A Presidential Decision That Could Change the World: The Strategic Importance of Keystone XL

Lambert here: I don’t want to be “all Keystone, all the time” because there are plenty of other resource extraction issues to contend with. That said, Keystone is a big deal, a decision seems likely in the near term, this timely post arrived over the transom (hat tip MA), and Klare moves the ball forward with a lot of detail and linky goodness.

By Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left, just published in paperback. Originally published at TomDispatch.

Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines.  It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet.  If that sounds overly dramatic, let me explain.

Sometimes, what starts out as a minor skirmish can wind up determining the outcome of a war — and that seems to be the case when it comes to the mounting battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead by President Obama, it will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries, providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter possibly insuperable difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment and putting the industry’s future in doubt.

The battle over Keystone XL was initially joined in the summer of 2011, when environmental writer and climate activist Bill McKibben and 350.org, which he helped found, organized a series of non-violent anti-pipeline protests in front of the White House to highlight the links between tar sands production and the accelerating pace of climate change. At the same time, farmers and politicians in Nebraska, through which the pipeline is set to pass, expressed grave concern about its threat to that state’s crucial aquifers. After all, tar-sands crude is highly corrosive, and leaks are a notable risk.

In mid-January 2012, in response to those concerns, other worries about the pipeline, and perhaps a looming presidential campaign season, Obama postponed a decision on completing the controversial project.  (He, not Congress, has the final say, since it will cross an international boundary.)  Now, he must decide on a suggested new route that will, supposedly, take Keystone XL around those aquifers and so reduce the threat to Nebraska’s water supplies.

Ever since the president postponed the decision on whether to proceed, powerful forces in the energy industry and government have been mobilizing to press ever harder for its approval. Its supporters argue vociferously that the pipeline will bring jobs to America and enhance the nation’s “energy security” by lessening its reliance on Middle Eastern oil suppliers. Their true aim, however, is far simpler: to save the tar-sands industry (and many billions of dollars in U.S. investments) from possible disaster.

Just how critical the fight over Keystone has become in the eyes of the industry is suggested by a recent pro-pipeline editorial in the trade publication Oil & Gas Journal:

“Controversy over the Keystone XL project leaves no room for compromise. Fundamental views about the future of energy are in conflict. Approval of the project would acknowledge the rich potential of the next generation of fossil energy and encourage its development. Rejection would foreclose much of that potential in deference to an energy utopia few Americans support when they learn how much it costs.”

Opponents of Keystone XL, who are planning a mass demonstration at the White House on February 17th, have also come to view the pipeline battle in epic terms. “Alberta’s tar sands are the continent’s biggest carbon bomb,” McKibben wrote at TomDispatch. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature.” Halting Keystone would not by itself prevent those high concentrations, he argued, but would impede the production of tar sands, stop that “carbon bomb” from further heating the atmosphere, and create space for a transition to renewables. “Stopping Keystone will buy time,” he says, “and hopefully that time will be used for the planet to come to its senses around climate change.”

A Pipeline With Nowhere to Go?

Why has the fight over a pipeline, which, if completed, would provide only 4% of the U.S. petroleum supply, assumed such strategic significance? As in any major conflict, the answer lies in three factors: logistics, geography, and timing.

Start with logistics and consider the tar sands themselves or, as the industry and its supporters in government prefer to call them, “oil sands.” Neither tar nor oil, the substance in question is a sludge-like mixture of sand, clay, water, and bitumen (a degraded, carbon-rich form of petroleum). Alberta has a colossal supply of the stuff — at least a trillion barrels in known reserves, or the equivalent of all the conventional oil burned by humans since the onset of commercial drilling in 1859.  Even if you count only the reserves that are deemed extractible by existing technology, its tar sands reportedly are the equivalent of 170 billion barrels of conventional petroleum — more than the reserves of any nation except Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The availability of so much untapped energy in a country like Canada, which is private-enterprise-friendly and where the political dangers are few, has been a magnet for major international energy firms. Not surprisingly, many of them, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell, have invested heavily in tar-sands operations.

