By expanding tar sands oil production in Canada and piping the dirty oil through the heart of the America, the Canadian companies behind the project would increase annual carbon emissions by the equivalent of seven new coal-fired power plants or 6.2 million cars. Now multiply these by seven to understand the volume of tar sands oil they plan to export by 2030. Do we really want seven Keystones in our future?
Just recently, we learned that the concentration of CO2 that causes climate change just exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in more than 3 million years. At a time when we desperately need to reduce carbon emissions to address climate change, why would the United States approve projects like Keystone XL that would dramatically increase carbon emissions?
We need less foreign oil, not more. The Department of Energy projects that domestic production will increase by 2.5 million barrels per day by 2014 over levels in 2011 - a 44 percent increase. The tar sands oil that would be transported in the Keystone XL pipeline is mainly for export, not for U.S. use. But we don’t even need the fraction of tar sands oil that might remain in the United States. While domestic production is increasing, the Energy Department’s forecast shows falling gasoline consumption and flat oil consumption out to 2040.
We’re finally beginning a real transition to low-carbon fuels in America. We now have cars that run on electricity, and ships and airplanes that run on biofuel. We’ve doubled the amount of electricity we get from renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and dramatically reduced the energy we need thanks to strong efficiency standards. Clean energy, better energy efficiency and low-carbon fuels advance the U.S. policy of mitigating the effects of climate change. Keystone XL counteracts that goal.
We’ve now seen the other environmental disasters that can come with tar sands pipelines. We saw it in Arkansas, where two months ago the leaking Exxon Pegasus pipeline forced residents to flee their homes as dirty tar sands oil ran through their streets. We saw it in Michigan, where in July 2010 the Enbridge pipeline spewed toxic tar sands oil into 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River. Three years later, the cleanup of the river continues. Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada Corp., of course, wants us to believe its massive 2,000-mile Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built. Just recently, though, TransCanada acknowledged it won’t even bother to use the latest technology developed to detect leaks.
The main economic benefit of Keystone XL to the United States that’s cited in the State Department’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is employment: 3,900 temporary construction jobs and 35 – yes, 35 - permanent jobs.
But compare that to the jobs we’re already creating with clean energy that don’t produce carbon pollution that exacerbates climate change.
A recent survey of one sector of the clean economy, advanced biofuels, found nearly 18,000 new construction jobs and 29,500 new permanent jobs associated with facilities under construction or in development. And most of the jobs that provide the agricultural feedstock for cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuel were not counted in the survey by Environmental Entrepreneurs, a group to which I belong.
Some people say that we might as well allow the tar sands oil to be refined in Houston since it will find its way to market in any case. That is not, however, a foregone conclusion. The cost of transporting the tar sands by train is uneconomical. The alternative pipe route to the west coast of Canada is opposed by the bovernment of British Columbia, as well as by its native peoples.
Keystone XL threatens jobs, and the momentum we’re experiencing in the United States with clean energy.
It threatens our clean water and air in the United States, as evidenced from the tar sands pipeline spills we saw in Arkansas and Michigan.
It threatens U.S. policies to address climate change.
For these reasons and many others, President Obama needs to stop Keystone XL, and stop it now.
Bernhardt is a physicist and an investor who also directs the Northern California chapter of Environmental Entrepreneurs.