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Why not Keystone XL. Clear reasons why Keystone XL is not in the U.S. national interest

February 10th, 2013 · 13 Comments

Secretary of State John Kerry’s first major international meeting came with Canadian foreign minister John Baird. At the press conference, Secretary Kerry faced (and essentially shunted aside) questions about Keystone XL.  A Climate Hawk as U.S. Senator, Secretary Kerry faced a difficult situation: Canada is pushing hard to enrich itself with the world’s worst environmental disaster and the United States has to decide whether it will help worsen the situation as the Department of State in nearing the end of a process of review of the Keystone XL pipeline.

In short, the question the Department of State must answer:

Is Keystone XL in the U.S. national interest?

And, more briefly, the answer:


With full explanations after the fold, here are reasons why Keystone XL is a reckless, dangerous, and counter-productive project that should not be allowed to proceed.

In short, Keystone XL would

  • Contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Foster accelerated damage to one of the most important carbon sinks;
  • Create risks for water sources;
  • Facilitate expansion of the most destructive industrial project on earth;
  • Increase spill risks of extremely difficult to clean-up and damaging Dilbit in extremely sensitive ecosystems;
  • Divert resources from efforts to reduce American and global dependence on fossil fuels;
  • Threaten employment;
  • Damage economic performance;
  • Threaten American health;
  • Increase gas prices for much of the American Heartland;
  • Increase profitability of oil interests ripping up the boreal forests by taking money out of Americans’ pockets; and,
  • Damage American leadership around the globe as we struggle to mitigate climate change.

If this seems a long list, it is.

Despite the $10s ($100s) of millions spent on partial truths, disinformation, and propaganda, the fundamental facts demonstrate that this project should not go forward, that it is counter to U.S. national interest.

Crippling drought. Devastating wildfires. Superstorm Sandy. Climate has come home – and the American people get it.

The first step to putting our country on the path to addressing the climate crisis is for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. His legacy as president will rest squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate crisis.

On 17 February 2013, President’s Day, 100,000s of American citizens will be in front of the White House calling for the Obama Administration to recognize — and declare — that the Keystone XL pipeline is not in the U.S. national interest.  Join them.

A simple question to consider:

If we don’t say no now, when will we say no?

Let us take a moment to ‘review’ the bidding as to why Keystone XL pipeline is not in the national interest.

Thus, a simple question as to Keystone XL:  Why not?

The Keystone XL pipeline would

  • The Keystone XL could have a significant impact on the health of communities in the tar sands production areas along its route and refinery fence line communities where the heavy sour crude will be processed. In addition, the emissions from tar sands will exacerbate climate change which affects public health much more broadly even than the widespread direct impacts of the tar sands industry.”
  • Lead to increased fuel prices for significant numbers of Americans
    • Currently, tar sands imported into the United States are refined mainly in Upper Midwest refineries and oversupply of fuel products there have lead to a lowered crude fuel and consumer prices for much of the Upper Midwest when compared to global oil prices. Keystone XL would move this fuel into the international market and out of American fuel tanks.
    • In fact, tar sands exploiters would see their profits come up, money coming out of American citizens’ pockets.
  • Create increased risks of oil pipeline spills
    • The first Keystone pipeline, which is relatively new, has had a large number of leaks.
    • Keystone XL would go through sensitive areas where a pipeline leak could impact sensitive environmental areas and numerous Americans’ health.
    • The product, called Dilbit, is much more dangerous and difficult to clean up in the event of a spill. Even the most cursory look at the industry’s record leads to a simple conclusion: pipeline spills will occur.
  • Threaten employment
  • Hurt America’s prospects for achieving a clean energy future
    • The pipeline would divert attention and resources from other paths and opportunities.
    • The pipeline’s approval feeds into a ‘drill, baby, drill’ mentality that fundamentally fails that increased production is counter to achieving energy security.
  • Undermine America’s ability to lead internationally.
    • Addressing climate change will require difficult decisions by individuals, communities, businesses, and nations.  Due to the $100s of billions involved and the power of polluting industries, the correct decision that rejecting Keystone XL is the right thing to do for U.S. national interest has become a difficult decision to make. If the United States is to be a world leader in addressing climate change and if the United States is to have any credibility in asking others to make difficult choices, the United States must show that it can make the correct decision even when it is difficult. As Professor John Abraham put it, “If we don’t say no now, when will we say no?
  • Very simply, oil industry lobbyist claims to the contrary, the Keystone XL pipeline is not in the U.S. national interest.

