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Big Oil’s Dirty Secret: Keystone XL Is Vital to Its Tar Sand New NRDC report shows tar sands pipeline fails Obama’s climate test, will worsen global warming


n June, President Obama drew

children will be suffering from the

develop these tar sands

a clear line in the sand for the

climate chaos produced by this pipeline.”

no matter what, so all

proposed Keystone XL tar sands

pipeline, vowing to reject the 2,000mile behemoth if it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” So, does the gargantuan pipeline, which would snake from Alberta’s tar sands fields through the American heartland to refineries on the Gulf Coast, fail that test? “No question, it fails,” says Susan CaseyLefkowitz, director of NRDC’s

Great Bear rainforest and Spirit Bear © Ian McAllister; tar sands © Jiri Rezac; owl © Gerry Ellis/Minden Pictures; train wreck © Associated Press

International Program.


Given the pipeline’s clear and far-reaching impacts on our climate, the president’s declaration would appear to doom the project — but not so fast. “Big Oil is now engaged in the bluff of a lifetime,” Casey-Lefkowitz says. “And the

this global warming pollution is going to happen whether or not the Keystone XL gets built,’” says Casey-Lefkowitz.

president’s own State Department has

There’s only one problem with that

been buying it.” Charged with evaluating

logic: It’s not true. “There aren’t any

the project because it would cross the

viable alternatives for moving all that

U.S. border with Canada, the State

tar sands oil out of Canada,” says NRDC

Department offered its initial assess­ment

attorney Anthony Swift, who has been working to expose these

A new and detailed analysis of the

claims in the national media.

project by NRDC reveals that the

“The entire tar sands enter­

Keystone XL would add a staggering

prise is hanging on the

amount of carbon pollution to our skies

Keystone XL. If we can

— up to 1.2 billion metric tons more

stop that, we can head off

than if it carried conventional crude.

the climate-wrecking

In addition, the pipeline, which would

impacts.” Indeed,

course with some 830,000 barrels of

industry insiders

heavy tar sands crude per day, would

and analysts have

dramatically boost the development

conceded as much.

of this dirty fuel. Indeed, the Keystone XL is the linchpin of Big Oil’s plans

Tar sands mining operation, Alberta, Canada. Inset: Boreal owl, imperiled by development.

In a report released in June, the financial

to more than triple heavy tar sands

in March. Incredibly, the depart­ment

powerhouse Goldman Sachs concluded

production over the next 20 years.

concluded that Keystone XL would not

that nixing Keystone XL would result

Prod­uction of tar sands oil requires

signif­icantly increase carbon pollution.

in the cancellation or deferment of

more energy than the produc­t ion

How is that possible? Officials argued

numerous tar sands expansion projects:

of any other fossil fuel on earth,

that if the pipeline weren’t built, the

“[W]e believe risk would grow that

generating three times the carbon

same amount of tar sands oil would find

Canadian heavy oil/oil sands supply

pollution of conventional crude, for

its way out of Canada anyway — via

would remain trapped in the province

example. “The expected life span of the

other pipelines, for example, or by rail.

of Alberta,” the firm’s report states.

Keystone XL is 50 years,” says Casey-

“Basically the State Department is saying,

Canada’s own RBC Bank has reached a

Lefkowitz. “That means our grand­

‘Look, the oil industry is going to

similar conclusion, saying that rejection

Nature's Voice Fall 2013