Thursday, June 20, 2013

All Recent Findings Lead to a Clear 'NO' to Keystone XL and All Tar Sands Extraction

Upon further study of the U.S. State Department's Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for the Keystone XL Project, it's very clear that the extraction of the Canadian tar sands is highly dependent on the approval of Keystone XL. This may seem far-reaching, but based on recent events, it has been demonstrated beyond argument.

On April 22, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published comments on the DSEIS. In this response, the EPA aired many concerns, including the following:

  • The need for a broader consideration of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) intensive nature of oil sands crude compared to other crudes, including their potential to have larger climate impacts.
  • The flawed assessment by State that transporting oil sands crude by rail presents a viable option, which failed to assess its potential for much "higher per barrel rail shipment costs than presented in the DSEIS."
  • The inadequate consideration of the risks posed by tar sands pipeline spills.

Many of the EPA's concerns have been affirmed by recent events. In June, Goldman Sachs released a financial report on the economic viability of Canadian tar sands oil extraction without the Keystone pipeline. The report concluded that without the Keystone XL pipeline, many tar sands developments would be put on hold due to the high costs of alternate tar sands transportation.

As stated in my previous blog post on this issue, the Goldman Sachs report shot down the financial feasibility of the alternative rail transport of tar sands oil, due to the high cost of specially-made rail cars, increased time needed to unload heavy crude oil, and a diminished ability to transport the same number of barrels at one time.

Also this month, the British Columbian government made a decision to reject the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline proposal, undermining the State Department's assumption that other pipelines will be built in Keystone XL's pace. This recent rejection shows that other pipelines face significant opposition and may not be constructed for alternative transport possibilities. The provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake stated that:

British Columbia thoroughly reviewed all of the evidence and submissions made to the panel and asked substantive questions about the project including its route, spill response capacity, and financial structure to handle any incidents...Our questions were not satisfactorily answered during these hearings.

And finally, even the White House's acknowledged the increasing cost of carbon to our public health and environment with their recent announcement of the new social cost of carbon (SCC). The White House has increased the SCC, or the cost that agencies should consider resulting from each ton of carbon, from $22 per ton to $36 per ton, a more than 150 percent increase. This will increase the economic argument against the GHG intensive extraction of Canadian tar sands.

The EPA has aired many concerns, and the rest of the world has answered strongly against the pipeline. It is hard to see how the biased reasoning of TransCanada can hold up against these unbiased reports and current events, especially with the history of the 2010 Enbridge oil spill in Michigan, where a smaller pipeline than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, carrying Canada's tar sands oil, spilled into the Kalamazoo River and remains a problem three years later.

With all of these new developments in the overall tar sands story, it is increasingly clear that the Keystone XL pipeline is crucial to the expansion of the polluting tar sands industry -- making it even more imperative that Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Let's make it clear to the Obama Administration that they cannot hide behind the argument that the tar sands will be developed regardless of their decision on Keystone. Keystone is the key to tar sands development, and we need to make sure that the Obama Administration does not just hand over the key to this Pandora's Box.

-- Bo Ra Kim, Sierra Student Coalition Executive Committee Member

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