President Biden Pulls the Plug on Keystone XL — Let’s Make Sure It Sets the Right Precedent

Posted on January 25, 2021 by Seth Jaffe

Last week, President Biden hit the ground running on environmental policy, issuing an Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.  There’s a lot in it, so I think I’m going to have to take it in blog-sized bites.  Let’s start with Section 6, in which he revoked the Presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

keystone pipeline protestors in silhouette with man holding ‘NO XL’ sign (XXXL)

Why start here?

Well, it’s a big deal, any way you look it.  It’s pretty much the end for large fossil fuel pipeline construction in the US.  According to Bloomberg (subscription required), here’s what Alan Armstrong, CEO of the Williams Companies, had to say about it:

"I can’t imagine going to my board and saying, ‘we want to build a new greenfield pipeline’. “I do not think there will be any funding of any big cross-country greenfield pipelines, and I say that because of the amount of money that’s been wasted."

OK.  But there’s also another reason why this is important. Creating a new, renewable electricity grid is going to require substantial new transmission capacity.  In terms of direct impacts, there isn’t necessarily much difference between siting a pipeline and siting a transmission line.  They can both cause damage to wetlands and endangered species.

The difference between them is simple and stark.  Fossil fuel pipelines lead to greater GHG emissions, while new transmission is necessary to reduce GHG emissions.  And so much for the Trump administration’s efforts to minimize consideration of indirect impacts from infrastructure projects.  It’s all about the indirect impacts!

It can be a fine line between one person’s NIMBY and another person’s legitimate environmental concerns.  I sure hope we figure out how to assess environmental costs and benefits in infrastructure siting sooner rather than later, or that grid we’re all counting on to deliver zero-carbon electricity won’t be there when we need it.

Comments (1) -

Alex Sagady United States
1/26/2021 2:54:33 PM #

>>>>>Fossil fuel pipelines lead to greater GHG emissions

First of all, petroleum liquid pipelines do not emit greenhouse
gas emissions, unlike natural gas transmission pipelines which
utilize gas fired combustion turbines or engines to run compressors.
Petroleum liquid pipelines are fully electrified operations using
high efficiency motors to run pumping stations.

Your claim was also contradicted by the U.S. Dept. of State Supplemental
Environmental Impact Statement which determined that construction
of the Keystone XL Pipeline would not increase production capacity
in the Alberta oil sands or change crude oil utilization in Gulf Coast
refineries.   Heavy sour crude oil to be delivered by KXL would be utilized in
Midwestern and Gulf Coast refineries.

Finally, cancelling KXL will likely lead to an increase in crude-by-rail
operations which do increase greenhouse gas emissions compared to
pipeline transport of hydrocarbon liquids.   Crude-by-rail of 830,000
barrels per day would mean increased greenhouse gas emissions associated
with 12 one hundred rail tanker unit trains and a corresponding
12 tanker unit trains returning every day.

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