The pending decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline is perceived as a precedent-setter for defining the US government’s commitment to balancing the environment with economic development. Anti-Keystone protests at the White House are a very visible example of public environmental interest in the matter. These manifestations are particularly significant when tied to President Obama’s climate change speech last year, in which he stated that the pipeline would not be approved if it were shown “to significantly exacerbate the problem of climate change”.
One of findings of the US State Department’s recently released Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline is that approval of the pipeline would have little impact on the pace or scale of oil sands development. The report states that “the dominant drivers of oil sands development are more global than any single infrastructure project.” Though it estimates that oil sands would produce about 17% more greenhouse gases than the reference crude oil (figure below), it states that preventing the construction of the pipeline would not prevent these greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere .
The Keystone report also states that shifting the oil capacity of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport by rail could result in a higher number of oil spills and a larger volume of leakage per year . It also predicts that carrying crude oil from land-locked Alberta by rail instead of by pipeline could result. In an average of six additional rail-related deaths per year. This is particularly significant in light of several recent events, including the derailment of an oil-carrying train in Quebec last year that killed 47 people and January’s oil-carrying train derailment in Pennsylvania, which have heightened public concerns about the safety of oil transport by rail.
The outcome of the decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline will have significant implications for both US rail industry and pipeline developers. The management of environmental opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and increased concern about the safety of oil transport by rail may be key indicators for increased oil pipeline development. A question that remains is how consumers would benefit from the cost reduction in pipeline transportation versus rail.
DISCUSSION: How will the US transport its – Canadian – oil? What are key indicators for the outcome of the pending decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline? How will consumers benefit from the cost difference of oil transportation by pipeline versus rail? What are the implications of US leadership in global warming and energy policy?
written by: Sabina Martyn/ edited by: Celine Rottier