This Saturday activists from "across the continent" are scheduled to gather here in D.C. to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. Except not really. You see, last week I followed a Twitter chat set up by the protest's organizers, and over the course of 900 or so tweets one thing was mostly absent: any discussion of the pipeline itself. Which is both heartening and discouraging.
The good news is protesters obviously haven't found any problems with the fact that environmental impact studies have shown the 1,700-mile Keystone XL will have no significant environmental impact. And they appear to have accepted the fact that the $7 billion pipeline linking Canada's oil sands region with U.S. refiners will provide a tremendous economic boost, creating hundreds of thousands of American jobs.
The discouraging part is that this safe and job-creating project may face further delays because of an advocacy campaign that's based on nothing at all. Well, nothing factual anyway. Here are the non-facts behind the effort: 1) Oil sands are a "carbon bomb"; 2) If the Keystone XL isn't built, oil sands won't be developed; and 3) The U.S. needs to stop all oil development and switch to renewables today.
Now to the facts.
Oil sands = a "carbon bomb" - The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers delves into this here. On a wells-to-wheels basis, the oil produced from oil sands is only about 6 percent more greenhouse gas-intensive than the U.S. crude supply average. CAPP also points out that regardless of the crude oil source, about 75 percent of oil-related GHG emissions come from vehicle use, not exploration or production. More from CAPP:
"Total GHG emissions from the oil sands industry are approximately 45 million tonnes per year. This is equivalent to about 5 per cent of Canada's GHG emissions, 0.5 per cent of GHG emissions of the United States and .001 of global GHG emissions. Average GHG emissions per barrel in the oil sands industry has decreased by 29 per cent since 1990."
If the pipeline isn't built, oil sands oil will stay in the ground - The argument that rejecting the Keystone XL will prevent Canadian oil sands from being developed may help rile up folks heading off for a protest, but it's simply not true.
"Canada will produce its oil. We will burn a lot of it, no matter what, because there's still spare capacity in existing U.S.-Canada pipelines. But when Canada produces more oil than it can send south, the Canadians won't just leave it in the ground; they will ship it elsewhere. ... We asked John Baird -- Canada's new foreign minister, who was in Washington recently to speak with (Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton -- which nations would buy oil that America decided not to take. His answer was quick and unequivocal: the Chinese."
Blocking the Keystone XL isn't going to take oil sands crude off the table. For those with environmental concerns here's the question: Where would you rather see that crude processed - in the United States and Canada, both of which have strong environmental regimes, or in China, which doesn't?
Stop oil, switch to renewables - Again, the Twitter chat shows pipeline opponents aren't really opposed to the pipeline. Their activism actually is rooted in opposition to oil and natural gas, which are seen as delaying or blocking a switch to renewable energies. (Note: Opponents of developing America's vast reserves of affordable, clean-burning natural gas have their own straw man.)
Developing renewable energy is laudable. The oil and natural gas industry invested more than $58 billion from 2000 to 2008 in low- and no-carbon technologies, more than either the government or the rest of the private sector combined. But renewables on a scale to run the economy and support current living standards is a ways away. The Energy Department's lead official on innovative technologies said so last month. That's why the Energy Information Administration projects oil and natural gas, which currently provide about 61 percent of our energy, will provide 55 percent of it in 2035.
The rational response to EIA's data is to think in terms of an all-of-the-above energy strategy and energy security. With access to U.S. resources that currently are off limits and full development of Canadian oil resources, which includes building the Keystone XL, 92 percent of our liquid fuel needs can be supplied domestically and through partnership with Canada by 2030. That's a scenario worth getting excited about.