Policy: Environment & Energy

Study: If Obama rejects Keystone pipeline, that still wouldn’t decrease emissions

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Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Barack Obama,Analysis,Keystone XL,Energy and Environment

Building the Keystone XL pipeline would have “no impact” on US greenhouse gas emissions according to a new study out Friday by IHS, a global energy consulting group. The report finds that the Canadian tar sands oil would be developed regardless of whether the US-Canadian pipeline project would be completed.

The project has been awaiting a final go-ahead from President Obama for years, who has repeatedly delayed making a decision. The IHS report states it would make little difference what the president decides:

The study also found that, were oil sands not to be shipped to the U.S. Gulf Coast, it would result in little to no change in overall GHG emissions. The region — which contains 50 percent of total U.S. refining — has a large capacity to process heavy crude. This means that crude oils of similar GHG intensity would continue to be refined in the absence of oil sands, the study says.

Venezuela is currently the largest single supplier of heavy crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast and would be the most likely alternative source of heavy crude supply absent oil sands. IHS research has found Venezuelan heavy crude to have a similar range of life-cycle GHG emissions as oil sands imported into the United States.

The finding was in line with a March State Department report that also found no benefit to the environment from rejecting the pipeline. It also said the project would create more than 42,000 jobs, albeit mostly temporary ones. A June study by the National Research Council found little cause for alarm over environmental impacts.

Obama has repeatedly said his decision on the pipeline would be based primarily on whether approving it would significantly increase pollution.  He is currently waiting on a follow-up State Department report on the subject.

In July 25 speech on climate change, Obama said:

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forwardHe has said he is awaiting a follow-up State Department report before he makes a final decision.

Note that he said “net effects.” Obama reiterated that argument in a July New York Times interview.

The IHS and State Department reports would seem to directly address that issue. The administration has nevertheless given numerous conflicting signs on the project, appearing at times to be on the verge of endorsing it only to pull back.

For example in the Times interview, Obama mocked Republican claims that the pipeline would provide a significant amount of jobs. (Independent fact check group Politifact noted that Obama’s statistics were wrong.)

Environmental groups are dead-set opposed to the project and have heavily lobbied the administration against it. Earlier this year, the Sierra Club urged it members to get “militant“ on the subject.

Environmentalists argue the pipeline would increase risk of spills. Many simply oppose the further development of any fossil fuel sources.

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