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Nationwide Keystone Pipeline Protests Today as Senate Prepares to Vote Approval

Would add just 1/100th of a degree to man-made warming by 2100


Keystone Map

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have organized rallies across the country today to urge President Obama to rule that constructing it is not in the national interest. The president has this power to reject the pipeline because it crosses our border with Canada. Once operational, the pipeline would transport over 800,000 barrels of Canadian oil sands crude to Gulf Coast refineries.

Last week the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing construction of the pipeline and the Senate may well vote on the issue this week. In a procedural vote, the Senate agreed 63 to 32 to push forward on a bill approving the construction of the pipeline.  President Obama has threatened to veto any such legislation.

Environmental activists argue that enabling the production of petroleum from Canadian oil sands endangers the climate. Why? Because Canada's oil sands hold proven reserves of about 168 billion barrels—the third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Burning all of that would mean, according to activist climatologist James Hansen "game over for the climate." The hope of the activists is that blocking the pipeline will keep the crude off of world markets and out of your gas tanks.

Activists argue that oil sands crude is particularly "dirty" because producing gasoline from it yields 17 percent more planet-waming carbon dioxide per gallon than does refining gasoline from conventional crude. If so, crude shipped through the Keystone pipeline would emit an extra 18.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Another study by the activist group Oil Change International found that burning the oil transported by the Keystone pipeline would emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 per year.

In addition, at the United Nations' Cancun climate conference in 2010, the countries of the world agreed that the world's average temperature should remain below the threshold of 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. A study published last week in Nature calculated that to avoid crossing that threshold, Canada would have to leave most of its oil sands crude in the ground unburned. More broadly, the researchers calculated that a third of global oil reserves, half of gas reserves and more than 80 per cent of coal reserves should remain unburned to avoid exceeding the 2 degrees Celsius threshold for global warming.

Even assuming the Nature article's figures, how much would oil transported by the Keystone pipeline add to future temperature increases? Not so much. In Congressional testimony in 2013 climatologist Paul Knappenberger, who is the Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Science at the libertarian Cato Institute, cited his findings derived from a standard computer climate model used to calculate the effect on future temperatures from burning that much oil. From Knappenberger:

In the case of the State Department's analysis, as there are very few additional carbon dioxide emissions, there is essentially no associated change in the global climate. The change in global average temperature resulting from the EPA's additional 18.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year from the Keystone XL pipeline, would be about 0.00001°C per year—that is one one-hundred thousandths of a degree. The 181 million metric tons per year from the assumption that all Keystone XL oil is additional oil in the global supply would result in about 0.0001°C of annual warming—one ten-thousandths of a degree.

In other words, if the Keystone XL pipeline were to operate at full capacity until the end of this century, it would, worst case, raise the global average surface temperature by about 1/100th of a degree Celsius. So after nearly 100 years of full operation, the Keystone XL's impact on the climate would be inconsequential and unmeasurable.

The recent fall in the price of oil and rising costs for construction have made the business case for building the pipeline harder to sustain. As ditherer-in-chief, President Obama must be pretty pleased by this circumstance.

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  1. Fuck the opponents of this, fuck Obama. That oil’s coming out whether we build this or not. Might as well get some benefit.

    Please stop and think how far we’ve come, when people placidly accept that the President (or anyone, any body in the govt) can decide what commerce will occur. The colonists fought a war over much, much less than this. How far we’ve come, unfortunately.

    I also reject the President’s “authority” – this is a “treaty” issue of sorts, which requires the Congrefs. But everyone’s decided over time that “foreign policy” = “Executive Branch’s to decide”. No, it isn’t….again, we’re so far over the cliff I won’t bother arguing it…

    We are so past “doomed”….

    PS OREGON! PWND! lulz

    1. Relevant text (actually COMMERCE CLAUSE, BYOTCH!):

      To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

      Congress – NOT the President. And if we treat the matter as a “treaty”, it must have the “advice and consent” of Congress.

      So – President CANNOT act alone on this and deny it on his sayso alone.

      But no one cares…we’ll just let him…

      *continues acts of protest and so forth*

      1. If Obama veto’s then it’ll be a big deal in the next election cycle.

        Either Hillary will endorse it straight up or she’ll be left explaining why not.

    2. The oil is coming out and getting burned whether or not Keystone is built. But, hey, let’s not build it and just truck it or use rail for transportation down to the Gulf port. That way we’ll burn fossil fuel while moving it and leave ourselves more vulnerable to accidents that harm the environment.

      Sound like a plan?

      1. Lady Bertrum|1.13.15 @ 10:27AM|#
        “The oil is coming out and getting burned whether or not Keystone is built.”

        And the greenies probably know this, but they’re engaged in social signalling, so who cares?
        The religious left is as tiresome as the religious right; the mud momma and the sky daddy make a mythical pair.

