Keystone XL delayed again

Repost from The Omaha World Herald, Omaha.com

After years of back and forth, another delay for Keystone XL pipeline

April 20, 2014

After more than five years of claims and counter-claims about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline … there is another delay, this time due to a court decision in Nebraska that threw out part of the project’s route.

The State Department said Friday that federal agencies could not evaluate the pipeline’s impact until the “uncertainty created by the ongoing litigation” is resolved.

Now, a final decision on whether or not the pipeline will be built might not come until after the midterm elections in November.

The proposed pipeline, if it gets the president’s OK, would be built by TransCanada Corp. and would run 1,179 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Neb., where it would connect with existing pipelines to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The U.S. segment would be 875 miles long, running through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. The 36-inch diameter line could carry up to 830,000 barrels (nearly 35 million gallons) of oil per day. Because it would cross the U.S.-­Canadian border, the pipeline requires a finding by the Obama administration that building it is in the national interest.

The debate over the project has pitted environmentalists — who hope to block the project on grounds that it would worsen global warming and result in hazardous oil spills — against the president’s critics on the right — who say he should have approved it long ago to create jobs and lessen U.S. dependence on oil from less friendly countries.

FactCheck.org dug up a few common claims and questions that have been flowing around for the past few years:

FACT CHECK.ORG

Excerpts from FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan website that weighs politicians’ claims. It is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Really, how many jobs?

Any big construction project requires workers to build it. How many? The U.S. State Department’s analysis says 3,900 would be employed directly if the job is done in one year, or 1,950 per year if work is spread over two. TransCanada puts the number higher, saying the project would support 9,000 construction jobs directly. Counting “indirect” work, the State Department estimates a total of 42,100 jobs could be created. TransCanada has accepted the 42,100 figure for total employment.

Whatever the number, these jobs are temporary, lasting only for the year or two that it would take to complete the project. The number of permanent jobs is much lower. “The proposed Project would generate approximately 50 jobs during operations,” according to the State Department analysis.

House Republicans say the project would create 120,000 jobs. But that’s based on information from figures given by TransCanada two years ago — for a much longer pipeline than is now proposed.

How dirty is this Canadian oil?

Critics of the pipeline are fond of saying that it would carry “the dirtiest oil on the planet,” and there is no question that the oil is significantly “dirtier” than most in the sense that it results in more greenhouse gas emissions.

The oil comes from Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan, in what the industry calls “oil sands” and environmentalist critics call “tar sands.” By either name, they are vast deposits of bitumen — a form of petroleum so dense that at a temperature of 52 degrees Fahrenheit it is “hard as a hockey puck,” according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. It must be heated or diluted to be made to flow through pipes.

How much “dirtier” is it? The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that getting Canadian bitumen produced and processed into fuel produces between 70 percent and 110 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the weighted average of transportation fuels now used in the United States.

However, once this fuel is in the tank, gasoline or diesel fuel that comes from Canadian bitumen is no different than fuel from any other form of petroleum.

The State Department did say that Canadian oil will probably end up being produced and burned anyway, even if the pipeline is not built.

Without this pipeline, how will oil be transported?

Railroad tank cars

A substantial amount of Canadian oil is already entering the United States by rail, in tank cars. No White House approval is required. Rail shipments have skyrocketed since the White House rejected the original Keystone route, when the shipments were less than 20,000 barrels per day. The State Department’s January report estimated that 180,000 barrels per day are being transported by rail from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, amounting to nearly 22 percent of the volume that the Keystone XL could carry. And the industry is adding new rail capacity rapidly.

Other pipelines

Besides the Keystone XL, three other pipeline projects are being proposed to carry Alberta crude oil to market. Two would carry it across the mountains of British Columbia to ports on Canada’s Pacific coast, to be loaded on tankers and shipped mostly to China and other Asian markets (and with some going to California), while a third would nearly double the effective capacity of an existing line to the U.S.

What are the safety concerns?

Pipelines can be hazardous. An average of 97,376 barrels (4.1 million gallons) of petroleum and other “hazardous liquids” have been spilled each year in pipeline incidents over the past decade, according to the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. These incidents have claimed an average of two lives per year, and resulted in more than $263 million in annual reported property damage.

Those figures include the most expensive onshore oil pipeline spill in U.S. history, caused when a pipeline operated by Enbridge ruptured on July 26, 2010, near Marshall, Mich. That dumped more than 1 million gallons of Canadian diluted bitumen — the same material that would be carried in the Keystone XL pipeline — into the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge still is struggling to complete the cleanup. Although Enbridge initially put the spill at about 840,000 gallons, the EPA said last year 1.15 million gallons had been recovered and 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated river sediment still had to be recovered. Enbridge said in August 2013 that it had spent more than $1 billion on the cleanup and remediation, and the figure continues to rise.

A spill from the Keystone XL could potentially have similar effects. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, in its final evaluation report on the project, found that the properties of the diluted forms of bitumen that would flow through the state in the Keystone XL pipeline “are similar in many respects to other heavy sour crude oils.” For what it’s worth, TransCanada says it plans to make the Keystone XL “the safest pipeline ever constructed in the U.S.,” adding more remote shut-off valves and inspections and burying the pipe more deeply than others.

Rail transport also carries hazards, however. Last July, 47 people died in a single disaster when an unattended train including 72 tanker cars loaded with crude oil rolled downhill, exploded and burned in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec province. And that calamity is by no means an isolated incident.

Based on relative safety records to date, the State Department estimated that an average of six deaths per year would result if the Keystone XL isn’t built and the same amount is shipped by rail instead. More than twice as much oil is likely to be spilled as well, the State Department estimated.

What’s the impact at the pump?

Some proponents have claimed that the Keystone XL project would hold down gasoline prices for U.S. motorists, while foes have claimed that it would do the opposite, at least for Midwestern motorists.

The State Department’s analysis concluded that either way, the Keystone XL project would have “little impact on the prices that U.S. consumers pay for refined products such as gasoline.” That’s because Gulf Coast refineries that process heavy crude could continue to get it from Venezuela or the Middle East, as they do now, if they can’t get it from Canada, the report said. And even if the Keystone XL isn’t built, Canadian crude still “could reach U.S. and Canadian refineries by rail.”

Other independent experts have said essentially the same thing. Even TransCanada doesn’t include lower gasoline prices in its list of the “economic benefits” that it claims would result from building the pipeline.

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