party's lead in the polls, which ranges up to 22% in the most recent surveys.

    In one of those delightful ironies of politics, the current Canadian ambassador (and full-time tar sands shill) in Washington is Gary Doer, former NDP Premier of the province of Manitoba.

    Recent coverage from independent media at: http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/2013/04/22/greens-kinder-morgan-NDP/ and http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/commentary/bc-election-has-global-energy-implications-and-likely-making-harper-twitchy

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