Friday, February 22, 2013


John Abraham has an article on the Keystone Pipeline decision at the Guardian.  The post really has two parts, the first describes the scientific case about why mining the Alberta tar sands is a very bad thing

Tar-sand oil is very hard to remove from the ground; it requires enormous amounts of water and energy just to get it to the surface. As a result, it releases more greenhouse gases than conventional fossil fuels. It really is the dirtiest of the dirty. Approval of the Keystone pipeline will lock us in to decades of dependency on this dirty energy at a time when we need to develop clean sources of energy.
But do the tar sands really matter that much? The answer is clearly yes. Alberta has 1.8tn barrels of oil contained within the tar sands. Extracting and burning all of that tar will cause a global temperature increase of about 0.4oC (0.7oF). That is about half of the warming that humans have already caused. For perspective, according to a recent study, the amount of oil-in-place in the Alberta tar sands is approximately seven times that of Saudi Arabia's proven reserves.
But wait, it gets worse. One of the byproducts of tar-sand extraction is a substance that is like coal ... only dirtier. That byproduct, petroleum coke (affectionately called Petcoke), emits more carbon dioxide than even coal.
The second is a political statement, that this decision is a marker for the Obama administration which will determine the amount of support that it gets going forward on environmental and related issues.  Rather than quoting John on this, Eli would point to a comment elsewhere by Leopold Basement
I think the fact there is a definite, certain, bifurcation point coming up in the XL pipeline decision is going to be the most interesting thing to happen to climate politics to date ;)
The attempt by these environmental lobbyists to hold Obama true to the full implications of his climate rhetoric is the most honest example of environmental lobbying there can be. It should be fully understandable even from an antagonist’s point of view. This is actually where the "debate" should be. This is politics.
The consequences of moving along either path of the bifurcation are fascinating. There is no going back guys ;)


Miguelito said...

Keystone XL will likely be approved.

The new pipeline route got the Nebraska governor's okay, meaning that chip fell.

The Canadian government is also about to release its GHG regulations for the oil and gas sector. Given that Ottawa politicians are well aware they need these to make their oil palatable to many folks in the U.S., expect them to be more than just window dressing (though I could be wrong). Then, from a political standpoint, it's much harder for Obama to turn down the pipeline.

"It really is the dirtiest of the dirty."

Yeah, but not by much. They're not significantly different than California heavy oil and Venezuela heavy oil. It's just that most folks haven't heard of these other "dirty" sources that'll fill the gap if Keystone XL is denied.

Practically speaking, denying Keystone XL means very little in changing the U.S. GHG footprint (though it does make a big symbolic statement).

Andy S said...

0.4 degrees is an exaggeration. For one thing, that is the oil in place, only about half of which will ever be recoverable. Even to recover that amount of bitumen will take a few centuries, even if the production rate fever dreams of the oilsands boosters become reality. By that time, assuming unconstrained fossil fuel consumption, emissions from unconventional gas and, especially, coal will have eclipsed bitumen.

It's not that I am a supporter of the oilsands. I would love to see KXL stopped and I have personally demonstrated against the Northern Gateway pipeline. But we shouldn't exaggerate Impact of the oilsands; they are just one wedge among many others that have to be stopped if climate stability is to be achieved.

Nor do I buy the argument from the VSPs that KXL is distraction; we have to do it all and may as well start there.

My SkS post on bitumen:

Stephen Leahy said...

Miguelito, Keystone tar oil is destined for export not US consumption it seems. Whose emissions are they? does it matter, physics-wise?

Keystone is a symbolic line in sand - can't solve the climate problem by making it worse.

David B. Benson said...

Off topic but adaptation talk forthcoming in Culver City:

carrot eater said...

Bah. It was always silly for greens to ratchet the importance of this decision as some sort of line-in-the-sand where the habitability of earth is at stake. It's just a pipeline. It doesn't lock you into decades of dependency on anything.

If you want limits on carbon, you should be doing it via a carbon price, not through arbitrary decisions to not build certain pipelines. Be very clear to the builders and funders of the pipeline that they are taking on a risk that future policy will penalize tar sands. Meaning, they can have their pipeline, but future economics may end up restricting the amount of stuff that will be flowing through it.

Miguelito said...

"Keystone tar oil is destined for export not US consumption it seems."

That bitumen is probably going to displace Venezuelan heavy oil currently being refined in the Gulf of Mexico. There's a very large demand for heavy oil down there, because so many refineries have added cokers so they can refine heavier oils. It doesn't make much sense to export it because the market is there.

The refined petroleum product (diesel or gasoline), however, could be exported, but the U.S. is currently a small net exporter of refined petroleum products, with under 500,000 bbl/d going offshore while total gasoline/diesel production is something like 14 million bbl/d overall. Chances are, unless they're building new refineries, which they're not, this bitumen is not "destined" for export, but almost all of it is going to be used in the U.S. market.

Deech56 said...

And that's why we marched in D.C. last week.

Anonymous said...

Scaredy Mouse says:

Miguelito - they aren't building new refineries but they are greatly increasing the capacity of old ones and I think what is the largest refinery in the U.S. has just come on line in Port Arthur (Valero) and is designed to run on Keystone oil (pipelines in place, etc.) and export of refined products is a big part of their action. Export will greatly increase as U.S. demand continues to drop and refinery capacity continues to climb.

