5 Must-Haves in the Keystone XL Environmental Review
By Daniel Kessler
It's deja vu all over again. The State Department is gearing up to release its analysis of the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The first one, you might remember, didn't include a substantive evaluation of the huge climate impacts of the pipeline, and state contracted with Cardno Entrix, a company that had ties to TransCanada, the company seeking a permit for the 1,700-mile project.
This review is a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS ) instead of a new independent environmental look at the pipeline. Here are five major issues that State Department must include for the SEIS to have any credibility.
Keystone XL will lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions
The environmental review should find that building the Keystone XL pipeline will unlock additional tar sands development and increase greenhouse gas emissions. there are an estimated 230 gigatons of carbon stored in the tar sands, about half the carbon budget (500Gt) that scientists estimate we can use to stay under 2°C of warming. Only 10 percent of the tar sands is currently believed to be economically recoverable, but this could increase considerably with continued development of extraction technologies. According to a June 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service, building Keystone XL would be the equivalent of adding at least four million new cars to the road. Keystone XL would expand dirty tar sands mining practices and lure the U.S. into a long-term commitment to an extra-dirty oil energy infrastructure. For example, building Keystone XL would wipe out the benefits of new standards that cut greenhouse gas emissions from medium to heavy duty trucks announced by the Obama administration.
TransCanada's poor safety record
TransCanada is currently under a sweeping investigation by Canadian regulators after they confirmed the account of a whistleblower documenting repeated violations of pipeline safety regulations by the company. This is the latest in a long series of accidents, shutdowns and pipeline safety infractions that have hounded TransCanada. Moreover, experiences from the Kalamazoo spill have shown that tar sands spills are significantly more damaging than conventional crude spills. The environmental review should consider TransCanada’s plans, policies and practices and evaluate the impact of tar sands spills along sensitive rivers and aquifers along Keystone XL’s route.
Keystone XL will hurt—not help—U.S. energy security
Keystone XL is a tar sands pipeline through the U.S., not to it. Industry has made it clear that Keystone XL is part of a plan to find markets for tar sands outside of the U.S.—while America’s communities, land and water bear the risk. The environmental review should evaluate the tar sands pipeline in context of industry’s plan to divert tar sands from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast where it can be refined and exported.
Keystone XL will have a negative effect on refinery communities
Low-income communities will bear a disproportionate share of the contamination of air and water created by spills along the route of Keystone XL and refinery emissions from processing dirty tar sands. The review should evaluate which communities will be adversely impacted by Keystone XL.
The public needs a fair opportunity for their voices to be heard
Given the serious environmental impacts from the pipeline, the public should be given sufficient time to comment on the draft of the environmental review. An appropriate period would be 120 days, with the State Department holding public hearings along the pipeline route. Then, the State Department should produce a final environmental review that takes the public’s comments into consideration.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
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The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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