Tag Archives: Keystone pipeline

By 98 to 1, U.S. Senate passes amendment saying climate change is real

It’s hilarious and sad at the same time: the US Senate had to vote whether or not climate change is real, and not a hoax. Thankfully, the vast majority of the Senators agreed with science, and by 98 to 1, they voted that climate change is indeed real.

Hilarious, yet saddening: US Senators had to vote that climate change is real is, while arguably necessary, just as silly as Tolkien’s Ents voting whether or not the hobbits are orcs.

The vote was part of an amendment regarding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline which would carry oil from the Canadian sands to the US.

The problems with the Keystone pipeline are many and far reaching. First of all, oil sands explorations like the one in Canada leave toxic traces, and the Canadian oil sands specifically have a history of pollution and contamination; this move would also greatly encourage oil sands exploration, which causes more emissions than conventional exploration. Indeed, the main concern is about greenhouse gas emissions. Research showed that the Keystone XL pipeline could produce 4 times more emissions than previously thought. There is also a major risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, with threatened wildlife and pristine waters.

As it usually happens in the US, the project polarized Republicans and Democrats, with the first supporting the building of the pipeline, and the latter opposing it. Many Republican senators actively speak against climate change, with Senator James Inhofe even calling climate change “a hoax”. To make things even worse, Inhofe is heading the Senate Environment Committee. Let me rephrase that: a man who believes that 99% of the scientific community is wrong is in charge of the government money going to environmental infrastructure. Yep, nice going there, US.

So anyway, several Democrats have filed largely symbolic amendments to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. They are designed to put senators on the record on whether climate change is real and human-caused. This wouldn’t change things by much legally, but it put things into an interesting perspective – if lawmakers do agree that climate change is real and humans are causing it, then they will have to justify not taking measures to protect it (and even taking measures to accelerate climate change).

“We may not agree on the solutions, on the paths forward, or even on some of the details, but I do believe it’s time for us to begin to agree on a basic set of facts,” said Senator Brian Schatz (D–HI), who is offering a climate amendment, on the Senate floor today.

But things took quite a surprising turn, when Senator Inhofe took back his words and admitted that climate change is real, but went on saying that humans aren’t causing it. Needless to say, that’s also not correct – we are causing climate change.

“Climate is changing,” he said, “and climate has always changed.” The hoax that he has talked about, he suggested, is that there are people who think they are so “arrogant” and “powerful” that “they can change climate.”

With an overwhelming majority, the US senate decided climate change is real.

Inhofe was one of the last senators to vote, in favor. The only ‘NO’ vote came from Senator Roger Wicker (R–MS).

The only thing that’s left now is to vote if we are indeed causing it. Who knows, maybe one day politics will finally catch up to science.



Keystone XL pipeline could produce 4 times more emissions than previously thought

President Obama said he will only allow the controversial Keystone XL pipeline’s construction if it doesn’t significantly increase carbon dioxide emissions. Now, a new study has concluded that it will – and by a lot. Keystone XL could cause greenhouse gas emissions four times worse than the U.S. government’s projections.

In case you’re not aware of this project, The Keystone Pipeline System is an oil pipeline system in Canada and the United States, running from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the Steele City, Nebraska, Wood River and Patoka, Illinois and the Gulf Coast of Texas. There have been several environmental studies which highlighted the potential negative impacts of the Keystone XL project. The main problems are the high risk of oil spills, especially considering that the pipeline will cross highly sensitive terrain and the 12–17% higher greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction of oil sands compared to extraction of conventional oil.

Now, Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Seattle showed that the impact could be much worse than what was previously believed. They have conducted a full analysis on the economic impact and the associated greenhouse emissions; they concluded that the pipeline would lead to consumption of oil which wouldn’t be consumed otherwise – therefore, prompting into the atmosphere carbon dioxide which wouldn’t be emitted otherwise.

The Cowboy and Indian Alliance protests in Washington, D.C., in April as part of a weeklong series of actions by farmers, ranchers, and tribes against the Keystone XL pipeline. Via Getty Images.

“There’s been very little attention or analysis, even in policymaking, to ‘What about bringing new fossil fuels into the marketplace?'” he says. “It does perhaps seem obvious, but there is not necessarily a toolkit ready and waiting to do that kind of analysis.”

Quantifying things, they showed that for every barrel of oil production, 0.6 barrels would be new to global markets; that’s an extra 60% of oil that wouldn’t have been burned otherwise. The net annual impact amounts up to 110 million metric CO2 tons a year.

 “Just considering these market impacts quadruples the emissions,” he says.

They use complicated economical and statistical tools for the study, but it all boils down to this: Keystone XL would lower oil prices, and thus encourage people to consume more.

“If you give someone something cheaper, they’re going to use more of it; that’s certainly true on the global scale,” he says. “But it’s such a small change in the amount of oil you’re allowing to go into the system, and the global supply system is so large, I think it’s hard to forecast what the change would be.”

It has to be said though that their work only analyzed the scientific and economical aspects, and didn’t analyzed the policies involved. This would be the next step for a full picture.

 “Looking at fossil fuels from the supply side is a very interesting and important new area of research. There’s a need for analytics and for policy development,” he says. “We’re approaching this from a research perspective, but we want to work to have a policy impact as well.”

Meanwhile, it seems pretty clear that the environmental damage the Keystone project would do is much bigger than initially calculated.