Right wing media hid the reasons for the Obama administration's decision to delay consideration of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline while pending lawsuits and investigations progress, denouncing the move as purely "political."
Keystone XL Decision Delayed While Pending Court Decision May Invalidate Route
LA Times: Keystone Delay Caused By Nebraska Court Decision That Invalidates Pipeline Route. On April 18 the Los Angeles Times reported that, according to the State Department, a delay in the Keystone pipeline decision was "necessary" until ongoing litigation over the pipeline's route is resolved. A recent court case in Nebraska "invalidated part of the project's route":
A further delay in the evaluation of the pipeline, which already has lasted more than five years, is necessary because of a Nebraska state court decision in February that invalidated part of the project's route, the State Department said in a statement.
Shortly after the court ruling, administration officials had said the Nebraska case would not have an impact on their deliberations. But in the new statement, the State Department said federal agencies could not evaluate the pipeline's impact until the "uncertainty created by the ongoing litigation" is resolved.
That could take awhile [sic]. Nebraska officials have appealed the case to the state Supreme Court but have said they do not expect a ruling until late this year at the earliest. [Los Angeles Times, 4/18/14]
Right-Wing Media Attack Delay As "All Political"
Fox Contributor Karl Rove: "Of Course It Was About Politics. It's All About Politics." During the April 21 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, contributor Karl Rove claimed that the Obama administration's decision was based on a political calculation designed to boost campaign donations for Democrats, saying "of course it was about politics. It's all about politics." Rove went on to push the disputed right-wing claim that "there is no increase in our carbon emissions as a result of building this pipeline":
ROVE: This has been reviewed by the State Department, it's been reviewed by the environmental agencies. This thing is a worthwhile thing to do. There is no carbon, you know, carbon increase in our carbon emissions as a result of building this pipeline, if the oil doesn't come to the United States and get used in an efficient way, it's going to be sent ultimately to China and be used in a less efficient way. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 4/21/14]
Wall Street Journal: "The Real Reason For The Delay Is Democratic Politics." In an April 21 editorial, the Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized the State Department for delaying its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline by claiming there is "no reason for the federal government not to" decide immediately and the ongoing legal challenges are just an "excuse."
State's excuse is that it wants to wait on the outcome of a legal challenge in Nebraska, but that's no reason for the federal government not to declare itself. Earlier this year State's latest environmental review found no net climate harm from the pipeline, which would take oil from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. State found that the oil sands will be developed even if the Keystone XL isn't built. [The Wall Street Journal, 4/21/14]
Fox's Stuart Varney: Delay On Pipeline Is "All Political And It's All About Cash." Fox Business host Stuart Varney dismissed the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal and claimed that the Obama administration was delaying its decision as a political move to earn money for the Democratic Party and to "placate the environmentalists":
VARNEY: Of course it's political. It's political and it's financial. What happened was in the dead of night, afternoon of Good Friday, the administration says, "Oh, we're going to delay a decision on the pipeline until at least after the November elections." This is all about politics and it's all about cash. If they go through with this, and they are, Tom Steyer -- he is a hedge fund manager, [crosstalk] he's a billionaire -- he's going to give $100 million to Democrats to use in this forthcoming election. Because he's a passionate global warming kind of guy. And he's going to give this money to democrats who oppose -- who support climate change.
VARNEY: It won't work because this is patently a political move designed to placate the environmentalists. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/21/14]
In Reality, Questions About Pipeline's Impact Linger
State Dept. Report Acknowledges Significant Climate Impact Of Keystone XL, Points To Other Transport Methods. In a January 31 report, the State Department concluded that Keystone XL was "unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas" based on the assumption that if the pipeline were not built, the equivalent amount of tar sands would instead be transported by rail. However, the State Department also for the first time acknowledged that under some studied scenarios, the project could have the equivalent climate impact of adding 5.7 million new vehicles to roads. From the National Resources Defense Council:
In this final environmental review, the State Department concedes the pipeline will enable the expansion of tar sands production in a scenario assuming lower oil prices and little or no growth in pipelines. In this scenario, the State Department has now conceded that the possible climate impact of the pipeline could be upwards of 27.4 MMTCO2e annually which is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from 5.7 million passenger vehicles. While the State Department downplays the likelihood of this scenario, they clearly acknowledge the project could pose a significant climate impact. The International Energy Agency (IEA), futures markets, and the World Bank are all projecting lower global oil prices over the coming years. According to the environmental review, "[t]he total direct and indirect emissions associated with the proposed Project would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions." [U.S. State Department, 1/31/14; National Resources Defense Council 1/31/14]
Reuters: State Department Wrong In Its Predictions Of Oil Transport Alternatives. On March 5, Reuters reported that the State Department's review had significantly overestimated the amount of oil from tar sands that would move by rail from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The report had projected that about 200,000 barrels per day [bpd] would be moved along this route by rail before the end of 2013. However, a Reuters analysis found that "even in December, when deliveries were near their highest for the year, that tally did not top 40,000 bpd":
In March 2013, a U.S. State Department report cited industry projections that about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basis (WCSB) would be arriving at the Gulf Coast by rail before the end of 2013.
