In response to the 35,000 demonstrators who shivered in the unseasonal Washington D.C. cold Sunday to show their disapproval of the Keystone XL pipeline, a TransCanada spokesman said, opponents of the proposed line have grossly inflated its likely impact on emissions of greenhouse gases.
Speaking at a manufacturing forum this week, Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's president for energy and oil pipelines, said, "You could shut down oil sands production tomorrow and it would have absolutely no measurable impact on climate change.”
Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said Pourbaix's comments appeared to be based on "some rather rosy assumptions" about oil sands production. The calculation does not take into account the energy cost of refining and transporting the oil. Nor does it consider the likelihood that US approval of Keystone XL would spur increased development of the heavily-polluting tar sands.
By endorsing the pipeline, he continued, "we may be insuring that a much larger amount (of tar sand reserves) will be economically viable."
According to oil industry consultants, Cambridge Energy Research Associates, producing and processing tar sands oil results in roughly 14 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the average oil used in the U.S.
Oil sands concentrated in Alberta, where the 1,700-mile pipeline would start, make up 5% of Canada's total, according to Pourbaix. The pipeline would carry the oil to Texas where it would be refined.
Obama has twice thwarted the Keystone XL pipeline because of concerns about its route through sensitive land in Nebraska, but has not indicated how he will decide on the pipeline since Nebraska's governor approved a new route last month. The state department has authority over the project because it crosses an international border, but both sides on the issue expect Obama to make the final decision.
James Hansen, a NASA climatologist who has been publicly speaking about climate change since 1988, said, "To avoid passing tipping points, such as initiation of the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, we need to limit the climate forcing severely.
“It's still possible to do that, if we phase down carbon emissions rapidly, but that means moving expeditiously to clean energies of the future," he explains. "Moving to tar sands, one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet, is a step in exactly the opposite direction, indicating either that governments don't understand the situation or that they just don't give a damn."
Then there's the hazards of the pipeline itself. If it leaks, groundwater would be polluted by the highly toxic oil flowing south.
Physicist Myles Allen of Oxford University in England calculates that the world needs to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 2.5 percent per year, starting now, in order to avoid calamity. Instead emissions hit a new record this past year, increasing 3 percent to 34.7 billion metric tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.