Tar sands, however, bear little resemblance to the conventional oil fields which these companies have long exploited. They must be treated in various energy-intensive ways to be converted into a transportable liquid and then processed even further into usable products. Some tar sands can be strip-mined like coal and then “upgraded” through chemical processing into a synthetic crude oil — SCO, or “syncrude.” Alternatively, the bitumen can be pumped from the ground after the sands are exposed to steam, which liquefies the bitumen and allows its extraction with conventional oil pumps. The latter process, known as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), produces a heavy crude oil.  It must, in turn, be diluted with lighter crudes for transportation by pipeline to specialized refineries equipped to process such oil, most of which are located on the Gulf Coast.

Extracting and processing tar sands is an extraordinarily expensive undertaking, far more so than most conventional oil drilling operations. Considerable energy is needed to dig the sludge out of the ground or heat the water into steam for underground injection; then, additional energy is needed for the various upgrading processes. The environmental risks involved are enormous (even leaving aside the vast amounts of greenhouse gases that the whole process will pump into the atmosphere). The massive quantities of water needed for SAGD and those upgrading processes, for example, become contaminated with toxic substances.  Once used, they cannot be returned to any water source that might end up in human drinking supplies — something environmentalists say is already occurring.  All of this and the expenses involved mean that the multibillion-dollar investments needed to launch a tar-sands operation can only pay off if the final product fetches a healthy price in the marketplace.

And that’s where geography enters the picture.  Alberta is theoretically capable of producing five to six million barrels of tar-sands oil per day.  In 2011, however, Canada itself consumed only 2.3 million barrels of oil per day, much of it supplied by conventional (and cheaper) oil from fields in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland.  That number is not expected to rise appreciably in the foreseeable future. No less significant, Canada’s refining capacity for all kinds of oil is limited to 1.9 million barrels per day, and few of its refineries are equipped to process tar sands-style heavy crude. This leaves the producers with one strategic option: exporting the stuff.

And that’s where the problems really begin. Alberta is an interior province and so cannot export its crude by sea. Given the geography, this leaves only three export options: pipelines heading east across Canada to ports on the Atlantic, pipelines heading west across the Rockies to ports in British Columbia, or pipelines heading south to refineries in the United States.

Alberta’s preferred option is to send the preponderance of its tar-sands oil to its biggest natural market, the United States. At present, Canadian pipeline companies do operate a number of conduits that deliver some of this oil to the U.S., notably the original Keystone conduit extending from Hardisty, Alberta, to Illinois and then southward to Cushing, Oklahoma. But these lines can carry less than one million barrels of crude per day, and so will not permit the massive expansion of output the industry is planning for the next decade or so.

In other words, the only pipeline now under development that would significantly expand Albertan tar-sands exports is Keystone XL.  It is vitally important to the tar-sands producers because it offers the sole short-term — or possibly even long-term — option for the export and sale of the crude output now coming on line at dozens of projects being developed across northern Alberta.  Without it, these projects will languish and Albertan production will have to be sold at a deep discount — at, that is, a per-barrel price that could fall below production costs, making further investment in tar sands unattractive. In January, Canadian tar-sands oil was already selling for $30-$40 less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the standard U.S. blend.

The Pipelines That Weren’t

Like an army bottled up geographically and increasingly at the mercy of enemy forces, the tar-sands producers see the completion of Keystone XL as their sole realistic escape route to survival.  “Our biggest problem is that Alberta is landlocked,” the province’s finance minister Doug Horner said in January. “In fact, of the world’s major oil-producing jurisdictions, Alberta is the only one with no direct access to the ocean. And until we solve this problem… the [price] differential will remain large.”

