2011-08-21 04:04:46Tar Sands Impact on Climate Change
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
69.230.106.125

Per neal's suggestion as motivated by the Keystone pipeline environmental protest, a look at the climate impacts of tar sands and the proposed Keystone pipeline specifically.

Tar Sands Impact on Climate Change

2011-08-21 06:08:51
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.116.106

McKibben's write-up quoted Hansen as saying that, if the Keystone tar-sands project goes through, it's a "game over" for the atmosphere. That seems to be an overstatement, based on this presentation. Am I missing something?

2011-08-21 06:53:41
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.179.249

Oops, I posted this on the general chat page without realizing that the blog post had been done (which I haven't yet read)


There are a lot of pitfalls in looking at life cycle assessments of tar sands production (ie, well-to-wheels and well-to-tank) as well as in looking at the incremental effects of pipeline construction and expansion on bitumen production. The worst offendors are industry lobby groups and governments but sometimes environmental groups also pick the headline numbers which support their case the best. 

I would recommend the publications of The Pembina Institute for the most balanced (but still environment-friendly) reports. Specifically:

For life cycle assessments 

For the effect of the Keystone Pipeline (and other pipelines on future production

These reports  are critical of The Alberta Energy Institute Study on GHG emissions and the US DOE EnSys study on Keystone.

The last, I would bet, being the study that Obama will cite to justify his decision to allow the Keystone. On the other hand, he could as easily cite it for forbidding Keystone but I don't think that the political optics of shutting out a secure source of oil for the US will allow it. Hope I'm wrong.

2011-08-21 07:13:55
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
69.230.106.125
neal - Hansen is very big on 350 ppm CO2. The report I refer to in the post talks about 2°C, or about 450 ppm CO2. Frankly at this point, if your target is 350 ppm CO2, practically anything we do to put more CO2 in the atmosphere is game over. Andy - I'll have a look at those reports later on.
2011-08-21 07:44:55
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.179.249

The post is very good and I have just a few comments.

I would need to look at the EPA incremental emissions numbers in detail to understand them better but my very rough calculation of the well to wheels emissisins of the product in the pipeline at full capacity 365 days a year (this is a maximum estimate) is about 140 million tons per year or 7 billion over the fifty year life. Now, the Keystone won't generate anywhere near that amount of extra production (the crude would transported by other existing and planned pipelines) so the EPA estimate of lifetime 1.15 billion tons is OK and maybe even conservative.

About half of the future bitumen production will be by SAGD (underground steam assisted gravity drainage) which won't have the same surface impact as mining. The GHG emissions will still be big, though, perhaps bigger than mining.

Here's a link to a recent study on surface water contamination, which you may want to include.

There's another major pipeline planned across Northern BC (Northern Gateway, Pipeline to nowhere)to export crude to Asia via Kitimat. Luckily, public opinion in BC is mostly against this project and there are big objections by First Nations to prevent it being built. So, I don't think this will happen. There are also plans afoot to increase oil tanker traffic through Vancouver, supposedly "the greenest city in the world" and past where I live.

2011-08-21 07:51:34
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.179.249

The biggest benefit, I think, to a US Keystone ban will be the demoralizing effect this will have on investors in new developments in the tar sands. I hope that BC residents will do what it takes to restrict new export capacity to Asia, effectively putting a bottleneck on expansion plans. Such a comment is probably a bit too speculative and political to include in an SkS post, maybe I'll put it in the comments, along with stuff about Northern Gateway.

I'm inclined to agree with Neal that sometimes the Tar Sand's impact is a bit overstated. If Obama OK's this pipeline, we won't have to give up. Look at these diagrams (propaganda alert!) to put the tar sands emissions in 2007 (blue dot) in a continetal perspective. It's not the end of the world in itself, just a big contributor to the end of the world.

2011-08-21 10:23:22
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.116.106

It would be nice if we could somehow support McKibben's effort, because he's trying to start a social movement -- which is exactly what we'll need if we expect to get out of this millenium in one piece. However, we can't make statements that have technical holes in them: It will kill our credibility. What can we do or say that is true and helpful?

