The State Department is delaying its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, pushing the controversy past this fall’s midterm elections. That removes it from being an election political football, but not from the front pages, where’s it’s the environmental hot topic that won’t cool down.

The proposed project, which would carry carbon-heavy crude from Alberta’s oil sands fields to Gulf Coast refineries, has become the rallying point for liberal environmental activists and conservative Republicans alike. Activists have tagged it as symbolic of President Obama’s rejection of fossil fuels and of commitment to renewable energy. Republicans have termed it a symbol of job creation and energy security, and of “can do” technological know-how. But the pipeline may be more powerful as a rhetorical trope than as a real game-changer in our energy future.

The numbers tell the story. The oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline is estimated to add 18.7 million metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere annually—less than one percent of annual American greenhouse gas emissions, 5.5 billion tons, and a tiny part of the annual global total, 32.6 billion tons of carbon pollution. No wonder that those in the know are looking to new EPA regulations that would require deep cuts in emissions from coal plants and cars, the principal sources of GHG in the U.S., to make a real difference in addressing climate change. Here’s hoping that there’s a room in all the overheated political rhetoric for a cooler look at solutions that might have a major effect on climate change.

Article by John Howell


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1 Comment

  1. MarkfromLexington on

    My numbers show that burning 830,000 barrels of tar sands will generate 169 million metric tons of CO2e per year. This includes burning the tar sands oil, the additional emissions resulting from processing of the tar sands and the pet coke.