By Sabrina Fang
Yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency released a letter on the Keystone XL pipeline which had the effect desired by the Agency – a distortion of the issue (emphasis added):
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said developing Canadian oil sands would significantly increase greenhouse gases…” says Bloomberg.
“Replacing conventional crude with 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day would result in an increase in annual emissions equivalent to that of 5.7 million passenger vehicles.” writes the JournalStar
“The energy it will take to process Canadian tar sands oil and pipe it through the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is so great that it will lead to about 1.3 billion more tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the pipeline’s 50-year lifespan than if the pipeline were carrying conventional crude.” warns Discovery.com
“The EPA projects that the emissions generated by the oil transported through the pipeline over its 50-year lifespan ‘could translate into releasing as much as 1.37 billion more tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.’” notes the Huffington Post
I could go on, but this was the tone of the coverage, the tone that EPA was looking for, and a tone which is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
First off, the EPA didn’t conclude or project anything. Here is the paragraph that the above reports are based on.
The Final SEIS also finds that the incremental greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction, transport, refining and use of the 830,000 barrels per day of oils sands crude that could be transported by the proposed Project at full capacity would result in an additional I.3 to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTC02-e) per year compared to the reference crudes. To put that in perspective, 27.4 MMTC0 2-e per year is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 5.7 million passenger vehicles or 7.8 coal fired power plants. Over the 50-year lifetime of the pipeline, this could translate into releasing as much as 1.37 billion more tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Note the first part, “the Final SEIS also finds,” in other words, this is not new analysis by EPA, this is State Department analysis which was release in January 2014. In other words, it is over a year old. And now let’s take a look at the relevant section the EPA is referencing.
The range of incremental GHG emissions (i.e., the amount by which the emissions would be greater than the reference crudes) for crude oil that would be transported by the proposed Project is estimated to be 1.3 to 27.4 MMTCO2e annually. This is equivalent to annual GHG emissions from combusting fuels in approximately 270,833 to 5,708,333 passenger vehicles, the CO2 emissions from combusting fuels used to provide the energy consumed by approximately 64,935 to 1,368,631 homes for 1 year, or the annual CO2 emissions of 0.4 to 7.8 coal fired power plants. The estimated range of potential emissions is large because there are many variables such as which reference crude or which study is used for the comparison.
Do you see what the EPA did? They took the State Department data and released only the high end comparison without noting that the low-end comparison is 95% lower. Or to put it another way, the Keystone XL pipeline could emit –assuming oil sands technology stays the same, a big assumption—over its 50 year history , the same amount as between 3 days and 56 days of Chinese emissions in 2012.
Anyone who has been following the KXL saga knows that EPA’s EIS comments were all about politics not science.