    On February 17, join the  Forward on Climate Rally in Washington, DC.

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    Tags: Energy

    13 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Greg // Feb 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      I get all the reasons, but increasing the profitability of Canadian oil interests at the expense of the US is embarrassingly stupid and calls into question the veracity of all the others. Who but US and Chinese interests are investing in the tar sands. The actual Cdn presence is very small. It is not Canada vrs the US. It’s not a hockey game.

      Greg — In a post this short, hard to capture all the issues with 100% accuracy while keeping words succinct. To me, looking above and below the fold, try to capture the reality that the fossil fuel industry extracting carbon molecules from the Canadian boreal forest (e.g., Tar Sands) will make more money if Keystone XL gets built and those increased profits will, in essence, be the equivalent of picking the pockets of Americans who currently are benefitting from a ‘discounted’ oil price.

    • 2 Greg // Feb 10, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      You are correct. I was rude and apologize.

      Thank you for the apology but I didn’t think it necessary as use of a few words for complex issues can create inadvertent confusion.

      It is a complex issue. It is a particular challenge for Canadians who are opposed to tar sands development. We know strangling all export routes for tar sands oil is unrealistic. So much Canadian tax revenue and jobs are dependent on it and we have a gov’t that is pro-development.

      We’re likely in agreement that correct description might be “current Canadian government is pro destructive development”. Hard to see, at times, that the Harper gov’t truly represents Canadians.

      The opposition is fractured so it doesn’t appear the gov’t will be defeated anytime soon. Squeezing out Keystone only puts more pressure to develop export routes in Canada. Think the fight is tough in the US? It is doubly difficult in Canada.

      Impression, at times, from south of the border is that the opposition (especially to pipelines west) are more powerful in Canada than in the United States..

      It is easy to get frustrated at times

    • 3 John Egan // Feb 10, 2013 at 8:01 pm

      I concur with Greg.

      Given the current national political climate in Canada with the Harper government and Alberta’s dominance of the Canadian economy – the tar sands oil WILL be going somewhere. The only choice is where.

      You certainty is interesting to hear but, well, perhaps you should look here as it is far from as certain as you assert.

      Note you write “current national political climate in Canada with the Harper government” … is Harper the government forever?

      China has invested heavily and has few reservations about how the oil is produced. In fact, the net carbon equation for export to China is significantly greater than XL.

      Huh? What would happen with Dilbit sent to the Gulf Coast and refined there?

      As with tomato production in Mexico, the environmental costs are simply shifted abroad – in fact, to a far greater degree. To think that the Chinese will not gobble up every barrel of unclaimed Canadian oil is to live in a fantasy world.

      And, as you should be aware, digging up and burning all that Wyoming coal and Alberta Tar Sands is to drive us into making a reality of horrific dystopian fantasy worlds.

    • 4 MarilynW // Feb 10, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      “Canadian Oil Interests”
      Who leases the Tar Sands? a couple of marginal Canadian companies which if you check you find they are only partially Canadian owned. The big owners are multinational Big Oil from Shell to Imperial Oil, Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron, Suncor, Korea National Oil, etc.
      Nexen, Canada has been sold to China for $15. billion, waiting US approval.

      Somewhat sigh … a throwaway set of words, in which seeking to capture many things, has diverted attention. Words are changed in the discussion.

    • 5 Greg // Feb 10, 2013 at 9:31 pm


      I like your tomato analogy. I agree we are being naive to think the tar sands will not be developed if Keystone is not completed. If the US turns their back, it will go to China and India. That is likely worse from a global perspective.

      Again, here.

      1. The tar sands will get dug up anyway.

      This is the most familiar argument on behalf of Keystone, though “we can’t prevent this horrible thing so let’s embrace it” is a peculiar form of endorsement.

