Pembina Institute

Climate concerns are key in Keystone XL pipeline debate

Concerns about oilsands pipelines dominated Canadian headlines in 2012, and the issue is unlikely to step out of the limelight anytime soon. Hearings into the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal are expected to continue until the middle of this year; meanwhile, proposals to move oilsands bitumen through pipelines to Eastern Canada are also facing significant opposition.

South of the border, the future of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would connect Alberta’s oilsands with refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, is once again up for debate. The release of a draft environmental impact statement on the pipeline, which takes into account the revised route through Nebraska, is expected any day now. The draft statement will be open for comments for 90 days; after that, the final environmental impact assessment will be published and the U.S. State Department’s final decision on the pipeline will follow shortly thereafter.

To help inform the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, the Pembina Institute has produced a backgrounder about the climate impacts associated with the proposed pipeline. The backgrounder features new analysis showing that producing enough bitumen to fill the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and inhibit Canada’s ability to meet its climate targets.

A rally to stop the Keystone XL pipeline was held in Washington in 2011.Given our expertise on oilsands-related issues, several prominent U.S.-based environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org and Oil Change International, invited the Pembina Institute down to Washington, D.C., today to share our latest analysis on the climate implications of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

While the oilsands industry lacks a credible plan to do its share to manage the growing greenhouse gas emissions associated with oilsands production, oilsands producers have ambitious plans to triple production from 1.8 million barrels per day to more than 5 million barrels per day by 2030 (currently regulators in Canada have already approved the over 5.2 million barrels per day in bitumen production). And here’s where Keystone XL comes in.

To realize this growth, new pipelines are needed — but many of the other proposed oilsands pipelines are smaller than Keystone XL, in the early stages of planning, or facing significant public opposition. Even if all of the currently proposed pipelines were built, there would still be a need for even more pipelines to realize industry’s extremely ambitious growth plans.

Pipeline plans would undermine climate action

If approved, Keystone XL alone would require oilsands production to increase by 36 per cent. While this growth may align with industry’s ambitions, it’s critical to consider the corresponding cost of this growth in terms of the climate consequences, and how supplying the pipeline with bitumen would affect Canada’s ability to meet our emissions reduction targets.

This is the focus of the Pembina Institute’s research on the Keystone XL pipeline. Planned oilsands growth will cause a doubling of emissions by 2020. This new emissions growth is troubling, because emissions from the oilsands are expected to increase by 72 megatonnes (Mt) at a time when the rest of the economy is expected to reduce emissions by 67 Mt by 2020. Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline gathered in Washington in November 2011. Photo: Christine Irvine, 350.orgAs it stands, Environment Canada reported this past summer that Canada is on track to miss our 2020 target by 113 Mt.

Our analysis shows that Keystone XL, if filled with oilsands, would cause an additional 22.4 Mt of greenhouse gases to be emitted in Canada. This is the equivalent in carbon emissions to building 6.3 new coal-fired power plants or putting 4.6 million cars on the road. (The numbers are even higher when additional emissions from upgrading and refining of the bitumen in the U.S. are considered.) In other words, the emissions enabled by Keystone XL alone would be responsible for nearly 20 per cent of the gap in reaching Canada’s 2020 climate target.

For the United States, the decision on Keystone XL will clearly have significant impacts on climate emissions within the country’s borders — but it will also have a major impact on Canada’s emissions and our ability to deliver on our commitments under the Copenhagen Accord.

In the continued absence of a credible plan for responsible development of the oilsands, including mitigating greenhouse gas emissions growth to a level that would allow Canada to meet its international climate commitments, the Keystone XL pipeline should not be approved. Moving forward with a pipeline that would undermine other critical efforts to reduce emissions is not an example of responsible resource development.

Greg — Jan 30, 2013 - 03:30 PM MT

The Oil is being and will be extracted wither keystone happens or not. Keeping in mind that the Oilsands produce a total of 0.2% of the worlds GHG emissions shouldn't more emphasis be placed on Coal or even automibile emissions that account for a much larger piece of the pie than focusing attention on a transportation means that on it's own has barely any GHG emission yet would benifit the US's economy and help secure north American energy independance from unstable Middle Eastern sources.

Very little facts when arguing the Pipeline and data is distored because keystone is not the Oil sands so stopping the pipe does not stop the Oil sands emissions. However stopping the pipe will cripples the US as a Country.

Mike — Jan 30, 2013 - 11:48 AM MT

Isn't the most logical question whether oil produced in the tar sands and shipped via the keystone pipline use more energy in its extraction, processing, and transport than foreign sources of oil produced over seas? I don't know the answer but I assume that domestic or North American Oil is more efficient/economical than using over seas/foreign-sourced oil.

Roger Gagne — Jan 17, 2013 - 04:58 PM MT

The Pembina Institute is no apologist for the energy industry, yet even this seemingly critical analysis is timid in the face of a changing world.

Three months ago, international accounting firm Price WaterHouse Cooper released a report titled "Too late for two degrees?" which found that in 2011, carbon intensity decreased by 0.7%, and that the global economy now needs to cut carbon intensity by 5.1% every year from now to 2050. Keeping to the 2 degrees C carbon budget will require sustained and unprecedented reductions over four decades.

Even at only the 1 degree C of warming we've seen so far, the impacts on our climate have been enormous, as noted last week by the New York Times:
"China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.
Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began."

Canada's 2020 targets are too little, too late. We need to recognize observed reality and admit that climate change is here, it's now, it's VERY costly, and it's going to get worse.

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