The U.S. doesn't need to become the next Australia of carbon export. We should stop this now. The petroleum companies haven't yet switched their message from "we need more oil for the U.S." to "we need more oil for export for the U.S. economy"; but they will. So environmentalists are right to put the brakes on now.

Besides. They are strip mining the Boreal Forest. That alone is more than enough reason to protest. One of the few wild places that is likely to persist as a refuge for nature far into the future and the Canadians are destroying it for a crappy reason. The U.S. shouldn't be a part of that.

And as far as Revkin and other's argument that the protests are a useless expenditure of environmentalist's time and effort; BS. The protests are a generator of enthusiasm whether successful or not. The more you give the more you have.

Anonymous said...

this decision is a marker for the Obama administration which will determine the amount of support that it gets going forward on environmental and related issues.'

If the past is any indication, it will make no difference.

Obama gets support from his (environmental) "base" whatever he does.

McKibben seems to have said "this is it, nix keystone or I'm leaving you", but I'll believe it when I see it.

And, at its heart, this "debate" assumes that Obama actually cares what environmental groups think at this point now that he no longer needs their votes -- not to mention that he has not already made the decision.

I have my doubts (on both counts).



I object to Keystone because it commits US policy to the inflationary subsidy of high energy prices .

If you really want bitumenous sand syncrude and petcoke off the table, promote sufficient real oil production elsewhere to cut the price to under $68 a barrel, and Alberta tar oil will go the way of Pennsylvania anthracite.

Anonymous said...

So, the current pipelines ( there are many ) have capacity only to get to Oklahoma.

Consequently, those of us in the middle of the country get lower gas prices ( because of the glut ) than the coasts.

So, on selfish grounds, I'm opposed, since piping the oil to Texas will mean export and no further glut.

Of course, on a larger level, its criminal to keep people unemployed by preventing a foreign employer from giving jobs to Americans.

And on a global level, it's ridiculous to think it's better for oil to be burned in China than the US.

But on a selfish level, the lack of additional pipeline means lower gas prices for me.


carrot eater said...


The President has already come out in favor of the phase of the project that goes from Cushing to the Gulf. In 2012.

"Now, right now, a company called TransCanada has applied to build a new pipeline to speed more oil from Cushing to state-of-the-art refineries down on the Gulf Coast. And today, I'm directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done. "

Anonymous said...

Even though Keystone is intended as a way to get Canadian tar sands oil to the WORLD market (to actually avoid the US), TransCanada is actually using the "better for US to get its oil from an ethical friend than from an unethical enemy" line to "sell" their pipeline in the US.

How dumb do they think Americans are? (Answer: extremely)


Brian said...

"The Canadian government is also about to release its GHG regulations for the oil and gas sector. Given that Ottawa politicians are well aware they need these to make their oil palatable to many folks in the U.S., expect them to be more than just window dressing (though I could be wrong)."

I don't know Canadian politics that well, but I do know that the current PM is as bad or worse than Bush on climate change. I'd be pleasantly surprised to see anything more than window dressing.

IMNSHO, Obama should announce 1. he's shutting down Keystone; 2. adding CO2 regs to existing coal plants; and 3. willing to undo actions 1 and 2 in return for climate legislation from Congress (which won't happen for years, but would be good to say anyway). Unfortunately he won't do this, but will likely approve Keystone and do something about coal.

J Bowers said...

Guess what...

Flooding forces mass evacuation in New South Wales, Australia - video

J Bowers said...

Flooding hits NSW North Coast
"JUDITH ELERM: Oh, very, very, very flooded. We've got a massive flood here equal to one that happened in 1967 and it is bigger than the one that we had in March 2009. So it's an exceptional flood."

It might seem OT, but I don't think it is.

Anonymous said...

The key statement from the Abraham piece:

"If his administration cannot say "no" to Keystone – the dirtiest of the dirty – can it say no to anything? This decision will cement Obama's climate legacy."

That is basically the same point that Abraham and many other scientists (including Jim Hansen) made in a recent letter to Obama

Appealing to Obama's legacy is undoubtedly the ONLY thing that might convince him to deny the Keystone permit at this point (I say might because it's more than likely the decision has already been made to OK Keystone)

Environmental groups had their chance to exert pressure before the election and most of them were silent about the Keystone issue in particular and the climate issue in general.

As Obama well knows, they are not likely to "desert him" now (that idea is actually pretty absurd). Where would they even go?

The statement that "The consequences of moving along either path of the bifurcation are fascinating" makes it sound like this whole Keystone thing is some sort of "entertainment".

If there is anything the least bit "interesting" in what comes out of this, it will be how people like Bill McKibben "rationalize" the decision if Obama issues the permit.

One can already see the rationalization developing: "Obama 'sacrificed' Keystone to win a more important goal".

As if intransigent Republicans are going to somehow feel inclined to "be nice and yield something in return" if Obama gives them Keystone. The latter idea is just too comical for words.


RB said...

On the other side of the aisle, Jim Hamilton has argued that this will help as a job stimulant and as a means of narrowing the spread between West Texas and Brent crude.