Last Friday, NBC Nightly News aired a segment on the Keystone XL pipeline in light of TransCanada’s announcement that the project timeline will be further delayed. NBC did its due diligence by making a trip to see the oil sands first hand, but fell short on reporting the facts along the way. Here are six facts NBC missed or misrepresented:
:39 min – “[The Keystone XL pipeline] would allow Canada to send heavy crude from landlocked Alberta to the Gulf Coast.”
NBC correspondent Anne Thompson reports as if the pipeline will only benefit Canada’s interests, when in fact it will serve U.S. energy infrastructure needs just as well.
First, Canadian oil sands crude will be an additional feedstock to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast (described as “state of the art” by President Obama) that are especially equipped to handle heavy crudes. Refining revenues would remain in the U.S., along with the thousands of jobs these facilities support.
KXL will also be a main highway for domestic sources of crude, providing 25 percent of its capacity to oil from the U.S. Bakken and other key oil fields throughout the country. All in all, the line will displace the equivalent of 40 percent of what the U.S. imports from the Persian Gulf.
:55 min – “Getting that oil out of the ground produces 17% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional methods, according to the State Department.”
The State Department was not as definitive on its findings as NBC leads on. According to Appendix W of the latest project review, the State Department finds that “it is not clear whether [Canadian] oil sands-derived crudes are currently more GHG-intensive than other heavy crudes or crudes with high flaring rates.” The appendix continues:
“The life-cycle GHG emissions of [Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin] WCSB oil sands crudes can fall within the same range as heavier crudes such as heavy Venezuelan crude oil and California heavy oil, and lighter crudes that are produced from operations that flare most of the associated gas (e.g., Nigerian light crude).” (p. 68-69).
- In fact, the State Department finds that as we move forward, the difference in GHG emissions from Canadian oil sands crudes and other crude oils is likely to become smaller.
1:19 min – On the dump trucks
Anne Thompson stands next to behemoth-sized dump trucks used on open-pit oil sands mining sites, but fails to mention that many (if not the majority) are manufactured in the States – further supporting domestic job creation and retention. According the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), 200 Caterpillar 797 mining trucks have been purchased from the U.S. Moreover, many of the parts that go into the 797 are manufactured here at home, including engines made in Indiana, frame components from Louisiana and tires from South Carolina.
1:32 min – “Hot water is used to separate the oil from the sand in ponds of waste that can be toxic to wildlife.”
Not all oil sands development sites require tailing ponds, but we’ll get to that in the next point. Oil sands companies are making significant investments in both safety precautions and land disturbance to protect local wildlife and return land back to its original state after development is completed.
According to CAPP, oil sands operators employ multiple methods to deter waterfowl from landing. Canadian Natural is even operating a new radar-controlled bird deterrent system that has successfully kept birds away from their production site since the system’s deployment in 2009.
Reclamation is not only a key component to planning oil sands operations – it’s required by law. Before development can even begin, energy producers are required to submit a land reclamation plan and continually reclaim land throughout the life of a project.
2:00 min – “A company called Cenovous is getting the oil another way: drilling. […] Underground the oil is solid, so the steam is injected into the ground to melt it from the earth.”
The process being described is known as “in situ” and despite how NBC presents it, in situ is nothing new and is more common than open pit mining. Ninety-seven percent of the oil sands would be recovered via in situ, resulting in significantly reduced land disturbance.
2:56 min – “Canada’s oil sands: fuelling riches and controversy on both sides of the border.”
Following four and a half years of review of Keystone XL, let’s hope that the Canadian oil sands don’t only fuel “riches and controversy.” Jobs, among other benefits, are a significant driver toward project approval.
Much of the focus has been on the project’s potential for permanent job creation, but NBC, among others, discount the importance of temporary job creation. The Nightly News segment even quoted Sierra Club’s yet-to-be-supported point that the Keystone XL pipeline will only create 35 permanent jobs. As a union leader stated at a recent rally in Washington, DC, both the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Rushmore were “temporary projects,” providing a legacy for centuries to come. The labor industry built this country with temporary jobs.