2011-08-21 11:53:30
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.179.249

McKibben et al get arrested 

I'm not sure whether to be inspired or feel ashamed because I'm not part of it.

2011-08-21 14:01:17
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
69.230.106.125

I read Hansen's comments in a Hot Topic post on the subject.  Another problem is that Hansen references the entire carbon storage of the tar sands, but only about 10% of the bitumen in economically obtainable, at least at current prices.  I think it's mostly an issue of attitude - that we're looking for more and more fossil fuels to exploit rather than trying to leave as much as we can in the ground.  Fundamentally that's Hansen's point, but I do think he's exaggerating the importance of the tar sands.  It's bad, but it's not the difference between disaster and okay.

I think that's the best way we can support McKibben - talk about the importance of leaving fossil fuels like the tar sands in the ground, but don't exaggerate their impact.   That's the tone I tried to strike in the post.

I added a note about McKibben being arrested, about the tar sands oil being stuck in place if the Keystone project isn't approved, and a reference to and quote from the Kelly et al. surface water study from Andy.

2011-08-22 01:55:51
grypo

gryposaurus@gmail...
108.34.130.66

You took the correct tone.  In fact, this is essentially what Hansen is saying by 'game over'.  Take the quote in context, "Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tarsands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over."  

Meaning, we can't start phasing out CO2 emissions if we start a new high CO2 concentration fossil fuel.

2011-08-22 06:50:53
grypo

gryposaurus@gmail...
108.34.130.66

And I'm actually confused about why they are getting arrested.  So you can't demonstrate peacefully in that spot?  

2011-08-22 07:37:45
nealjking

nealjking@gmail...
91.33.122.139

Not in front of the White House: I guess it constitutes too much of a security risk to the President or administration.

Likewise, in England you're not allowed to demonstrate in front of Parliament anymore.

2011-08-22 08:00:46
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
69.230.106.125

Yeah they specifically picked a spot where they would be arrested, probably thinking that would make it more effective.

2011-08-22 12:36:45
Sarah
Sarah Green
sarah@inlandsea...
67.142.177.20

Hi Dana,

 

good and certainly timely.

I'd put something about climte/carbon in the first paragraph for people who get to this page without context. Also, perhaps a very simplified statement something like:
"Any carbon that's dug out of the ground inevitably ends up on the atmosphere. A major concern for tar sands is the huge amount of excess carbon that is emitted during the extracting (and refining ?) process."

best

Sarah

 

2011-08-22 13:02:48
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
69.230.106.125

Got it, thanks Sarah.

2011-08-22 13:26:33Another wrinkle...
John Hartz
John Hartz
john.hartz@hotmail...
98.122.98.161

Friends of the Earth | Natural Resources Defense Council | Sierra Club

 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 26, 2011
 
CONTACT: Kelly Trout, Friends of the Earth: (202) 222-0722
Josh Mogerman, Natural Resources Defense Council: (312) 651-7909
Maggie Kao, Sierra Club: (202) 675-2384
 

Rush to Judgment: 

House Passes Bill to Force Dangerous Pipeline Decision

 
WASHINGTON, July 26 – In a reckless and politically tainted ploy, the House of Representatives today approved a bill to force the Obama administration to rush a decision on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. The vote flies in the face of a rash of pipeline accidents and oil spills as well as mounting evidence that the pipeline would threaten the livelihoods, health and safety of American families from Montana to Texas. 
 
The bill, HR 1938, submitted by Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska, passed 279-147. It would require the State Department to decide by Nov. 1 whether to approve the pipeline, which TransCanada Corp. wants to build to carry dirty, toxic and corrosive crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands through six heartland states to Gulf Coast refineries. The bill would cut short the critical legally mandated safety reviews of whether the pipeline is safe and in the national interest and unnecessarily rush a decision the administration has said will come when a thorough review has been completed.
 
“While the pipeline disaster on the Yellowstone River in Montana is still unfolding, we should not approve a pipeline that isn’t needed, will raise gas prices and threatens drinking water and other resources from the Great Plains to Texas,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This is another example of the House’s anti-environmental agenda, putting politics and special interests ahead of science and common sense.”
 
