At some point, the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline will be resolved. Either President Obama will allow the State Department to approve it, or he will not. Either it will be built, or it won’t. One of these days we’ll finally find out the state of Schrodinger’s poor little cat.
In the meantime, pipeline opponents and advocates are battling furiously for attention. Press releases and events and reports and letters and protests and panels and all of the strained tools of our semi-evolved persuasion society are thrown around in Washington, D.C., hoping to finally crack open that little cat’s box.
Here’s what has been thrown around today:
Oil Change International (working with the Natural Resources Defense Council) unveiled a new study, suggesting that petroleum coke, a solid byproduct of the tar-sands oil extraction process, is worse for the climate than coal. And since that petcoke (as it is known) will be sold and burned if tar-sands production is ginned up following approval of Keystone XL, its climate effects should be considered in the government’s environmental impact statement on Keystone. The Washington Post reports:
“The proven tar sands reserves of Canada will yield roughly 5 billion tons of petcoke — enough to fully fuel 111 U.S. coal plants to 2050,” the report says. It asserts that counting petroleum coke use would raise estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands development by 13 percent beyond earlier estimates used by the State Department.
The report said that “the climate impact of oil production is being consistently undercounted.” It calculated that petroleum coke byproduct from oil carried by the Keystone XL alone would be enough to fuel five coal plants and emit 16.6 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.
Counterpoint from the American Petroleum Institute’s Jack Gerard: The pipeline “is clearly is in the national interest, and that’s the only decision the president needs to make.” Considerations of carbon output are “tangential.”
Well, now I don’t know what to think!
Meanwhile, Gerard and his tar-covered allies are busting out their own data, including a claim that building the pipeline could create 5,500 direct — and indirect — jobs. (This is a smidge lower than the tens of thousands of jobs advocates like to tout.) Even before that report finished hitting inboxes, a group of Republican governors and the premier of Saskatchewan wrote a letter to Obama urging approval. If Premier Brad Wall can’t move this ball forward, who can?
As we’ve noted in the past, and as suggested again in a recent Wall Street Journal report, the delay in approving the Keystone pipeline is itself doing damage to the prospect that it will be built. As tar-sands oil sits in Alberta with no effective means of transport, it becomes harder to sell, causing prices to plummet. The lower prices go, the less sense selling it makes. And as the United States continues to frack massive amounts of easier-to-refine oil, there’s less demand still. This is why the issue is urgent for both sides: Proponents are desperately injecting adrenaline shots into that poor, metaphorical kitty’s heart, while opponents, sensing vulnerability, are trying to wring its neck. (Sorry for these analogies, animal lovers.)
The cacophony of pro- and anti-Keystone arguments — reports, assessments, papers, exhortations — isn’t likely to change anything. If Obama is going to oppose Keystone XL because of the damage it would do to the climate, he doesn’t need this petcoke data to convince him. If he is going to approve the pipeline, it won’t be because of Gerard’s latest jobs claims or the persuasive powers of the good Premier Wall. Another day of furious arguing becomes just background noise for a president who right now is more worried about the budget and the murder of schoolchildren.
But we all have jobs to do: Jack Gerard has a job to do and Oil Change International has a job to do and I have a job to do. So we do them. And in a year, this hyperactive day will just be Jan. 17, 2013, a day we barely remember. Was it a Thursday? It was a Thursday.