Logistics, geography, and finally timing. A presidential stamp of approval on the building of Keystone XL will save the tar-sands industry, ensuring them enough return to justify their massive investments. It would also undoubtedly prompt additional investments in tar-sands projects and further production increases by an industry that assumed opposition to future pipelines had been weakened by this victory.

A presidential thumbs-down and resulting failure to build Keystone XL, however, could have lasting and severe consequences for tar-sands production. After all, no other export link is likely to be completed in the near-term. The other three most widely discussed options — the Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, British Columbia, an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver, British Columbia, and a plan to use existing, conventional-oil conduits to carry tar-sands oil across Quebec, Vermont, and New Hampshire to Portland, Maine — already face intense opposition, with initial construction at best still years in the future.

The Northern Gateway project, proposed by Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, would stretch from Bruderheim in northern Alberta to Kitimat, a port on Charlotte Sound and the Pacific.  If completed, it would allow the export of tar-sands oil to Asia, where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sees a significant future market (even though few Asian refineries could now process the stuff).  But unlike oil-friendly Alberta, British Columbia has a strong pro-environmental bias and many senior provincial officials have expressed fierce opposition to the project. Moreover, under the country’s constitution, native peoples over whose land the pipeline would have to travel must be consulted on the project — and most tribal communities are adamantly opposed to its construction.

Another proposed conduit — an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver — presents the same set of obstacles and, like the Northern Gateway project, has aroused strong opposition in Vancouver.

This leaves the third option, a plan to pump tar-sands oil to Ontario and Quebec and then employ an existing pipeline now used for oil imports. It connects to a terminal in Casco Bay, near Portland, Maine, where the Albertan crude would begin the long trip by ship to those refineries on the Gulf Coast. Although no official action has yet been taken to allow the use of the U.S. conduit for this purpose, anti-pipeline protests have already erupted in Portland, including one on January 26th that attracted more than 1,400 people.

With no other pipelines in the offing, tar sands producers are increasing their reliance on deliveries by rail.  This is producing boom times for some long-haul freight carriiers, but will never prove sufficient to move the millions of barrels in added daily output expected from projects now coming on line.

The conclusion is obvious: without Keystone XL, the price of tar-sands oil will remain substantially lower than conventional oil (as well as unconventional oil extracted from shale formations in the United States), discouraging future investment and dimming the prospects for increased output.  In other words, as Bill McKibben hopes, much of it will stay in the ground.

Industry officials are painfully aware of their predicament.  In an Annual Information Form released at the end of 2011, Canadian Oil Sands Limited, owner of the largest share of Syncrude Canada (one of the leading producers of tar-sands oil) noted:

“A prolonged period of low crude oil prices could affect the value of our crude oil properties and the level of spending on growth projects and could result in curtailment of production… Any substantial and extended decline in the price of oil or an extended negative differential for SCO compared to either WTI or European Brent Crude would have an adverse effect on the revenues, profitability, and cash flow of Canadian Oil Sands and likely affect the ability of Canadian Oil Sands to pay dividends and repay its debt obligations.”

The stakes in this battle could not be higher.  If Keystone XL fails to win the president’s approval, the industry will certainly grow at a far slower pace than forecast and possibly witness the failure of costly ventures, resulting in an industry-wide contraction.  If approved, however, production will soar and global warming will occur at an even faster rate than previously projected. In this way, a presidential decision will have an unexpectedly decisive and lasting impact on all our lives.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. rotter

    Not that i support the vitually unlimited exploitation of tar sands that its backers want, i dont, but for the sake of argument..why dont they build new,better refineries in the north? wouldnt that be cheaper and safer than transporting it all the way to the gulf coast?

    1. Expat

      Before NAFTA, that’s what Canada did. The biggest plastics plant in world (and the most polluting) was located in Alberta.

      1. MRW

        What was the name of that plastics plant in Alberta?

        I doubt it was “the most polluting.” You have no idea how draconian the Land Reclamation laws are in Alberta or the pollution/environment controls. Zero. Zip.

