NRDC Flip Flops on Two of its Main Anti-Keystone XL Talking Points in New Report

The NRDC released its latest anti-Keystone “report” today arguing that the influx of Canadian oil sands will significantly drive up greenhouse gas emissions.  However, a closer look reveals not only the report’s numerous flaws, but the fact that in order to make this argument NRDC had to flip flop completely on two of its fundamental talking points.

Here are four key facts you need to know about NRDC’s latest stunt.

Fact #1: NRDC flip flops on two of its primary talking points

After telling us for years that the oil sands transported in the Keystone XL pipeline would just be exported to other countries, as NRDC’s Anthony Swift has argued time and time again, it appears that the NRDC has completely changed its tune in this latest report.

Just for context, let’s not forget that a 2012 NRDC report, entitled “Keystone XL Pipeline: Undermining U.S. Energy Security and Sending Tar Sands Overseas” states in its opening paragraph:

Keystone XL would skip over refineries and U.S. consumers in the Midwest, allowing tar sands producers to send Canadian crude to Gulf Coast refineries located in tax-free Foreign Trade Zones. From those refineries, tar sands would then be sold to international buyers—at a higher profit to Big Oil.”

What does the opening paragraph of NRDC’s newest study state? Exactly the opposite:

“Oil industry plans could cause a dramatic increase in the use of tar sands–derived gasoline in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, a shift that would move the region backwards in its efforts to fight climate change” (p. 2).

In other words, in 2012 NRDC said oil sands would “skip over refineries and U.S. consumers in the Midwest” – now they’re arguing that there will be a “dramatic increase” in oil sands in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. In fact, in their press release announcing the report, NRDC says that there will be “a flood” of oil sands “into these East Coast states” and that there will be an “influx of carbon-intensive fuels into the region.”

That’s not the only significant flip flop in the report.  NRDC also has this to say:

Even without Keystone XL, the petroleum-based transportation and heating fuel supply will contain more tar sands if steps are not taken to keep out this high-carbon fuel. In the short term, between 2012 and 2015, the volume of tar sands–derived fuel supplying the Northeast is projected to grow more than sixfold” (p. 2).

Now this is significant: after telling us for years that Keystone XL is absolutely essential for the development of oil sands, NRDC is now saying “Even without Keystone XL” oil sands fuels will increase dramatically.

While we’re glad to see that NRDC has acknowledged the error of its ways and conceded that their previous talking points don’t hold up, we can’t help but point out that their greenhouse gas intensity argument doesn’t pass muster either.

FACT #2: NRDC’s greenhouse gas claims devoid of the facts

NRDC argues this on greenhouse gases:

“As a result, on a ‘well to tank’ basis—which includes crude oil extraction and upgrading, transport, refining, and distribution—producing gasoline or diesel from tar sands generates on average 81 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the U.S. average for gasoline in 2005. When also including the emissions resulting from burning the fuel in vehicles—that is, using a ‘well to wheels’ perspective—gasoline made from tar sands feedstocks contributes 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than does conventionally sourced fuel” (p. 2).

This is not a new argument from NRDC and it’s just as faulty today as it was the first time they proposed it.  First off, 70-80 percent of all greenhouse gases are emitted during combustion (e.g., in your car), regardless of crude type. According to IHS CERA, “The average oil sands import to the United States has well-to-wheels life-cycle GHG emissions about 6 percent higher than the average crude refined in the United States.” And according to the Government of Alberta, greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of oil produced was reduced by an average of 29 percent between 1990 and 2009.

Fact #3: Americans would rather get oil from Canada than unstable nations

In the press release announcing the report, Danielle Droitsch, Director of the NRDC Canada Project states, “People have the right to know what is going into their fuel tank.”

Sorry NRDC, but if you’re going to ask “what’s in your tank?” it’s pretty safe to say that most Americans would rather say oil from North America than oil from unstable nations.  And anyone concerned about what’s in their tank should be glad to know that out of the top five countries from which we import crude, only Canada even has greenhouse gas requirements.

Fact #4: Oil sands mining and pipeline transportation are environmentally sound

NRDC states, that the “Removal of tar sands oil from the ground destroys large swaths of Canada’s Boreal forest, which serves as a massive carbon storage area.”  This is simply not true.  Alberta law requires full reclamation of every mining site.  All companies developing the oil sands must establish a reclamation plan that spans the life of the project.

NRDC also resurrects the thoroughly debunked claim that “Because of the properties of tar sands oil, its transport poses unique risks that aging conventional oil pipeline systems, such as the Portland-Montreal pipeline, are not equipped to handle” (p. 4).  As we’ve noted many times, a report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that diluted bitumen is no more corrosive than any other kind of crude oil and therefore not more likely to spill from a pipeline.

Say anything

A report like this puts the pure political motivation of NRDC in the spotlight, revealing it to be an organization that will say anything – try anything – regardless of the facts, in order to achieve their goal of stopping oil sands, and the tens of thousands of jobs, economic growth and energy security it would bring.

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