Dakota Access Pipeline Would Lock in Emissions of 30 Coal Plants
By Lorne Stockman
The Dakota Access Pipeline would carry oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to Gulf Coast refineries and export terminals via Patoka, Illinois. With a maximum capacity of 570,000 barrels per day (bpd), it could carry more than 50 percent of North Dakota's current oil production. Ultimately, the net greenhouse gas (GHG) impact of the pipe would depend on what future actions we take to end our fossil fuel addiction and address climate change.
Happy American Horse attaching himself to an excavator at the construction site of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Aug. 31.Rob Wilson / Bold Alliance
Building a large, new pipeline that reduces the cost of delivering a large oil reserve to market would undermine our climate goals. Meeting the targets set out in the Paris agreement, now signed by more than 180 countries around the world, will not be possible if we continue to lock into new fossil fuel infrastructure like the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In response to the ongoing protests in North Dakota and the concerns raised regarding the approval process, construction of the project within 20 miles of Lake Oahe has been suspended, yet construction activities continue elsewhere on the route. The statement from the Departments of Justice, Army and Interior that ordered the suspension indicates that a review of the process by which the remaining permits can be considered will be conducted including "under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws." Given the White House recently issued guidance on how federal agencies should assess climate impact, it makes sense that a climate test should now be applied to this misguided project.
Federal Agencies Step in After Judge Denies Tribe's Request to Stop Dakota Access Pipeline https://t.co/lPgJEriHb6 @NoTarSands @ukycc— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1473672020.0
How Much Carbon is in the Pipe?
Putting aside broader market impacts for a moment, the total emissions that would be delivered by the pipeline are a factor of the average throughput and the emissions intensity of the crude oil it would deliver. We calculate that at typical utilization rates of 95 percent of capacity, total lifecycle emissions from producing, transporting, processing and burning the products derived from the oil would amount to 101.4 million metric tons of CO2e per year. These emissions are equivalent to 29.5 typical U.S. coal plants or the average emissions of 21.4 million U.S. passenger vehicles.*
How Pipelines Lock In Emissions
The first response of pipeline proponents to estimates of GHG emissions from North American pipelines, will be to claim that the crude will go by rail if there are no pipelines. By asserting that the oil would flow with or without a pipeline, proponents will try to argue that the additional GHG emissions would be zero.
This ignores both the market impacts of shifting from rail to pipe, as well as the potential for climate policy to alter the incentives for oil supply and demand.
First let's look at the difference in costs to shippers between rail and pipe.
According to RBN Energy (behind pay wall), the Dakota Access Pipeline would reduce the cost of shipping Bakken oil from North Dakota to the Gulf Coast by $7 per barrel, with rail costing $15 compared to the pipeline charging $8. These are likely averaged tariffs and the difference may be greater or smaller according to specific contracts, committed volumes over non-committed, length of contract, etc.
This is a 47 percent reduction in shipping costs to the world's biggest refining market, which nowadays also happens to be America's main crude oil export point. There is no doubt that this is an attractive route for Bakken producers to get their oil to major markets at lower cost. And in an oil market that for some time now has seen prices hover between $40 and $50 per barrel, that $7 saving boosts profits and cash flow and can be put toward future investment in more drilling and more production. While the economics in the Bakken are very fluid, making it difficult to estimate with any precision how much more production is triggered by a $7 per barrel increase in netback, it is clear that it can only help producers.
An extra $7 per barrel could be the deciding factor for whether it's worth drilling a new well or not. A good example of the impact a similar increase can have was recently discussed by Bloomberg in response to a presentation by executives at Apache Corporation.
In the presentation, CEO John Christmann explained how a rise in oil prices from $50 per barrel to $60 would enable Apache to drill more than 3,000 more wells at its Permian Basin acreage in Texas, a more than 300 percent increase on the $50 case. These figures may be unique to that acreage but it gives an idea of how an increase in the price a company can expect to receive from its operations can enable it to drill and produce more oil.
Locking in Capital, Locking in Carbon
Another respect in which pipelines impact climate compared to rail is that they lock in oil supply, because they have a higher ratio of capital expenditure (capex) over operational expenditure (opex). The Dakota Access Pipeline is estimated to cost $3.8 billion. In addition, the ETCO pipeline, which is the southern section of the system that would deliver the crude from Illinois to Texas and is mostly comprised of an old gas pipeline, will cost around $1 billion. All together that's a $4.8 billion investment.
Shutting down a $4.8 billion pipeline investment before it's paid off is rare. If markets change due to climate policy, perhaps because of new policies that reduce oil use or rapid market adoption of alternatives such as electric vehicles, companies are likely to keep the oil flowing by cutting tariffs. As long as tariffs are higher than the operating costs of pumping the oil, any capital losses for the pipeline owners will be reduced and any long-term profits increased. So in the climate-action scenario, the tariffs could go a long way below $8—perhaps as low as $1 or 2 per barrel. This will have a powerful effect in maintaining oil flows—and hence emissions—in spite of future climate action.
In contrast, rail terminals are comparatively cheap to build. A rail terminal built to load or unload crude onto and off of rail cars typically costs in the tens to low hundreds of million dollars to build, depending on the size. The capital is paid off quickly but the operational expenses are higher. The reason sending crude by rail is more expensive than pipeline, $7 per barrel more expensive in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, is the cost of running the operations. Loading and unloading rail cars, paying rail company freight charges, fuel surcharges, insurance, transporting the crude to and from the rail yard, all of these make rail transport an opex-intensive activity. In contrast to the pipeline, rail operators cannot significantly lower their tariffs, because operating costs are the dominant part of the economics.
The switch from rail to pipe has already played out in the Bakken with the decline in oil prices since 2014. Before the price drop, rail carried around 70 percent of the oil produced in North Dakota. That figure has now declined to less than 30 percent as prices dropped, margins narrowed and pipeline utilization rose to near capacity. Now pipelines carry nearly 60 percent, a figure that is bound to rise if the Dakota Access Pipeline is built (see Figure).
The Shift From Rail to Pipe in the Williston Basin
Oil Change International
The recent price crash illustrates very well the role of pipelines in maintaining high oil production during times of tight margins. If rail had been the only option, some producers would have shut in wells as their operational costs, including sending the crude to market, would have exceeded the price they received. Because pipelines existed as an alternative, existing pipeline capacity filled up instead.
Nobody wants to see a decimation of an industry overnight, with the severe consequences for workers and communities that that entails. But it is a fact that we need to transition to a clean energy economy as soon as possible in order to address a climate crisis that itself will decimate communities and ecosystems forever. By continuing to build infrastructure that perpetuates our use of fossil fuels for decades to come, we are laying the foundations for disaster and not transition.
The Dakota Access Pipeline would be with us decades into the future. Once built and operating, the economic incentives to keep it going will be hard to overcome. Every year it will be the source of carbon emissions equivalent to nearly 30 coal plants. Even though it may be the case that those emissions would anyway occur this year or next year, or five years from now, it cannot be the case that those emissions can occur in 20, 30 or 40 years from now. Building the Dakota Access Pipeline would be yet another barrier to the path to climate safety.
*We used the Oil Climate Index for the life cycle emissions of Bakken crude oil and the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator for coal plant and vehicle equivalents. Ninety-five percent utilization equates to average annual throughput of 541,500 barrels per day.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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