        1. they’re engaged in social signalling

          These are same people who carry cloth bags to the grocery store and wash them at home every week. It’s all appearances with them – they don’t give two shits about Gaia.

          1. A large, strong plastic bag doesn’t need to be washed weekly, just rinsed every month or two (or three). It’s better than those small cloth bags that absorb water, juices, and germs..

      2. As someone who lives close to railroad tracks that are shuttling tanker cars in both directions 15-20 times per day I for one would prefer a pipeline.

  2. Meanwhile, Nymex oil futures dropped below $45 a barrel today.

    If that oil stays in the ground, it’ll be due to a lack of demand in China and Europe and an abundant supply from other sources.

    1. I.e., it isn’t about public policy, it’s about market forces–which are people making choices.

      …but to statists who think public policy is the only hammer they have, I guess every problem looks like a nail.

      Critics sometimes claim that environmentalism is a religion, but rather than political movement, a religion is what it should be.

      The qualitative values of individuals being represented through market preferences are much more powerful and effective than trying to use public policy to trump market forces.

      Public policy ultimately crumbles under the force of world markets, no matter the resolve of the government trying to resist them. Go ask the Soviet Union. Go ask the Chinese.

  3. I’m not a fan of the project because of it’s use of eminent domain, but the idea that it or any other business endeavor’s burden to ‘make a business case’ for their projects in terms if the benefits to society is awful. If they want to build a pipeline at their expense on land they’ve acquired without coercion it’s their right, one that shouldn’t be thwarted by vague concerns of some potential diffuse harms.

    1. Agree wholly.

    2. Your right. That’s what sucks about opinion reporting on a policy tank’s blog. They aren’t necessarily compelled to fill in the facts to support both sides of their own policy conflicts, just the editorial priorities of the think tank.

  4. As soon as the Republicans find out this is really a tunnel for smuggling drugs and foreigners into the country, it will die.

  5. Either Hillary will endorse it straight up or she’ll be left explaining why not.

    “What difference, at this point, does it make? Does someone have a serious question?”

  6. “the countries of the world agreed that the world’s average temperature should remain below the threshold of 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average.”

    Hey, we had a proper vote, got that Sol, you hydrogen fusing bastard of a star?! We have just TOLD you how to burn, capice?

    1. Are you trying to say capeesh?…Well don’t do it, cause it hurts my ears when you do it.- Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Antonelli

  7. The modern leftist’s hatred of and obsession with oil is pretty much the most retarded thing on earth since Hitler’s obsession with the Jews.

    1. And still they never ask themselves which uses more fossil fuel – transporting it on Buffet’s cho-cho’s or through a pipe?

    2. Strangely enough they hate oil more than they hate coal, something that pollutes more AND occasionally kills the working-class poor

  8. Even if one holds the Cato estimate to be true, and clearly the study quoted in Nature disagrees, that is an excuse that one could put to any fossil fuel in the ground anywhere. The actual “temperature increase” from any oil well anywhere is so small, why not just bring it up and burn it?

    The more cogent question is how much more carbon can put into the atmosphere to stop a potential catastrophe. Here is one study quoted in Scientific American about that tar sands carbon:

    “The amount of CO2 locked up in Alberta tar sands is enormous.If we burn all the tar sand oil, the temperature rise, just from burning that tar sand, will be half of what we’ve already seen”?an estimated additional nearly 0.4 degree C from Alberta alone.

    As it stands, the oil sands industry has greenhouse gas emissions greater than New Zealand and Kenya?combined. If all the bitumen in those sands could be burned, another 240 billion metric tons of carbon would be added to the atmosphere and, even if just the oil sands recoverable with today’s technology get burned, 22 billion metric tons of carbon would reach the sky. And reserves usually expand over time as technology develops, otherwise the world would have run out of recoverable oil long ago.”


    1. Whether we like it or not, “Keystone” has become a “touchstone.” It is symbolic of so much. If you believe that AGW is a real problem, any attempt to keep carbon unburned is worthwhile, particularly when it is as damaging as tar sands oil.

      So far all we have anyway a largely symbolic victories, but we have had some. Its important not to have any losses as well.

    2. I’ll put it this way…whether its built or not, the fight ain’t over.

      But I don’t think its getting built.

