Archive for the ‘Energy Independence’ Category

State Department Gets Coy on Keystone

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

The State Department announced on Friday afternoon that it had gazed upon the Keystone XL pipeline and found it passing fair. A model of diplomatic even-handedness, the report concedes that, yes, the pipeline will increase carbon emissions but heck, those emissions are going to increase anyway. The tar sands oil in Alberta is going to make it to market one way or the other, it concludes, and whether the pipeline is approved or not won’t make much difference in the end. “Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, 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,” the Department said.

Unlike an earlier draft, the final report addressed other environmental concerns beside carbon emissions. But its tone and conclusions are mild, allowing both opponents and backers of the pipeline to brandish the report in support of their respective positions.

The State Department was at pains to note that its analysis is only one factor in the administration’s final determination to approve the pipeline, which will also weigh national security, foreign policy and economic issues. Which is as much as to say that approval is all but assured. The environmental concerns were the alpha and omega of opposition to TransCanada’s plan to sluice the heavy oil from Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast.

Consider some of the issues involved. Tar sands oil is some of the filthiest fuel on the market. Extracting it consumes extravagant amounts of water and leaves a wasteland of slurry behind. Large swaths of Alberta are even now heavily polluted as a result of the oil that’s already been sucked up. The pipeline will run through the Ogallala Aquifer, threatening the water supply for the world’s bread basket. Consider, too, that TransCanada has a hard time keeping oil and gas in the pipelines it’s already running around the U.S. Add all that up and throw in ham-fisted and sweeping seizures of private property under eminent domain to build the thing, and you have a volatile and messy way of moving a filthy product to market.

The report is blandly reassuring about the possibility of spills, noting that TransCanada is planning to change the line’s route through Nebraska, and will rely on satellite technology and an increased number of shutoff valves to minimize the risk of spills and leaks.

Eight other federal agencies have yet to weigh in on the project now that the Department has released its report. Meanwhile, the 30-day public comment period will open on February 5. You can let them know if their report troubles or soothes you.

Competing Goals: Energy Independence or a Stable Climate?

Photo by mistergoleta. Some rights reserved.

On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released the 2012 edition of its World Energy Outlook (WEO) report, which made the exciting claim that North America could achieve “energy savings equivalent to nearly a fifth of global demand in 2010” by 2035, putting the U.S. on the fast track to energy self-sufficiency. The IEA calls this exponential growth in domestic oil and natural gas a potential “sea-change” in the game of global energy politics, and it energy independence ended up playing a major role for both presidential politics in this year’s election.

However, Treehugger points out that, as is so often the case, we Americans can’t have our cake and eat it too on this issue. Especially in a post-Sandy America where 77% of us believe that tackling climate change should be made a high priority, the impact on global warming has to be considered in the conversation about ramping up domestic oil production. The IEA’s report also makes it known that “no more that one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal” (based on a temperature threshold set by climate scientists that we need to stay below to maintain a stable global climate) that was set by world leaders at the 2010 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

If we start drilling with a vengeance to try to rise above in the global energy market, we will also need to consider the negative impacts that these decisions have on keeping us below a 2 degree Celsius temperature gain, and if we rise above that threshold, well… I imagine we’ll have quite a few more dire decisions to weigh.


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