But even in December, when deliveries were near their highest for the year, that tally did not top 40,000 bpd, according to a Reuters analysis of data released by the Energy Information Administration last week.
The data, which details individual deliveries, indicates that monthly oil arrivals by rail were often below 30,000 bpd early last year and then rose unevenly.
The State Department dropped specific projections for oil-by-rail shipments to the Gulf Coast in its final Keystone XL environmental impact study, released on Jan. 31.
Data from Canada's National Energy Board released this week point to slightly higher deliveries to the Gulf Coast but at levels still below official forecasts.
Roughly 57,000 barrels per day of Canadian crude reached the Gulf Coast by rail, the statistics agency said. [Reuters, 3/5/14]
Top Climate Scientists Object To Keystone XL For Environmental Reasons
Several Top Climate Scientists Oppose The Project. Skeptical Science noted that 18 of the country's top climate scientists oppose Keystone XL because of its potential climate impacts. Peter Gleick, a scientist who specializes in the connections between water and climate change, wrote that while the pipeline itself is "not a game changing or planet-threatening project," it is part of "a far larger picture ... of potential planetary disaster." [Skeptical Science, 2/8/13] [National Geographic's ScienceBlogs, 2/10/13]
Pipeline Could Spur Expanded Production Of Dirty Tar Sands Oil
CRS: Keystone XL Would Increase U.S. Emissions By The Equivalent Of Up To Four Million Cars Annually. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found in a survey of published literature that because tar sands oil is more carbon intensive than conventional crude oil, the Keystone XL pipeline would increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of "approximately 558,000 to 4,061,000 passenger vehicles" annually:
- Canadian oil sands crudes are on average somewhat more GHG emission-intensive than the crudes they would displace in U.S. refineries, as Well-to-Wheel GHG emissions are, on average, 14%-20% higher for Canadian oil sands crude than for the weighted average of transportation fuels sold or distributed in the United States;
- discounting the final consumption phase of the life-cycle assessment (which can contribute up to 70%-80% of Well-to-Wheel emissions), Well-to-Tank (i.e., "production") GHG emissions are, on average, 72%-111% higher for Canadian oil sands crude than for the weighted average of transportation fuels sold or distributed in the United States;
- compared to selected imports, Canadian oil sands crudes range from 9% to 19% more emission-intensive than Middle Eastern Sour, 5% to 13% more emission-intensive than Mexican Maya, and 2% to 18% more emission-intensive than various Venezuelan crudes, on a Well-to-Wheel basis;
- the estimated effect of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on the U.S. GHG footprint would be an increase of 3 million to 21 million metric tons of GHG emissions annually (equal to the annual GHG emissions from the combustion of fuels in approximately 588,000 to 4,061,000 passenger vehicles).
But CRS noted that the effect on global greenhouse gas emissions depends on whether the project accelerates tar sands extraction in Canada. [Congressional Research Service, 6/18/12, emphasis added]
Expanded Tar Sands Production Is Not Inevitable. A common argument in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline is that Canadian tar sands will be developed one way or the other, so the U.S. may as well transport that oil. But alternative pipeline routes face regulatory hurdles and strong opposition from local and environmental groups that could delay or halt the projects altogether. The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would transport the tar sands oil to Canada's west coast, would likely face opposition from environmentalists in Canada in addition to possible legal challenges from more than 100 First Nations in Western Canada. Meanwhile, the proposal to double the capacity of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs from Alberta to British Columbia, faces resistance from residents near the port, and is unlikely to be completed in the next decade, if at all. Thus, an analysis by the Canadian environmental think tank Pembina Institute found that Keystone XL would be a "key driver for oilsands growth," increasing production by 36 percent. [Pembina Institute, 2/24/12] [Vancouver Sun, 12/13/12] [Vancouver Observer, 11/30/12] [Pembina Institute, 1/17/13]
Industry Analysts Say Blocking Keystone XL Would Delay Expansion Of Tar Sands Production. Many industry analysts and executives have said that without Keystone XL, limited pipeline capacity would impede expanded tar sands production. For instance, Toronto's The Globe and Mail reported:
If the $7-billion (U.S.) project is not built, the energy sector faces the prospect of being "landlocked in bitumen," with no way to get mounting crude production to market. Without the massive new line, whose environmental impact has become the subject of heated debate in the U.S., existing pipelines could be constrained in as little as four years.
"Unless we get increased [market] access, like with Keystone XL, we're going to be stuck," said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary. [The Globe and Mail, 6/8/11, via Grist] [350.org, 2013]