'Extraordinarily Dirty' Oil From Keystone XL Could Present Climate Risks, Obama Says

Energy and Climate Report provides current, thorough coverage of clean energy, efficiency, and climate change legislation, regulation, policy, legal developments, and trends in the U.S. and...

By Ari Natter

March 6 — Canadian tar sands oil that would be transported through the Keystone XL pipeline is extracted through “extraordinarily dirty” means, President Barack Obama said March 6, in some of his most negative remarks on the proposed project yet.

Obama, speaking at a town hall in Columbia, S.C., again reiterated a promise not to approve Transcanada Corp.'s 1,700-mile pipeline “that benefits largely a foreign company if it can't be shown that overall it would not contribute to climate change.”

“The reason that a lot of environmentalists are concerned about it is the way that you get oil out in Canada is an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil and obviously there are always risks in piping a lot of oil through Nebraska farmland and other parts of the country,” the president said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

The $8 billion project would connect oil sands in Alberta to an existing segment of pipeline in Steele City, Neb., and ultimately to refiners in the U.S. Gulf Coast. It's awaiting State Department approval because it crosses an international boundary.

The process of extracting bitumen from oil sands, which is then turned into synthetic crude oil, makes production of the oil more carbon-intensive than oil from conventional sources, according to opponents of the project, who have made the pipeline into a symbol of increased greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

A final environmental review of the project, released by the State Department in January, found the pipeline would increase emissions by 1.3 million tons to 27.4 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, though environmentalists have called that figure underestimated.

A study published in August, for instance, said the pipeline would increase emissions by up to 110 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, or about 1.7 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2012.

Obama Cites Planet's Warming 

Obama, in his remarks at Benedict College, said it is “undeniable” the planet is warming, and “it's getting warmer at a faster rate than even the scientists expect.”

“But what you have to appreciate, young people, is this will affect you more than old people like me,” the president said. “I'll be gone when the worst of this hits. And the disruptions, economic, social, security disruptions that it can cause can make your life and the lives of your children much harder and much worse. And if you don't stop it at a certain point, you can't stop it at all. And it could be catastrophic.”

In addition, Obama said the pipeline would transport Canadian oil to the world market and would only result in 300 permanent jobs and “a couple thousand jobs for a year or two”—claims that project proponents, such as the American Petroleum Institute, have denied.

Previous Negative Remarks 

The president vetoed legislation (S. 1) in late February that would have deemed the project approved, though congressional backers of the pipeline have vowed to attach the bill to legislation considered must pass, such as a transportation funding or appropriations measure.

Obama's negative comments build on remarks he made about the project in December, when he said the pipeline would have “very little impact” on domestic gasoline prices.

Some lawmakers and other analysts have said Obama is unlikely to approve the project after vetoing S. 1, but in his March 6 speech, Obama added he had yet to make a decision on the project, which was first proposed in 2008.

“I vetoed it because the Congress was trying to short-circuit a traditional process that we go through; I haven't made a final determination on it,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ari Natter in Washington at anatter@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com