Blocking the pipeline won’t affect climate change
Within a matter of days, the Senate is expected to begin deliberation once again over the Keystone XL pipeline. If what proceeds is a straightforward consideration of the proposed pipeline’s merits, it shouldn’t be much of a debate. After all, the project meets environmental standards, increases energy security and promises thousands of new jobs.
President Obama established his test for Keystone XL, stating: “Our national interest will be served only if this project doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” He later added, “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”
A vocal coalition on the fringes of the environmental movement is hoping the debate will be anything but straightforward. Stopping the pipeline has become their cause celebre, with some protesters going as far as to get arrested intentionally. Ostensibly, the activists make the argument that the project would increase greenhouse gases and thereby contribute to climate change, but this assertion has become increasingly more difficult to make with a straight face.
A State Department report issued in March concludes that there would be little or no impact on greenhouse-gas emissions, especially given the fact that the oil sands would still be transported to Gulf Coast refineries by other means in the event the pipeline was not constructed. That assessment echoes the conclusion made in the State Department’s 2011 report.
Confirming the State Department’s findings, an independent analysis by energy consultant IHS CERA in April likewise found that the project would have “no material impact on greenhouse-gas emissions.” The report also concluded that not only would Canadian oil sands find a way to market either through all-Canadian pipelines or through the increasing use of railcars, but that some of the crude would instead be imported from OPEC member Venezuela. It noted that Venezuelan crude has the same greenhouse-gas emissions range as Canada’s oil sands. Moreover, if Canada responds to a Keystone XL defeat by shipping its tar sand crude to China, where sulfur-dioxide emissions are permitted at levels triple those in the United States, efforts to contain greenhouse-gas emissions would actually be delivered a step backward.
Respected scientists are also jumping onto the dog pile. According to Andrew J. Weaver, professor in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada’s oil sands would not contribute significantly to climate change. “The conventional and unconventional oil is not the problem with global warming,” he told the Globe and Mail newspaper of Toronto. Atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe that whether the pipeline is built or not will have any detectable climate effect.”
While the Keystone XL pipeline may not cause any appreciable increase in greenhouse-gas emissions, the high-profile project may serve as a potent symbol and recruiting tool for activists opposed to all forms of fossil fuels. “As a serious strategy for dealing with climate, blocking Keystone is a waste of time,” said David Victor, a professor at the University of California at San Diego and climate-change diplomacy expert. “But as a strategy for arousing passion, it is dynamite.”
Activists seem perfectly willing to sacrifice American jobs in their symbolic quest, perhaps in a misguided belief that it serves a greater good. The State Department’s March report concludes that 42,100 jobs would be created across the United States during the construction phase of the project. Working American families would benefit from approximately $2 billion in wages.
An analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations finds that transporting oil sands from stable and reliable Canada through the Keystone pipeline could loosen OPEC’s grip, thereby potentially undercutting members that sponsor actions hostile to America. If anti-Keystone activists are ultimately successful, they won’t have achieved reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, but they may well hand our global adversaries a gift.
Opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing more than empty symbolism and political posturing.
The Obama administration should recognize the anti-Keystone activists for what they are and not cave to their radical agenda. Thousands of Americans will benefit from the completion of the Keystone pipeline in the form of wages and jobs. That in itself should be enough in determining what is in the “national interest.”
Thomas J. Pyle is the president of the American Energy Alliance.