    3. did SCIAM refer to the Albertan oilsands as “tar” sands? Tar is a human-made product, looks like SCIAM’s unscientific anti bias is showing

  9. Stopping the Keystone pipeline, and forcing that oil to be moved by surface transport is a HUGE VICTORY!

    1. Its a victory, but it isn’t huge. But it would be a victory nonetheless.

      A good read on the victory it would be “at the margins” is here.…..s-keystone

      But one quote is worthwhile:

      “But there’s another way to look at it, too: Right now, there are five major pipelines being proposed out of Alberta (in addition to what’s already there). There’s Keystone XL, there’s the Alberta Clipper to Wisconsin, the Transmountain and Northern Gateway to British Columbia, and Energy East, which would travel through Quebec.

      Back in June, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimated that Canada would probably need all five of those pipelines, plus some rail expansion, to accommodate the most optimistic growth projections for oil (another 4.4 million barrels per day). So if you think oil-sands production can keep growing indefinitely, blocking Keystone XL would conceivably crimp that growth.”

      And the article also mentions the large investments that are continually needed to keep tar sands operational, which is why they want the pipeline. Without it, investments might drop. And it might leave, according to the article 1B barrels in the ground.

      Marginal victories are better than marginal losses.

    2. By the way, of those other pipelines, Canada is having their own legal wrangles and protests as well.

  10. Symbolism For Dummies.

    1. Don’t respond to it. It’s vision is based on movement.

      1. First off, the retarded don’t rule the night. They don’t rule it. Nobody does. And they don’t run in packs. And while they may not be as strong as apes, don’t lock eyes with ’em, don’t do it. Puts ’em on edge. They might go into berzerker mode; come at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and elbows. You might be screaming “No, no, no” and all they hear is “Who wants cake?” Let me tell you something: They all do. They all want cake.

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  12. Congressional leaders should consider an alternative: Assuming President Obama intends to veto both the pipeline and legislation funding the Home Security Department because it leaves out funding for his immigration plan, Congress should send him a combined bill.
    Why not a mega-bill combining both the pipeline and the immigration plan, or even better a complete new immigration policy, along the lines recommended by Reason Magazine. Prepare it really cleverly and it might even be veto-proof.

  13. Hmm. It’s incomplete reporting. It’s ~250 words on the progress of the bill on a digital page. There are private property and eminent domain issues that have been routinely ignored as a conflict of Libertarian dogmas in Canadian pipeline proponents. This is still a pipeline Canada won’t even support. It’s not like we owe, as a nation, TransCanada a pipeline. We don’t. Of all of the issues that McConnell could pick as relevant to work on: tax policy, deficit spending, balancing the budget, DOJ reform, Drug reform, NSA and Intelligence reform. NOPE! Top of the list- a Canadian pipeline.

  14. Unless the pipeline crosses your land, or unless you are a welder or a Teamster that builds pipelines, or maybe a steelworker that makes pipe, this is of no consequence. If we don’t burn all the Canadian tar sands we will just burn all the Venezuelan tar sands instead. At least in Venezuela the environmentalists will never see it mined. Venezuelan bitumen is already supplied to the Gulf Coast refineries by tanker. There are about nine major refineries in the Gulf Coast that can handle these heavy oils and that is why they want to build this pipeline- to compete with the Venezuelan oil. If not Venezuelan or Canadian tar sands oil it will be Khazakstan, Russia, and Madagascar exporting tar sands oil.

    Really, there is nothing to stop. We already import Canadian tar sands oil by pipeline. There are five oil pipelines that already cross the border bringing oil including tar sands oil from Canada. If you live in Chicago or Detroit, you are almost certainly already burning the products of tar sands oil in your car or truck as refineries in both of these cities rely heavily on tar sands oil as a supply.

  15. You see, the pipeline wouldn’t add very much to global warming, so it’s O.K.

    By that reasoning, it’s O.K. for you to drive a “gas guzzler” car, because you add only an infinitesimal amount of CO2 to the air.

    And it’s O.K. for a coal burning electrical generation plant to spew coal ash into the air, because it only adds a tiny amount of pollutants.

    And it’s O.K. for the pipeline to leak oil into the environment, because that leakage would affect only a tiny fraction of the U.S. and an even tinier fraction of the world. So don’t worry about it.

    And really, it’s O.K. for you never to vote, because how much does one vote count, anyway?

    And it’s O.K. for Ronald Bailey to write a truly ignorant article, because you publish other articles that aren’t ignorant, so why worry about Bailey’s ignorance. Right?

  16. Assuming that there’s no existential threat to the environment with a negligible increase in global temp, as Mr. Bailey alludes to in this article, does anyone know if the pipeline will run through any private property, potentially requiring the force of gov’t via eminent domain? And, how would that square with Libertarian philosophy, if that’s the case?

  17. The correct course of action is to vote down the pipeline, and perhaps also to dig up the existing one(s), or the Planet is doomed according to Bernie Sanders….…….
    and Bernie has always struck me as a rational person of sound mind./s

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