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The Keystone XL pipeline is irrelevant

The Keystone XL pipeline will make no measurable contribution one way or another to global climate change, Rapier writes. The arguments against it convey a false impression of the most important drivers of global carbon emissions.

By Robert RapierGuest blogger / July 8, 2013

Some of about 500 miles worth of coated steel pipe manufactured by Welspun Pipes, Inc., originally for the Keystone oil pipeline, is stored in Little Rock, Ark.

Danny Johnston/AP/File

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Keystone XL’s Insignificant Contribution to Climate

Last month President Obama unveiled a new plan to combat climate change in a speech at Georgetown University. While there is generally broad consensus that his comments further threaten the already battered US coal industry, his comments on TransCanada’s (TSX: TRP, NYSE: TRP) Keystone XL pipeline project had pundits guessing at his meaning. Here is what the President said in his speech about Keystone XL:

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Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done. But I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.

The reason that there have been widely differing views on the President’s intentions boils down to his use of the phrase “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” The State Department’s Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)for the Keystone XL Pipeline project already concluded that approval of the project would have little impact on global carbon dioxide emissions or on the development of the oil sands because of their view that the oil will get to market one way or another. More on that below.

My own position is that it doesn’t matter whether the pipeline is built, because I also think — for reasons I detail below — that the project will make no measurable contribution one way or another to the global climate. In my opinion, after digging through the data I believe that the pipeline is irrelevant as far as the global climate is concerned. In fact, I will demonstrate below why I believe that this is so. The only reason I care at all about this issue — as I explained in Protesting Keystone XL While Rome Burns — is that I think it is a misallocation of resources when we don’t have time to misallocate resources. It also conveys a false impression of the most important drivers of global carbon emissions.

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