        When oil came to Leduc in 1949, Premier Manning said, C’mon up, but on these three conditions:
        1) 10% royalty to the province. (No rentiers are allowed to commandeer the province’s resources from the people without paying them.)
        2) You have to build all roads into and out of the drill site to Department of Transportation specifications. And you have to maintain them at your expense.
        3) You must leave the ground and environment in the same condition or better in which you found it, or we will sue yours asses, and put you in jail.

        That soon applied to everything. Gold, uranium, coal, even drilling a well in your backyard. And you are FINED, and the company doing the work is FINED, if you disturb the ground and don’t repair any damage.

        Manning did that in 1949, before the Oil Sands started. They tightened the Land Reclamation Laws in 1970 to cover the Oil Sands. Operators had to store the top soil they removed, store it for decades and tend to it, AND they had to develop new methods of taking care of the tailings ponds to restore the ground to what it was before they disturbed it.

        There is no way Albertans would have permitted a polluting plastic plant to survive. Clean air and water is almost a religion up there.

          1. MRW


            I know it looks like a gargantuan job, but every inch of that mess has to be returned to a same or better condition than when it started. Unlike what we do down here. I mean have you seen the fracking areas in upstate New York? The drillers are going to walk away and leave those areas blighted. It’s horrific.

            Every inch of what has been removed in those AB photos has been parked offsite to be returned to the site after the extractions are over. The first mine took almost three decades before it was reclaimed in the early 90s, but the site is beautiful now, with natural prairie grasses and the fauna returned.

            I don’t understand why we don’t have those laws here. Why aren’t we protecting our areas similarly.

          2. MRW


            Here’s a photo of a reclaimed syncrude extraction site:

            Here’s another one:

            We don’t have laws like this in the US. We don’t even think this way. We can’t even relate to what the Albertans do. As far as they are concerned that land does not belong to the oil companies. It belongs to the people, and you have to return it to sustainable condition and viability.

    2. Thorstein

      First there’s the capital cost of building new refineries, but then the refined oil must still be transported to market. And, as expat, suggests, there is then the matter of all the toxic by-products of the refining process. Canadians don’t want that in Canada, but Perry and Jindal can’t get enough of it.

    3. digi_owl

      The longer you can keep using the same machinery (with as little maintenance as possible) the bigger the return on investment becomes.

      There are still automated looms and such being used in various parts of the world that was built in the 70s or so. Only reason i know this is because i encountered a company selling slot in replacements for the floppy drives that they originally used to load patterns.

      These replacements allow the patterns to be loaded off SD cards or via specialized cabling, allowing a single computer to feed the pattern to whole buildings filled with these looms.

      And refineries are insanely more complex than a automated loom, so scrapping a old one and building new, especially if the old one could in theory process the crude if it could get supplied, is just not happening economically.

      1. Birch

        But crude bitumen pipelines just don’t figure out economically, once you factor in the likely demise or destruction of the food producing economies of the areas the pipeline will leak crude into.

        Valdez fish still sell at half the price of other Pacific fish because of the Exon spill.

        The idea of piping around refined benzine rather than crude crud sounds much more economically benign, and the economic boost to Alberta from refining the bitumen there would be pretty huge.

        This isn’t not about economic sensibility: it’s about short term profit.

        1. MRW

          The bitumen is turned into synthetic crude, or syncrude right at the site. It is bitumen they are steaming. Syncrude is what comes down the pipeline to the US, as it’s been doing for over 30 years every day of your life, without one incident of leaking. In fact, they have to warm the pipeline to get it to move. Then it’s like molasses.

          It’s a completely different animal than the Valdez oil, which is 1/3 the viscosity, and runs like a liquid. Syncrude is more like fudge batter, and is completely non-corrosive, contrary to what the Peace and World Security Professor Michael Klare in NH states.

          1. different clue

            What was in the Enbridge Pipeline that leak-erupted near Marshall, Michigan . . . polluting the Kalamazoo River a couple of years ago? Syncrude? Diluted Bitumen( “dilbit”)?
            Just what exactly? We know it came from Canada because that’s where that Enbridge pipeline comes from.

