Tag Archives: tar sands oil

“Weighing the Prospects of the Keystone XL Pipeline” on NPR

You may have heard this story on Morning Edition Monday; if so, you heard the expert say Obama will probably approve the pipeline, but many activists are trying to make sure he doesn’t. The story is very conservative, giving the viewpoint primarily of the oil companies who want to extract the tar sands oil and ship it to Texas refineries; so much for NPR’s liberal bias. It doesn’t give the many good reasons this hard-to-extract oil must stay in the ground, nor note that the oil is destined for Asia, not for the U.S. And it won’t lower gas prices at the pump, either. For all these reasons to be opposed to the pipeline, go to the story at NPR’s website and read the comments at the bottom. There are dozens, nearly all opposed to building the pipeline, and giving the reasons. Neal Jones, an early poster, summed it up this way: “It doesn’t bring jobs, it doesn’t bring oil security, it will increase gas price, and is more polluting than the traditional ‘sweet’ crude from Nigeria, the North Sea and Permian Basin.”

You can also go to two of my posts from last summer on why the tar sands oil must stay in the ground. If you’re convinced, and I hope you are, please go to the 350.org site and take the pledge to stop the pipeline.

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Tar Sands Oil Must Be Left in the Ground!

“If Canada proceeds [to exploit its vast tar sands reserves], and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.” So writes Jim Hansen of NASA in a May 9 New York Times op-ed. (If you’re not a Times subscriber, read it here.) He was responding to President Obama’s comment that we can’t do much because Canada will get the oil out even if we don’t build a pipeline to bring it down to the Gulf for refining and export. Examples of apocalyptic game-enders that would result if we ignore the warnings and do not insist on true, game-changing leadership are “the disintegration of the ice sheets,” rising sea levels that would destroy coastal cities, “intolerable” global temperatures, extinction of up to half of the world’s species, and economic meltdown that would put civilization at risk of breakdown. Even in the short term, Hansen predicted, if the Tar Sands oil is extracted and we do not drastically reduce emissions, “More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.”

Do I have your attention?

Even if you know what’s behind this dire warning but have pushed it to the back of your mind, you need to bring it front and center, for Hansen is not just crying doom; he has a solution, but we must all put pressure on our leaders to make it happen. He proposes that President Obama first prevent any pipeline that would carry tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast and then introduce “economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground.” His recommended method is to institute a tax on carbon that would come back to all Americans every month.

This is the latest of a perfect storm of calls for action to slow the warming we are causing: the May 5 Connect the Dots campaign demonstrating the causal link between extreme weather events and climate change, the EPA’s recent landmark proposal to set the first nationwide emissions standards to slow carbon pollution, and a new bill launched May 10 in Congress to end $113 billion worth of subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.

Another important point of the op-ed: the science is settled. There’s no use wasting time trying to convince deniers. Here are Hansen’s final sentences:

Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.

This conclusion is not controversial; what is debatable is Hansen’s solution, a tax on carbon, which many economists and scientists say (a) can’t get enacted and (b) won’t work. They counter with a call for so-called cap-and-trade legislation. Watch for the resurfacing of the old argument between proponents of the two approaches from a few years ago, when Congress was considering–and we almost got–a cap-and-trade bill. I’ll link to those posts as they are available. Meanwhile, here are highlights of the earlier debate: Times columnist Paul Krugman said on his blog that Hansen “doesn’t understand the economics of emissions control” and took him to task for closing the door on cap and trade in late 2009, when such a bill seemed a real possibility. (Hansen had just published an op-ed calling for a fee on carbon instead.) The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists invited advocates for both systems to weigh in; nearly a dozen did so in 2008. In 2009 McKinsey Publishing invited two experts to argue the two sides and then invited comments from readers; those led to expansion of the argument, which is  summed up here. Back in 2007 Grist posted a guest essay by  Bill Chameides, chief scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund, in which he too argued for cap-and-trade over a carbon tax, giving these reasons:

Unlike a tax, [cap-and-trade] encourages innovation by creating incentives and rewarding those who lower emissions at the least cost. And most importantly, a cap — unlike a tax — guarantees the necessary cuts to stabilize the climate. All a tax does is discourage emissions; it doesn’t specify an emissions target that must be met.