Sen. Mike Johanns, also of Nebraska, has already predicted Rep. Terry’s bill will go nowhere in the Senate, saying “a thoughtful process” is needed. On July 15, seven senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on the State Department to conduct a more rigorous analysis of the pipeline’s safety and alternative pipeline routes to bypass the Ogallala Aquifer, a vital source of drinking and agricultural water for the Great Plains, before moving forward on a decision.
 
Ken Winston of the Sierra Club’s Nebraska chapter said that in pushing for a rush decision, Rep. Terry is ignoring the mounting evidence that an oil spill from the pipeline could be devastating for his own constituents. Two weeks ago, Dr. John Stansbury, a University of Nebraska hydrologist, released a study (PDF) that found even a small, undetected leak from a rupture of the pipeline in the Nebraska Sandhills could pollute the Ogallala Aquifer with carcinogenic benzene at concentrations exceeding safe levels. Dr. Stansbury’s report also found that the likelihood and amount of a spill into the Platte River was much higher than TransCanada had claimed, and that a spill into the Platte would likely impact the water supplies of Lincoln and Omaha. 
 
“This pipeline would threaten the health and livelihood of thousands of American landowners, farmers and ranchers who depend on the rivers and aquifers crossed by the pipeline,” said Winston. “It is also a threat to the drinking water of the people of Omaha that Rep. Terry is supposed to represent. The existing portion of the Keystone I pipeline, which would tie into the XL, has had a dozen spills in its first year and was recently shut down by federal regulators. The XL would be no different.”
 
Review of the pipeline under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is incomplete, and the State Department has not begun the National Interest Determination required before a decision. Both reviews should be thorough and based on science, not on an arbitrary timeline as defined by the State Department or mandated by Terry’s bill. The NEPA review lacks major pieces of pertinent information regarding greenhouse gas emissions, pipeline safety, alternative routes, and environmental justice. 
 
The House’s action comes almost exactly one year after an Enbridge pipeline carrying tar sands crude oil ruptured in Michigan, spilling as much as 1 million gallons of tar sands crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Scientists and cleanup workers in Michigan say they still don’t know how severe or persistent the impacts of the spill will be because the U.S. has no experience dealing with a large spill of toxic and corrosive tar sands oil.
 
“The House’s vote is a foolhardy rush to judgment,” said Damon Moglen, climate and energy director at Friends of the Earth. “The State Department cannot possibly address the many glaring gaps in its environmental analysis by November, let alone consider lessons from the worrying string of recent pipeline spills. The House is saying we should simply ignore the evidence, not to mention the concerns of communities whose water and land is at risk.”
 
 
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2011-08-22 14:01:16
dana1981
Dana Nuccitelli
dana1981@yahoo...
69.230.106.125

Ugh, sons of bitches.  Thanks badger, I added a discussion of the rush job and concerns about leaks similar to Keystone I.

2011-08-22 14:40:40
Andy S

skucea@telus...
66.183.179.249

I think it's a tactical error on the part of FOE to focus on potential leaks from KXL, because:

1) The pipeline company can make changes to mitigate these potential problems. Having achieved some concessions from the pipeline co, the administration could then claim that they've done their bit for the environment, pat themselves on the back and OK the project.

2) Building the KXL will divert oil from other, older, corroded,  less high-tech pipelines. Constructing KXL could therefore actually reduce the potential for leaks overall. I haven't seen TransCanada's pitch but I'd bet that they make this argument.

3) Our goal here is to eventually choke off  transportation capacity from the tar sands and, hence, limit future production and GHG emissions. Spills are deplorable, of course, but they are not that likely to occur and not likely to be very serious with a new, state-of-the-art, closely monitored pipe compared to the current aging infrastructure.

What this whole project is about from the producers' perspective is: a) to get the synthetic crude to Gulf Coast refineries that pay a higher price than do the refineries in the mid-West and; b) to increase and diversify transporation capacity. Both factors will lead to expansion of production in Alberta.