  2. Conscience of a Conservative

    1)The oil is coming, regardless of the pipeline. The question is will Warren Buffett make money off of the transportation or will it be delivered efficiently by pipe-line. The only thing Obama is deciding is whether to reward the rail-roads with extra revenue at the expense of the oil producers.

    2) We have plenty of oil, but not the cheap easy clean kind. In the future we’ll be getting more of it from tar sands, the ant-arctic or from deep under the sea. This is not a prediction this is today’s reality

    3) Oil is fungible, while the U.S. is driving less China is making up for this in demand. The Keystone oil will get consumed.

    4) Other sources of energy are not there yet. At least for the next few decades we will need oil and with Coal being legislated out of use, Oil grows in importance.

    It would be great if we could all have solar panels on our roof and not consume one drop of fossil fuels, but that’s not the world we live in. The fight is about Oil producers vs Rail Road owners.

    1. rjs

      those’re close to the points i would have made…there is no cheap and easy oil left that doesnt have environmental issues, and the powers that be are going to exploit the tar sands eventually as long as there are consumers worldwide willing to buy the stuff…

      the only thing the president can do is delay the inevitable, & maybe make tar sands oil more expensive in the process…but if he does, dont anyone be so naive as to think it was done as anything but a sop to buffett’s big investment in oil-tanker rolling stock…

    2. McMike

      “Other sources are not there yet.”

      And every time we lower the regulatory/environmental bar and provide more subsidies for fossil fuels, the alternatives get pushed out another decade.

    3. Paul Tioxon


      The previous post by Lambert on the XL Pipeline allowed me to share the same conclusion as CoC. Here is a small sample, but the problems for the environment are 2 fold.

      FIRST: THE CARBON RELEASE INTO THE ATMOSPHERE IS THE MAJOR PROBLEM FOR THE PLANET. The Bakken oil has already arrived by rail on the East Coast refinery complexes and will continue up to and past 1M/bbl per day. It is now being refined. The railroads are much more flexible, extending throughout the Midwest and East, with right of way intact and no aquifer contamination catastrophe. It is not the pipeline that will release the carbon but the combined extraction, refining and combustion. The crude by rail transport has already started and is the work around to a pipeline.

      SECOND: THE AQUIFER DISASTER, only happens if there is a pipeline but the railroads can obsolete the need for this transport solution.

      THIRD: Obama Administration can claim environmental victory as well over saving the aquifer and save Canadian partners by allowing crude by rail to rapidly expand. This has already happened. The stake through the heart of the pipeline may be contractual obligations by the Canadians for exclusive rights with the railroads for transport of the first X amount of bbl/day of crude. The railroads have and will continue to make $10s of millions in capital improvements to switching, etc, in anticipation of increased volume, which would not otherwise be made in the absence of long term Canadian commitments.

      Conclusion: Whether or not the pipeline is dead, the oil is already being moved by rail, and will continue to do so, and will release more carbon into the atmosphere, from today until a pipeline is complete, if ever. By hook or by crook, the carbon is entering the atmosphere, the pipeline compounds the disaster by killing the water supply as well as the atmosphere.




      Railroads are losing coal hauling business which will be replaced or supplemented by crude by rail, increasing jobs across the Rust Belt from Toledo to Philadelphia.

    4. different clue

      Train derailments cause less overall volume spillage of oil than pipeline leaks or bursts I believe. If I am right about that, then shipping the oil by rail will cause less pollution than piping the same oil by pipeline.

      So what if Buffet gets the transit money instead of Enbridge? I don’t have stock in Buffet OR Enbridge.

    5. Gaylord

      This vividly illustrates the utter LACK of “Conscience of a Conservative”! Anyone with a real conscience would look at the inevitable devastation of our ONLY source of life, the fragile earth, that will result from the continued BRAIN-DEAD policies and lack of imagination, to conclude that this projected consumption of fossil fuels will only turn US HUMANS into the future fossil remains. Stupidity beyond belief.

