After digging through the recent State Department Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline, I am quite disappointed. While right-wingers are cheering the fact that the State Department found that building Keystone XL won't have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, that is the wrong conclusion. In reality, the State Department found that the tar sand oil flowing through Keystone XL will generate the equivalent of 147 to 168 million metric tons of CO2 emission per year (Executive Summary, page 15). That is a sizable contribution to greenhouse gas emission from one single project. It's between 57% and 65% of the average total CO2 emissions from all the world's volcanoes combined (average combined volcanic emissions per year: 260 million metric tons, see Gerlach 2011) and enough to raise atmospheric CO2 levels by 0.021 ppmv per year. And the State Department somehow thinks that isn't going to impact greenhouse gas emissions?
So, how could the State Department conclude that Keystone XL won't have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions? Simple. They assumed that the Canadian tar sands will get developed regardless of whether or not the pipeline is built, then compared expected emissions from transporting that oil via train versus transporting it via Keystone XL (ES page 28). They didn't even consider the possibility that the tar sands won't be developed without the pipeline. And that, IMO, is a mistake worthy of the Keystone Cops.
The Carbon Tracker Initiative released a report today that questioned the State Department's assumption that rail and pipeline emissions would be the same. They found that oil production could be 525,000 barrels per day higher with Keystone than without. The reason for the difference? Carbon Tracker found that transporting oil via the pipeline would be cheaper than via rail and calculated how that price difference would influence tar sands development. The additional oil would result in up to 5.3 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions per year through AD 2050, far higher than the State Department's estimate that didn't account for the difference in transportation cost. That amount of emissions is equivalent to what the entire US produces each year. If the Carbon Tracker analysis is verified, then it appears that the State Department lowballed the impacts of Keystone XL.