March 7, 2013: LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan recently wrote Secretary of State John Kerry urging speedy approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  O’Sullivan and LIUNA have been strong supporters of the Keystone XL throughout the project’s ongoing approval process, turning out hundreds of members for dozens of public hearings over the past few years.  That is hardly surprising, given that the project will put thousands of safe, skilled, productive LIUNA members to work.



LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan speaks at a rally in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

In making their decision regarding the project, Secretary Kerry and President Obama needn’t listen to O’Sullivan, other building trades leaders, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, and the hundreds of local communities that will benefit from the project.  They need only read the latest draft environmental impact statement (EIS) from the State Department itself to conclude that it is time to let the project proceed.

The State Department’s EIS reports that construction and operation of the pipeline will have little or no impact on climate change, since development of Alberta’s oil sands will proceed with or without it.

Based on information and analysis about the North American crude transport infrastructure (particularly the proven ability of rail to transport substantial quantities of crude oil profitably under current market conditions, and to add capacity relatively rapidly) and the global crude oil market, the draft Supplemental EIS concludes 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 State Department is hardly the first to recognize that stopping a pipeline will do little to stop development of the oil sands.

A recent Plats Energy Week interview with Canadian Ambassador to the United States Gary Doer demonstrates that the Canadian government intends to proceed with oil sand development with or without the Keystone XL, even if that means seeking out alternative ways of getting the oil to market.  Doer also highlights the progress the United States and Canada have made together on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and argues that building the Keystone XL and responding to climate change are not mutually exclusive.

Key players in the development of the oil sands continue to indicate that they intend to proceed, with or without the pipeline.  The Hill quotes Suncor Energy CEO Steve Williams as having “no doubt that the industry will continue to grow, and no single pipeline or no single rail connection will cause the industry to significantly hesitate.”

Since rail is likely to replace the Keystone XL should the pipeline not be built, the State Department also compared the likely environmental impact of construction and operation of sufficient rail capacity with construction and operation of the Keystone XL.  Not surprisingly, the State Department found that diverting oil from a single, LEED-certified pipeline to a rail-based alternative would be far worse for the environment and climate change.

The trains transporting the [Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin] and Bakken crudes would consume large amounts of diesel fuel each day, which equate to direct emissions of hydrocarbons (HCs) or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5). Emissions of VOCs would also be generated by “breathing” from 82 storage tanks holding over 6 million barrels (bbl) of crude oil. The total operational emissions (tons) estimated over the life of the [rail] project (50 years) . . . are significantly greater than those associated with the combined construction and operation of the proposed [Keystone XL] Project.

Indeed, as the Washington Post and others have reported, a significant increase in rail transport has already begun, and the greater risk associated with this form of transport was borne out just last year, when a train derailment caused by a bridge collapse sent toxic gasses into a nearby community.

Columnist Stephen Stromberg makes a similar point in his recent article, “The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Distraction.”  Signaling that he understands just how markets really work, Stromberg rejects the proposition that killing the Keystone XL will stop oil extraction in Alberta: “as long as there is high world demand for crude at prices that make it economically viable to extract from Canada’s ‘tar sands,’ lots of supply will find its way to buyers.”


LIUNA members march in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Meanwhile, dire predictions that developing the oil sands will lead to a “carbon bomb” and spell “game over” for climate change are themselves being called into question by some pretty reputable sources.

Last year, the respected British scientific journal Nature reported that,

Andrew Weaver and Neil Swart, both climate scientists at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, listened to the rhetoric and decided to run some calculations. . . . Their work underscores evidence that the environmental impacts of producing the oil sands are primarily local rather than global. “We wanted to address the carbon-bomb question,” Weaver says. “And frankly, these numbers aren’t as big as I thought they would be.”

Perhaps that is why earlier this year the editors of Nature argued that as part of a broader response to climate change, President Obama should approve the Keystone XL:

. . . regarding the Keystone pipeline, the administration should face down critics of the project, ensure that environmental standards are met and then approve it. As Nature has suggested before (see Nature 477, 249; 2011), the pipeline is not going to determine whether the Canadian tar sands are developed or not. Only a broader — and much more important — shift in energy policy will do that.

Stopping construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline will neither stop, nor significantly slow, development of the oil sands.  It would, however, stop job growth and economic development all along the pipeline’s proposed route.  Perhaps ironically, it would also divert hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day into storage tanks, rail cars, tanker trucks, river barges, and oil tankers, all with far larger carbon footprints than the Keystone XL.  That diversion is the real carbon bomb.

Ed Rehfeld, Manager of Communications


This guy knows what the Keystone XL means: jobs.