Finally, he argued from history: there was a precedent for a cap-and-trade system, for that’s what brought about the reduction of the sulfur oxide emissions that lead to acid rain. And, he added, ” we were able to do it quickly and cheaply.”

Note: At Think Progress, Joe Romm quotes large chunks of Hansen’s op-ed as he emphasizes the attack on Obama for failing at leading on climate change; he doesn’t go into the proposed solution, but he provides a graph that supports Hansen’s doomsday scenario.

There’s No Reason to Build the Keystone XL Pipeline–and Many Reasons Not To

There are many reasons to oppose building the Keystone XL pipeline to get oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries, such as likely environmental damage from spills, the energy required to get the oil out, and the threat to aquifers along the route, but the biggest threat the Keystone pipeline poses is the catastrophic amounts of carbon that will be released if this oil is extracted and burned. As Bill McKibben of 350.org has said frequently, citing NASA’s Jim Hansen, if the world’s second largest deposit of oil is tapped, the amount of carbon released will essentially doom all mitigation efforts: it will be “game over” for the climate. Given the lack of political will to act on other than short-term interest, even this warning is not likely to stop the project at a time of high oil prices and growing demand. Indeed, NPR reported on Morning Edition on January 18 that extraction of the tar sands oil continues, with much of it traveling on huge tankers and existing pipelines to the American West Coast and with plans to expand pipelines to the East Coast.

But Republicans’ and the oil industry’s claim that the project would provide jobs has been thoroughly debunked, at least on the blogs, which is the only place you are likely to find the story. On January 11 Danielle Droitsch of the National Resources Defense Council punctured claims that the pipeline will provide thousands of jobs. She showed that linking Keystone XL to job creation is a scam–a pretense to get the oil to international customers, for the US is already reducing its oil imports and the tar sands extracted oil would glut the market, lowering the price and thus oil companies’ profits. A subhead neatly sums up her contentions:  The Oil Goes to China, the Permanent Jobs Go to Canada, We Get the Spills, and the World Gets Warmer. (Note: I’m linking to the January 13 repost on Climate Progress because of the number of substantive comments it received there. Also, a video from CNN posted there has an interview with an executive of  TransCanada conceding that permanent jobs created will number only in the hundreds; some thousands would be hired, but only on a temporary basis, to construct the pipeline.)

Droitsch argues that not only would few jobs be created (under 100 permanent ones); building the pipeline would hinder the creation of  jobs in the  renewable energy sector, which is where they are growing exponentially. She asserts, “The evidence shows the future of job creation is in global clean energy markets,” and  “approving Keystone will set that task back decades.” On January 18, with news outlets reporting that Obama was set to reject the pipeline, Sarah Laskow confirmed Droitsch’s claim on Grist.org. Although mainstream media continue to report Republican claims that rejecting the pipeline makes Obama a job-killer, they ought to cite the evidence provided by Laskow that proves clean energy policies create more jobs than Keystone. Her figures, borrowed from Think Progress, derive from an independent study of job creation caused by programs such as the Energy Department’s loan guarantees and the EPA’s new mercury emissions rule.

This won’t stop the extraction of tar sands oil. But there are a couple of ways to slow it: decrease demand for gasoline and increase production of energy from alternative sources. As the Morning Edition reporter said, “by raising fuel efficiency standards, as the Obama administration recently did, . . . you stand a much better chance of slowing production in the oil sands.” Opponents of Keystone  will take heart from today’s decision, for building one pipeline opens the gate to many more, and stopping this big one for now buys time for activists to work on the other front: reducing consumption of fossil fuels in as many ways as we can think of.