      I don’t get it. The world is not a spreadsheet. It contains friction, physical and temporal limitations, politics and competing interests. Nothing is inevitable.

      If activists can block Keystone, yeah, there are other possible routes to get the tar-sands oil out. So … activists will fight those, too. Tar-sands producers want to ship the stuff west? Well, there’s the small matter of a wall of First Nations opposition (and in Canada, unlike the U.S., indigenous tribes have real political power). They want to ship the tar sands east? Well, there’s a coalition of enviro groups fighting that too, pulling together some impressively large rallies. They want to ship the tar sands by train, to avoid all these pipeline protests? Well, that’s more expensive and more dangerous and there isn’t nearly enough rail capacity right now to handle it.

      “Without Keystone XL, oil sands face choke point,” says the Globe & Mail. In this collection of quotes [PDF] pulled together by, oil industry analysts and executives acknowledge that without Keystone, tar-sands oil could be stranded, or at least severely constrained.

      If we ignored the U/Canada border and thought globally it might be best to support Keystone and collectively fight Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, and trains to Alaska. US would control the spigot and refinery jobs would go to Americans.

      I know it is not a perfect, or even good, solution. But I am concerned we aren’t seeing, and debating, the larger picture.

      As to ‘big picture’, how about this:

      The Keystone XL Pipeline, considered in isolation, is not a game changing or planet-threatening project. According to some estimates, obtaining and using oil from tar sands produces 14 to 20 percent greater greenhouse gas emissions than the average oil now used in the U.S. for transportation. In a report to Congress, the estimated effect of the pipeline on the U.S. greenhouse gas footprint would be an increase of 3 million to 21 million metric tons of GHG emissions annually – less than one percent of U.S. emissions. The tar sands in Canada are an environmental disaster in other ways, but the incremental emissions of greenhouse gases are small compared to the far greater threat of massive coal expansion in China, or potential fugitive emission of methane from fracking, or massive deforestation in Indonesia and Latin America, or any number of other major sources of greenhouse gases. In that sense, arguments that the Keystone pipeline is just a “distraction” or “red herring” have some merit.

      But. But. But. Here’s my problem: when do we finally just say “no more?” When are we and our elected officials going to look at the complete picture created by our individual choices and decisions?

      I apologize in advance. I imagine I have caused many Americans to light their hair on fire. But let me say this – Thank God for you all or this debate would have been over long ago.

    • 6 John Egan // Feb 10, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      Federally, Harper (or the Conservative Party) is likely to remain in power until the late teens. After the dramatic political realignment of 2011 – the surge of the NDP combined with the collapse of the Liberals and the BQ plus the death of Jack Layton – opposition to the Conservatives is likely to be fragmented and fluid. Plus, Harper will call an early election if the numbers are favorable.

      Provincially, Alberta and Saskatchewan are one-party states. The opposition in Alberta is FURTHER to the right than the Alberta Conservatives – – and that’s pretty right-wing. The Saskatchewan Party is of a similar mold – esp. on energy issues, tar sands, gas development – and has 87% of legislature’s seats. Although BC is likely to swing NDP this year, Manitoba is likely to go Conservative in its next election. AB, SK, and MB went overwhelmingly Conservative in the 2011 fed elections. Even BC voted 2/3s Cons.

      So for much of the next decade, the political climate in Canada – esp. in the West – is going to be strongly conservative. And if BC nixes the Northern Gateway pipeline – quite possible – then it is likely that a pipeline will be constructed to Churchill, MB – with tanker shipping using icebreakers to create a six-month season thru Hudson Bay.

      Now THAT is a lovely environmental scenario.

    • 7 Greg // Feb 11, 2013 at 1:41 am

      I get it: Keystone is “the line in the sand” for US enviros. Northern Gateway is the same for the people and First Nations I work with.

      Success on both fronts will slow development of the tar sands. That is good.

      But I wonder if our collective approach is rational if we all agree it will not stop it. I don’t think any of us believe that the energy corporations, Chinese, or cash starved provincial and federal governments will suddenly “throw in the towel” if one or both export routes are stopped.

      I like John worry about the “next steps” these powerful interests will take.

      Good luck!! I wish you well.

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