Another Blow for Keystone XL: EPA Says Pipeline Will Intensify Climate Change

Building the project would unleash as much greenhouse gas pollution as building eight coal-fired power plants, according to agency.

A tailings pond not far from tar sands operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta, in September 2014. (Photo: Todd Korol/Reuters)

Feb 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

The Keystone XL pipeline would dramatically increase greenhouse gas emissions and ought to remain on the drawing board, a federal agency said Tuesday.

That’s the final word from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which in a letter to the U.S. State Department has deemed the controversial project, on the whole, not in America’s best interests.

Although memos for or against the project from several other agencies are still pending, the EPA’s statement alone seems to give President Obama the political cover to reject the Keystone pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The agency has been on the forefront of the administration’s actions to slow the pace of climate change by cutting U.S. energy use and lowering greenhouse gas pollution.

Assuming that the project ran at the full capacity of 3.5 million gallons of oil a day, the EPA said it would emit up to 27.4 million metric tons of additional greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere annually. The amount is comparable to putting another 5.7 million automobiles on the road, or building eight new coal-fired power plants.

Several scientific studies have established that much of the world’s untapped oil and gas reserves must remain in the ground to avoid the most destructive and expensive impacts of climate change.

Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands crude oil would also remain in the atmosphere about 17 percent longer than those created by “average crude oil refined in the U.S. on a wells-to-wheels basis,” stated the agency. That’s jargon for the oil’s full life cycle, from being sucked out of the ground to burning up in a combustion engine.

The EPA also stated that the recent plummet in global oil prices should factor more strongly into the final decision about the Keystone pipeline’s value to the U.S.

When the State Department came down in favor of the pipeline last year, it did so assuming global oil prices of $65 to $75 a barrel or higher. At those rates, the State Department determined, tar sands oil producers would jump on a low-cost pipeline transport option by increasing production.

But the State Department also argued that even without a pipeline, producers would pay more to ship the oil to the Gulf of Mexico on railcars. So tar sands production would increase either way, right? Why not build a pipeline?

But crude oil has dropped below $55 a barrel for the past few weeks. The EPA believes that this sort of market volatility alone suggests that investing billions of dollars into a big new international oil pipeline could, just maybe, be a mistake.