Why the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline is a Climate Catastrophe
A key issue in the debate over the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is about the impact it would have on climate. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a fundamental element in the oil industry’s plan to triple production of tar sands oil from 2 million barrels per day (bpd) to 6 million bpd by 2030, and in the longer term to hike production to more than 9 million bpd.
A backgrounder on the climate impacts from Keystone XL released last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) details how the U.S. decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline will have a direct bearing on whether the tar sands industry can attain those goals, with their attendant increases in carbon pollution. Keystone XL would lock the U.S. into a long-term commitment to an energy infrastructure that relies on dirty oil.
The tar sands industry has proposed expansion plans that would triple production by 2030 which would lead to an increase in carbon emissions to more than 900 MMT by 2030. This growth requires a massive expansion of capacity to transport tar sands oil. But as NRDC outlines, the tar sands industry’s production targets would necessitate the construction of every new pipeline currently proposed plus millions of barrels worth of additional transport capacity. The Keystone XL pipeline is an absolutely necessary step for tar sands expansion, and given current pipeline capacity constraints is also significant as the first test of whether such expansion can move forward. In other words, Keystone XL would enable a significant amount of tar sands expansion that otherwise would not occur.
Some have argued that the Keystone XL pipeline won’t carry enough oil to have a major impact on climate.
The direct emissions associated with the amount of oil Keystone XL itself would carry are more significant than they may at first appear. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that Keystone XL would increase annual carbon emissions by up to 27.6 MMt CO2e annually—the equivalent of seven coal-fired power plants operating continuously or having 6.2 million cars on the road for 50 years.
And new research by Oil Change International shows carbon emissions associated with tar sands are higher than currently estimated. Tar sands refining produces significant volumes of petroleum coke (petcoke), a high-carbon refining byproduct that is increasingly being used as a cheaper, more carbon-intensive substitute to coal. According to Oil Change International, Keystone XL will produce enough petcoke to fuel five U.S. coal plants. These carbon emissions from this petcoke have not been previously factored into a climate analysis of the pipeline and will raise total emissions of the pipeline by 13 percent.
Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and its operation would have an impact on tar sands production and emissions far beyond the specific amount of oil the pipeline would carry.
The pipeline’s effect on prices and market expectations would prompt a significant expansion of tar sands production. This can be seen, in part, by the current effect the absence of the pipeline is having. The lack of capacity to move tar sands oil from Alberta to other markets has significantly reduced tar sands prices relative to similar international crudes, at times bringing them to below $50 a barrel. These low prices are diminishing investment in new tar sands expansion projects.
What is even more compelling are the words of the tar sands industry and financial community who acknowledge that Keystone XL in particular—more than any other pipeline—critical to enabling rapid expansion of tar sands production. Other proposed tar sands pipelines have not reduced the central role Keystone XL plays in unlocking future tar sands production. In fact, there is clear evidence from the past year that Keystone XL has already affected production.
Expanding the exploitation of tar sands would significantly undermine efforts to reduce carbon pollution. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook includes scenarios with different levels of Canadian tar sands production in 2035. In the scenario that keeps atmospheric carbon at 450 parts per million (which results in a 50 percent chance of keeping the average global temperature below the 2 degree C threshold), tar sands production is 3.3 million barrels a day. The scenario with production at 4.6 million barrels a day—still below industry’s 2030 goal—estimates that global temperature will rise by six degrees Celsius with catastrophic results.
An essential point here is that concerns about tar sands impacts are not premised on tapping total tar sands reserves over centuries. Rather, tar sands production levels in line with industry’s explicit goals could have disastrous consequences.
Others argued that tar sands development is inevitable
Industry insiders and even pro-tar sands government officials in Canada understand that the expansion of tar sands production is not inevitable. They have publicly acknowledged that they need the building of pipelines to access international markets for expansion.
Even if you build every single pipe that's on the table right now ... you're still short pipeline capacity … For the growth to continue, all the proposed export pipeline capacity and more will need to be built, and soon. Andrew Potter, Managing Director, Institutional Equity Research at CIBC World Markets, Jan. 1, 2013
Current alternatives to the Keystone XL for transporting tar sands oil are on a much smaller scale, in much earlier stages of development, and in many cases face such significant opposition that they are unlikely to move ahead in the next five to 10 years if at all.
- Pipelines to the Canadian West Coast such as the proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline have been proposed but are not likely to move forward. CIBC, a major Canadian financial services firm, recently concluded that there is a less than 50 percent chance that the West Coast pipelines—proposed by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan—will be built. The pipelines are opposed by a significant majority of British Columbians, and aboriginal communities have refused to grant necessary easements for the one pipeline that has officially sought a permit, the Northern Gateway.
- U.S. alternative pipeline projects: There are proposals that would enable more tar sands to be transported to the U.S. Midwest and that could potentially enable new routes to the Canadian and U.S. east coasts. However, these projects are much smaller in size compared with Keystone XL and/or in the very early stages of development. They are therefore not likely to enable major expansion of tar sands in the near term if at all.
- Rails options to move tar sands are limited: In 2011, only 20,000 barrels of crude oil per day left western Canada on rail, and less than 5,000 bpd was exported to the U.S. The high cost of shipping tar sands by rail to Gulf Coast refineries or even to the Candian west coast will not likely support prices to justify new tar sands projects.
- Claims that China will take Canadian tar sands are exaggerated: While China has made considerable investment in the tar sands, the growing demand for tar sands investment opportunity does not translate to an actual interest in importing the oil. China does not currently have refinery capacity to take tar sands product and there are no indications they will do so in the near future. If China were demanding tar sands then the Northern Gateway pipeline would have binding long-term commercial support for the pipeline. There are no binding agreements that have been adopted for the pipeline and the only non-binding agreements have been signed by tar sands producers.
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A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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