Activists Against The Keystone Pipeline Project Demonstrate At The State Department

The ongoing controversy over the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline linking Alberta’s oil sands to US markets covers a vast amount of factual territory, from refinery configuration to logistics to international crude oil trading to carbon dioxide emissions. But at times, all of these issues take a back seat to the emotional, or symbolic, component of the pipeline, which can obscure the actual issues involved. held an online discussion on Keystone XL, which you can read in full here, moderated by David Manning, Alberta’s Representative to the US. It features some very cogent commentary from a range of experts, both those who support the pipeline and those who do not.

There appears to be some consensus among the discussion participants that the pipeline is more a symbol of the US’ environmental policy trajectory than an environmental threat in and of itself. But there is also strong opinion that falls into another camp…a journalist/blogger answered the question, Should the Keystone XL pipeline be approved?, by posting a 1,000-plus word response taken from the website of Tar Sands Action, an anti-Keystone advocacy group. Tar Sands Action makes some dubious claims about how oil and product markets work, but its literature offers a good example of the fervor with which some people object to the pipeline.

Below are some highlights and common themes.

Keystone as a Symbol

Keystone XL Reflects a Business-as-Usual Approach to Energy

“In a business-as-usual scenario where global oil-based transportation fuels demand continues to grow, increasing Alberta oil sands supplies to world markets makes good sense.”

“However, the problem is that we now know a business-as-usual energy consumption scenario is very likely to lead to severe global warming damage/costs as time goes on.”

“The Keystone XL pipeline itself will not significantly increase CO2 emissions, but it has become symbolic of the policy decisions the U.S. must make to address the global warming problem and shift the U.S. and world away from business-as-usual oil consumption patterns.” – Henry M. GoldbergIndependent Consultant

Keystone XL is Being Misused as a Symbol

“It’s a pity that this permit decision has been so politicized by its opponents (and some of its supporters), and used to shore up/criticize this administration…It is for this reason that many of those who recognize the need to act on climate change have argued that this decision must be viewed as a wider litmus test for the Obama Administration’s wider environmental agenda.

“But this rather specious argument only held water before the election: the administration has since unveiled a broader climate action plan, and we can drop the pretense that this pipeline is going to have any significant effect on changes to the global climate.” – Robert Grant, Manager, Washington DC office of Mitsubishi Corporation

Keystone as a Symbol Obstructs Sound Policy Decisions

“No matter whose carbon dioxide emissions estimate is used to calculate it, the climate impact of the oil carried by the Keystone XL pipeline is too small to measure or carry any physical significance. In deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, it is important not to let symbolism cloud these facts.” – Chip Knappenberger Assistant Director, Center for the Study of Science, Cato Institute

Keystone as a Logistical Lynchpin

Canada Should Refine its Own Oil

“If the tar sands offer such a large resource to be tapped, why not build a local refinery in Alberta and then just pump refined oil products through standard more proven piping systems?” – Thomas A. Peterson Founder/Owner, SEE Publications, Solar Design & Construction

US Gulf Coast Refineries Need New Sources of Heavy Oil Supply

“The Gulf Coast refineries have the most transportation options for their product at tidewater and are mainly built for the heavier crude coming from the Alberta oil sands.  As Venezulan and Mexican supplies decline, those refineries are seeking similar crude from Alberta to meet their needs.” – David J. Manning Representative to the United States, Government of Alberta, Canada

Keystone May Offer a Safer Crude Transportation Alternative

“Most of the pipeline has been or will be built and operated in any case…The only issue is whether Keystone XL will connect to Canada, providing a more efficient means to transport oil sands product to US Gulf refineries. The alternative is further use of rail to transport the oil, which seems to be more hazardous and is less efficient.” – Lewis J. Perelman Principal, Perelman Group

Blocking Keystone XL Will Not Reduce Oil Production or Consumption

To Reduce Oil Consumption, Tackle the Demand Side

“Once the other (non-climate) environmental concerns of the pipeline are adequately addressed—which it appears they have been—the U.S. government should not stand in the way of legitimate proposed economic activities.

“If the goal is to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels in the global energy supply, the battle should focus on the demand side of the equation and influencing consumer choice.  If the demand weren’t there, then projects like the Keystone XL would dry up and the carbon would stay in the ground.” – Chip Knappenberger

Canadian OIl Sands Will Be Developed Anyway…

“It should be clear that obstructing completion of the Keystone XL pipeline will in no way reduce production from Canadian oil sands or have any significant effect on climate.” – Lewis J. Perelman

…Because Global Demand for Oil Remains Strong

“Canadian oil is expensive to produce and is dirtier than conventional oil, but as long as the oil price is high and there remain very few alternatives to oil in the short to medium term there will be a market for Canadian oil sands, either in this country or in Asia.” – Robert Grant