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Canadian Documents Reveal KXL Seen as Key to Expanding Tar Sands

A cache of newly released documents further underscores the weakness of the tired talking points from proponents of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, about how the massive tar sands project will have minimal impact on carbon pollution and global warming, because carbon-heavy Canadian tar sands will make it to market with or without Keystone. 


Canadian Documents Highlight Importance of Keystone XL in Expanding Tar Sands 

Proponents of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline have long relied on tired talking points about how the massive tar sands project will have minimal impact on carbon pollution and global warming because carbon-heavy Canadian tar sands will make it to market with or without Keystone. But a cache of newly released documents further underscores the weakness of this argument.

The New York Times reported this weekend that the documents, obtained by the Pembina Institute from Natural Resources Canada through an Access to Information Act request, painted a much different picture than TransCanada’s PR team would like, highlighting the importance of Keystone XL in expanding development of tar sands. Included in the documents, for example, were a set of briefing notes prepared for Canadian natural resources minister Joe Oliver, which noted that “in order for crude oil production to grow, the North American pipeline network must be expanded through initiatives, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline project.” This language has since disappeared from Mr. Oliver’s briefing notes, having been replaced with a reference to the State Department’s deeply flawed, conflict -ridden environmental assessment, which downplayed Keystone’s role in tar sands development.

In spite of claims by TransCanada, or State’s widely disputed analysis, this new batch of documents confirms what Canadian government and industry officials have been saying for years: that by transporting millions of gallons of tar sands oil every year, Keystone would increase profitability and investment in tar sands, and greatly increase the amount of dirty tar sands oil that makes its way out of the ground and to the global marketplace. Based on this information, it is clear that the pipeline fails President Obama’s climate test.

From the New York Times:

Canadian Documents Suggest Shift on Pipeline

By IAN AUSTEN

Published: August 25, 2013

OTTAWA — Ever since President Obama said in June that a litmus test for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada was whether it would “significantly” worsen global warming, Canadian government officials have insisted it would not.

They reasoned that because the pipeline would not have any major effect on rate of development of Canada’s oil sands, as a State Department environmental review concluded in March, it would not significantly raise the amount of carbon emitted.

But documents obtained by a Canadian environmental group suggest that the staff at Natural Resources Canada viewed Keystone XL as an important tool for expanding oil sands production. The documents were released to the Pembina Institute, a group based in Calgary, Alberta, after a request made under Canada’s Access to Information Act.

Briefing notes prepared for the natural resources minister, Joe Oliver, before a trip to Chicago to promote Keystone XL in March, noted that “in order for crude oil production to grow, the North American pipeline network must be expanded through initiatives, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline project.”

Clare Demerse, director of federal policy for Pembina, said in an interview on Saturday that expanding crude oil production in Canada is synonymous with developing the oil sands. Canada has 168 billion barrels of oil sands reserves compared to about 4.1 billion barrels of conventional oil reserves.

“This is the heart of the debate right now,” she said. “The documents certainly suggest that Natural Resources saw Keystone as essential to increasing oil sands production until the State Department concluded otherwise.”

Indeed, in late April, before Mr. Oliver took his pipeline campaign to Washington, the wording about growth in crude production vanished from largely similar briefing notes. It was replaced by a section noting that the State Department’s environmental assessment “also concluded that ‘approval or denial of the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands or the amount of heavy crude oil in the Gulf Coast area.’ ”

The apparent change in Canada’s position underscores how approval of the pipeline from the Obama administration is a major priority for the Conservative government, a strong champion of the oil sands, which have brought billions of dollars into the economy. Blocking the pipeline has become an equally important priority for many environmentalists who view the oil sands as a particularly dirty source of oil.

In a statement, Mr. Oliver did not address questions about the apparent change in the government analysis of the pipeline’s effect on oil sands production. But, he said: “We agree with the U.S. State Department that should Keystone XL not be approved, alternative modes of transporting natural resources, including rail, would likely deliver the crude intended for the Keystone XL market.

The proposed pipeline would carry about 800,000 barrels a day of heavy crude oil from tar sands in Alberta across the Great Plains to Gulf Coast refineries.

Canada has the world’s third-largest oil reserves after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, but most of them are found in bitumen, a gooey, tar-like substance mixed with sand and other minerals that must be strip mined or steamed and pumped out of the ground.

In June, President Obama laid out his crucial test for approval of the $7 billion project. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests,” he said at Georgetown University. “Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

Because removing and processing bitumen from the oil sands and converting it into crude oil generates far more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil production, that would seem to be a tall order.

But Canadian politicians have repeatedly pointed to the State Department’s environmental review to support their case that the pipeline would meet Mr. Obama’s condition.

That study also predicted that Canada and its oil industry partners would probably continue to develop the oil sands even if Keystone XL were not built. And it stated that building or not building the pipeline would have no significant effect on demand for heavy crude in the United States.

“This is not going to create an environmental impact,” Mr. Oliver told reporters shortly after the president’s June speech. “That’s what the U.S. State Department itself had concluded in a 3,500-page report, which was the second major independent comprehensive study that they had done on this subject.”

Although the State Department is leading the pipeline review, its conclusions about growth and other issues have been challenged by the Environmental Protection Agency as well as environmentalists, and have also been contradicted by some financial analysts.

For more information, contact:
Miles Grant, GrantM@NWF.org
Daniel Kessler, dk@350.org
Jane Kleeb, jane@boldnebraska.org
Eddie Scher, eddie.scher@sierraclub.org
Josh Mogerman, jmogerman@nrdc.org

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