Thursday, November 12, 2015

Keystone, Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change

Last Friday President Obama announced that the TransCanada request for a Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline was denied, stating that the “State Department has decided that the Keystone XL Pipeline would not serve the national interest of the United States. I agree with that decision.

The President went on to say “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership. And that’s the biggest risk we face -- not acting.”

As long as I’m President of the United States, America is going to hold ourselves to the same high standards to which we hold the rest of the world. And three weeks from now, I look forward to joining my fellow world leaders in Paris, where we’ve got to come together around an ambitious framework to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.”

Only a few days before, TransCanada had requested that the United States suspend their application for the Keystone XL Pipeline to cross the U.S. Canadian border. That request was denied. In the TransCanada press release they said: “We are disappointed with the President’s choice to deny the Keystone XL application. ...We believe that a pipeline will eventually be built as this is the safest, most economically efficient means of getting crude oil to market.

Back in January of 2014, the U.S. Department of State released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline. The executive summary states that Keystone XL is “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs and supply-demand scenarios.”

There is currently a pipeline Keystone I that runs east from Hardesty Saskatchewan to Manitoba and then south through the Dakotas to Steel City, Nebraska. It is a less direct route and is a lower volume pipeline than the proposed Keystone XL. The Keystone XL would have replaced the Keystone I with a new and better pipeline. Keystone I is old and this would be an upgrade to the oil transport infrastructure. Keystone II runs from Steel City to Cushing, Oklahoma at the Oklahoma storage facilities. Keystone III running from the Cushing Oklahoma to the Nederland, Texas began delivering crude oil from Cushing, OK, to the oil refineries in Texas in January 2014. The Gulf Coast Project, Keystone III, did not require a Presidential Permit because it does not cross an international border.

Denial of the Presidential Permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline is a symbolic gesture. According to the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Pipeline application, the pipeline would not have had any significant impact on the environment or whether the oil sands were processed into crude oil. I just don’t understand why this took so long. TransCanada Corporation made the second application for a Presidential Permit to construct and operate the Keystone XL Pipeline in May 2012 after the Department of State rejected their original 2008 application in January 2012.

In three weeks at the climate talks in Paris Keystone XL may not even be a topic of conversation. Coal use in China has been big revelation. As reported in the New York Times last week, in September 2015, the National Bureau of Statistics of China published China’s energy statistics for 2013, as well as revised statistics for the years 2000 to 2012. These statistics reveal that China was burning up to 17% more coal than previously reported. According to the New York Times that 17% is equivalent to 70% of U.S. coal use.

When the International Energy Agency, IEA, has released its preliminary 2014 estimates of world CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Global emissions of carbon dioxide were believed to have remained at 32.3 billion metric tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year. However, world emissions of carbon dioxide is a calculated number, not a measured number. So, that number will now have to be revised as well as how that data was interpreted. The IEA says it is now awaiting Chinese data from their energy census and other revisions before issuing any update to the world emissions summary.

In the 40 years in which the IEA had been collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions, there had only been three times in which emissions have stood still or fallen compared to the previous year, and all were associated with global economic weakness: the early 1980's; 1992 and 2009. The preliminary 2014 data lead the IEA to suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought as CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP had inched down, decoupling growth from carbon emissions pointing to perhaps a sustainable future.

That view on carbon emissions and the economy will now have to be revised despite the President’s observation that “ over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, America has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”

In a report released Monday the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced that the global average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration had risen above 400 parts per million last winter dipping below that level again in spring when plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The WMO expects atmospheric carbon dioxide to remain above 400 parts per million during all of 2016.

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