The New York Times has thrown its full editorial weight against the Keystone XL pipeline proposal and the Athabasca Tar Sands that underlies it.
We have two main concerns: the risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, and the fact that the extraction of petroleum from the tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does.
The Canadian government insists that it has found ways to reduce those emissions. But a new report from Canada’s environmental ministry shows how great the impact of the tar sands will be in the coming years, even with cleaner production methods.
It projects that Canada will double its current tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. That rate will mean cutting down some 740,000 acres of boreal forest — a natural carbon reservoir. Extracting oil from tar sands is also much more complicated than pumping conventional crude oil out of the ground. It requires steam-heating the sands to produce a petroleum slurry, then further dilution.
One result of this process, the ministry says, is that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a whole will rise by nearly one-third from 2005 to 2020 — even as other sectors are reducing emissions. Canada still hopes to meet the overall target it agreed to at Copenhagen in 2009 — a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. If it falls short, as seems likely, tar sands extraction will bear much of the blame.
Canada’s government is committed to the tar sands business. (Alberta’s energy minister, Ronald Liepert, has declared, “I’m not interested in Kyoto-style policies.”) The United States can’t do much about that, but it can stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
Anti-pipeline protesters are planning to stage a 2-week demonstration outside the White House to ratchet up pressure on Barack Obama. In what may be the conclusive test of his presidential integrity, Obama will have the final say on the Keystone XL pipeline. If he signs off on it, Keystone goes ahead. If he withholds his approval, it's dead. With his Republican 2012 rivals in a "drill baby, drill" rut, it's hard to imagine that Ol'Barry Tossinthetowel will have the cojones to stop Keystone.