It would seem that President Obama gave a tacit approval of the Keystone XL pipeline yesterday saying he would NOT approve the pipeline if it would “significantly exacerbate” the problem of climate change. The U.S. State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, finds that, “approval or denial of the proposed Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast Area.”

The final determination will rest on the President’s use of the phrase “significantly exacerbate.” While the phrase is very ambiguous, CEA’s analysis of the relevant environmental impact statements shows the project will not significantly contribute to U.S. carbon emissions.

During the construction period, GHG emissions from these sources and activities would be approximately 240,423 metric tons of CO2e. Emissions during the operation of the proposed project would be approximately 3.19 million metric tons of CO2e per year.” [ES-15]

All this discussion comes at a time when U.S. carbon emissions are around 5.2 billion metric tons, which is the lowest level in 20 years. This means that once constructed, annual greenhouse gas output from the pipeline will account for 0.0613% of U.S. carbon emissions.

Moreover, denying the pipeline would force refineries to continue to import heavier crudes from Mexico, Venezuela and potentially the Middle East. The GHG transport footprint of a barrel of oil from each of these importing countries is significantly higher than the transport footprint of oil imported from Canada.

Transporting crude from:

  • Mexico is 13% more GHG intensive than transporting Canadian
  • Venezuela is 26.4% more GHG intensive than transporting Canadian
  • Nigeria is 90.5%  more GHG intensive than transporting Canadian
  • Saudi Arabia is 194% more GHG intensive than transporting Canadian

*According to the Department of State’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Keystone XL Project (released August 2011), the top four crude oil importers to the Gulf Coast refinery complex are Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.  Keystone XL could displace up to 40% of these imports.

What is the President’s definition of “significantly exacerbate?” Will he call for additional studies of the GHG emissions associated with the project? Will the administration rely on the already-completed GHG analysis of the project?