Keystone carbon pollution more than figured, study finds (Update)

August 10, 2014 by Seth Borenstein
This March 17, 2014, file photo shows a stake in the ground wrapped with tape that marks the route of the Keystone XL pipeline in Tilden, Neb. The much-debated Keystone XL pipeline could produce four times more global warming pollution than the State Department has calculated, according to scientists at a Swedish research facility. They say the U.S. estimates didn't take into account that the added oil from the pipeline would drop prices by about $3 a barrel, spurring consumption that would then create more pollution. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

The much-debated Keystone XL pipeline could produce four times more global warming pollution than the State Department calculated earlier this year, a new study concludes.

The U.S. estimates didn't take into account that the added oil from the pipeline would drop prices by about $3 a barrel, spurring consumption that would create more pollution, the researchers said.

Outside experts not connected to the study gave it mixed reviews. The American Petroleum Institute found the study to be irrelevant because regardless of the pipeline, the tar sands will be developed and oil will be shipped by railroad if not by pipeline, spokeswoman Sabrina Fang said.

The researchers estimate that the proposed pipeline, which would carry oil from tar sands in western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, would increase world greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 121 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

The department said this year that at most, the pipeline would increase world carbon dioxide emissions by 30 million tons.

Such emissions have been on the mind of President Barack Obama, who has said his administration would allow the pipeline to be built "only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

The new estimates, from scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute, were published Sunday by the journal Nature Climate Change. Peter Erickson, lead author, said his work implies that the pipeline could basically wipe out reductions from some potential pollution-cutting policies under discussion.

The State Department declined to comment on the research by Erickson and co-author Michael Lazarus.

Lower prices may sound good, but there's no free lunch, said Wesleyan University environmental economist Gary Yohe, who praised the work.

"Lower fuel prices are bad if they don't include all of the social costs," Yohe wrote in an email. "Consumers are happy, but the planet is not necessarily."

An increase of 121 million tons of carbon dioxide is dwarfed by the 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide the world pumped into the air in 2013. That's why University of Sussex economist Richard Tol dismissed the calculated Keystone effect as merely a drop in the bucket. If somebody is concerned about climate change, he wrote in an email, the pipeline "should be the furthest from your mind."

Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington agreed the amount is small, but said the concern is more about the idea of boosting emissions than the degree of change.

Independent energy economist Judith Dwarkin in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, dismissed the study, faulting the idea that added oil production will lower the price and boost demand. Usually, she said, it's consumption that spurs price and then oil production.

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2.5 / 5 (8) Aug 10, 2014
This is sad. Because of the global warming hoax, we hear arguments that abundant oil from a friendly country is bad. It will cause lower prices, which is supposedly bad. Our economy will super-charge, which would supposedly be bad. More people would have jobs: bad. We would stop having to rely on the middle east for oil: bad. Poor people would be warmer in the winter: bad again.

The conservationists/warmists argued that the world was running out of oil so we should throttle back the economy; and now they are arguing there is too much oil. What is the actual agenda? Everything seems to lead to putting the brakes on free market capitalism.

2 / 5 (8) Aug 10, 2014
may result in much higher greenhouse gas emissions than previously calculated as it could fuel greater oil consumption through higher production and lower prices

So, I ran my own computer model and it said to solve this "new" problem, just don't increase the supply on the pipeline.
Aug 10, 2014
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4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 10, 2014
The Keystone Pipeline won't lower gasoline prices in the US, because once it can be moved cheaply to the refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, both the crude oil and the refined fuel will simply be exported to places that have higher prices than the US. Without the pipeline, it doesn't make sense to ship the crude all the way to a port to export: transportation costs are too high.

It's like what happened to the price of natural gas in Colorado. It was cheap to heat your house with it, because it was captive to the area, but when they built a pipeline so they could get it to other markets, it got expensive.

Free market capitalism wants the most money it can get, and that means finding a better energy market than the US. Do you think Capitalism owes you a job? Do you think Capitalism owes you low prices? Capitalism doesn't care at all about you, PsycheOne.
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 10, 2014
Your exactly right @retrosurf and the new expected CO2 output going from 27M tons to 110M tons, that is a powerful hit on the global CO2 levels at a time were we need to be zero.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 11, 2014
Glad they did this, better to learn this now than later.
I'm sure the oil guys already knew about this which also explains why they've been pushing so hard for it. I was always suspicious about how hard of a political fight they were making over this, at least to the proportion of the projects magnitude in itself, I never understood why this was such a big issue, this clears everything up.

But last I heard is that they were still just going to give everyone the finger and start just using trains to get the oil over here, but at least they wont be able to just take everyone's property or pull as much of that low grade crap oil down here. But that might just be a school yard rumor.
1 / 5 (2) Aug 11, 2014
Hmmm... makes me wonder why the oil companies would want this pipeline if it will drive down the price of their commodity.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2014
Hmmm... makes me wonder why the oil companies would want this pipeline if it will drive down the price of their commodity.

The price per unit gets made up for because they sell more of it.
It's the wal-mart business model, undercut the price of the competition and make up for it by selling as much product as you can logistically move.
The companies competing with the guys behind XL would have to lower their prices in order to stay competitive, when they haven't actually refined anymore crude.
So then they have to find more oil somewhere else to raise their profit margin, and play the same undercut and move game and the cycle continues.

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