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Back to square one for Keystone XL decision as major error uncovered in State Dept report

Note: A version of this chart and an article discussing the implications were first published by Oil Change International.

Is approving Keystone XL compatible with America's climate goals? Amazingly the latest US State Dept report didn't bother to find out.

In a few months, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US President Obama will have to make the high-stakes decision whether to reject or approve the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Secretary Kerry and President Obama have repeatedly said that meeting America's climate goals and working to limit global warming to less than +2oC are top priorities for them.

As a result, President Obama has explicitly stated that the climate impact of Keystone XL will be a critical factor in his decision.

So just how big a climate impact would Keystone XL have?

To supply an answer to Secretary Kerry and President Obama, the State Department spent years assembling a massive Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the pipeline.

Shockingly, however, the FEIS never bothered to evaluate the climate impact of Keystone XL in any context in which America meets the President's own climate goals.

Instead, every future energy scenario the State Department chose to evaluate Keystone XL under leads to CO2 emissions consistent with unmitigated climate disaster. Take a look.

As my chart above shows, in every FEIS energy scenario:

  • America fails to meet its climate goals
  • America's CO2 emissions are even higher in 2040 than now and still rising with no peak in sight
  • America's CO2 matches the +6oC global warming "catastrophe" scenario of the International Energy Agency

In other words, the State Department's FEIS only tries to answer the question: "In future of catastrophic climate changes will Keystone XL make things significantly worse?"  Seriously, who friggin' cares? It's like doing a two year mega-study on whether the already sinking Titanic would sink even faster if you punch yet another hole in the hull.

In a speech last year, Secretary Kerry called the climate threat a "clear and present danger … The science is screaming at all of us and demands action."

And last weekend, in a major speech in Indonesia, he called climate change "perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction" that poses "the greatest challenge of our generation."

Somehow I don't think Secretary Kerry is going to be very happy with his department's complete failure to study Keystone XL in the context of any safe climate future.

But the fact is they didn't.

Climate activists have insisted all along that approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is incompatible with America's efforts to ensure a safe climate future. Are they right?

Amazingly the State Department's FEIS didn't bother to find out. Without such a rigorous analysis the FEIS can't be used by President Obama -- or anyone else -- to determine whether approving Keystone XL is compatible with efforts to avoid dangerous climate changes.

Looks like it is back to square one on the high-stakes issue of Keystone XL's climate impact.

Creating my chart: a detective story

After two days reading and re-reading the FEIS I realized I couldn't find the information I needed to understand Keystone XL's impact on America's climate goals. So I went searching. Here is what I found.

More in Climate Snapshot

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A flood of mega-carbon projects threaten to quickly turn British Columbia into one of the world's dirtiest economies.

Car Carbon series: cool new animation, plus the jaw-dropping impact it left out

What weighs sixteen billion pounds yet hides in plain sight?
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Drinking Keystone Water is not Good for Year Health

The Keystone pipeline should not be built, because a dilbit spill into the Ogallala Aquifer will destroy the drinking water for millions. A refinery should be built in Fort McMurray, where the tar sands can be refined into synthetic crude oil.

Brilliant exposé of industry manipulation

This article truly represents a lot of hard work -- a detailed review and analysis of several voluminous government documents. Barry Saxifrage is to be commended for taking on this monumental task, and for pinpointing, in his characteristically evocative and easy-to-understand way, why we should be very aware of this reality behind the rhetoric - THE KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE SIMPLY IS A MONSTROUS ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER.

So here's a question: why is excellent and utterly transparent analysis (read the article and you'll see what I mean) being done by independent persons like Barry Saxifrage, while our own government science and policy representatives are compelled to sit on their hands, or worse, spout meaningless, repetitive, propagandistic phrases over and over and over?

To what ecological tragedy does OUR government willingly intend to expose us all?

Keystone XL

Earl you should try to get your facts straight. The pipeline was moved to the west of the aquifer and over lies the western edge and is down dip so contamination of the water supply is highly unlikely and if it is it will be localized.

There are upgraders in Ft Mac that bring the oil up to a medium grade with an AP1 of about 30 degrees. This oil is then blended with other heavy oil before it enters the pipeline.

XL Pipeline

Hardly an expose of industry manipulation - if anyone is trying to manipulate the situation it is the author. Case in point: the first graph on page two has nothing to do with the different types of oil. It has everything to do with pricing scenarios for the product.  This is an excellent case of someone using data that he does not understand and tries to further his agenda in doing so.

If you want the real story behind his data I suggest people go the the EIA site for the truth behind the pictures.

Long distance pipelines

Long distance pipelining of abrasive diluted bitumen is virtually guaranteed to result in multiple pipeline breakthroughs and devastating spills.  Big oil can't even pipeline totally non abrasive oil without spills.   Enbridge's reported, horrid track record of some 800 pipeline spills over a 10-year period surely must give them the title of one of the, if not the "world's worst" pipeliner.   It certainly does not demonstrate reliability and competence to BC's obviously highly concerned citizens.  Enbridge's expertise was shown catastrophically in "the biggest oil spill in U.S. midwest history" in July 2010 in Kalamazoo, MI caused by incompetent executive decision making (the rupture point reportedly was known by Enbridge, as were "329 other defects" that they deemed not worthy of repair).    Do they believe that intentionally misleading the BC public by eliminating some 1000 square kilometers of islands in treacherous Douglas Channel on their maps demonstrate trust?   Collectively, timid Big Oil should refine oil sands/tar sands bitumen to high value hydrocarbon products in Alberta, and reap the rewards in Canada.      

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Temporary jobs vs mass exinction of mankind. Hmm. This is a no brainer. 

If pres Obama and his administration approves Keystone, they should be arrested for crimes against humanity, put before a tribunal and if found guilty, go before a firing squad.

Here in the U.S. is a classic example of oil company destruction. Google Assumption Louisian and Corne Bayou Louisia sinkhole. 150 oild companies are responsible for massive land, wetlands destruction and oil seeping into the Gulf of Mexico for more than 2 years.