  3. Kevin Smith

    Bill Gates is a major owner of Candian National Railways, so depending on how the decisions go, beneficiaries could be Bill Gates [CNR] or Warren Buffet [BN].

  4. Training


    Trains will transport this oil. Just google Bakken Oil Train.

    It is interesting to think that these oil fields will become cheap since nobody would want something they cannot sell. But trains will come in to the rescue.

  5. Hypothetical_Taxpayer

    Alternate Universe Update:

    From the universe we would like to live in – the one where we only need two sheets of toilet paper and people vacation in the middle east…..

    Here’s the latest update from Joule Fuels. They have bio-engineered some sustainable, reusable algea which produces both ethanol and syn-diesel. Audi-VW has teamed up with them, so they have some deep pockets taking them seriously.

    Kinda a puff piece, but the status is they are trying to transistion from R&D lab to the first small commercial demo plant…so whether this ends up being commerciallly viable is still unknown at this point.


  6. from Mexico

    Michael T. Klare says: “In January, Canadian tar-sands oil was already selling for $30-$40 less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the standard U.S. blend.”

    Klare, just like Palast, is comparing apples to oranges.

    What I find interesting is that not only opponents of Keystone, like Klare and Palast, are promoting this fiction, but proponents of Keystone, like Canadian Oil Sands Limited, are doing so as well. To wit, the quote that Klare gives from Canadian Oil Sands Limited:

    ***beginning of quote***
    “Any substantial and extended decline in the price of oil or an extended negative differential for SCO compared to either WTI or European Brent Crude would have an adverse effect on the revenues, profitability, and cash flow of Canadian Oil Sands and likely affect the ability of Canadian Oil Sands to pay dividends and repay its debt obligations.”
    ***end of quote***

    Three factors determine the price of oil:

    1) Location — distance and cost of transport to market

    2) Viscosity — whether it is “heavy” or “light”
    3) Sulfur content — whether it is sweet or sour

    Klare, Palast and Canadian Oil Sands Limited are all promoting the same fiction: that location is all that matters.

    If we eliminate location as a consideration, what we find is that $30 to $40 differential that Klare, Palast and Canadian Oil Sands Limited keep repeating is mostly caused by differences in viscosity and sulfur content. For instance, Light Sweet at Edmonton has averaged $87.64/barrel for February 2013. WCS at Hardistry has averaged only $61.52/barrel. So if we compare prices in Canada, we find a $26.12/barrel difference due to viscosity and sulfur content, location ceasing to be a factor.


    West Texas Intermediate (WTI) has averaged $96.61 for February 2013. WTI is light sweet. So if we’re going to compare the prices of oranges to oranges, then we have to compare the price of WTI to Light Sweet at Edmonton. The difference in price attributable to location, therefore, is only $8.97/barrel.


    WTI, however, is also landlocked. European Brent, which is not landlocked and is thus completely fungible, has averaged $116.21 for February 2013.

    I suppose the quesiton is what would WCS at Hardistry sell for in a market that is not landlocked and completely fungible. The implication that it would sell for the same price as European Brent, however, is nonsensical.

  7. Tom

    It is an ugly set of short term special interests — “providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry.”

    When did any (( ‘oil’ )) energy industry desperately need a boost? Why is it desperate? All I see is the oil energy industry setting-up a desperately wanted heist.

    The planet’s ecosystem is in desperate need of a boost. Where is the boost to millions of jobs that could be created in the environmental energy and reclamation industry. Where is the R&D for efficient energy utilization, upgrades to more efficient transportation systems ….and on and on?.

  8. Gerry

    The supply of oil has hit a plateau. If you do not build pipelines from Alberta and the Bakken you are essentially witholding oil from a tight market. That will push down prices for the producers but push up prices elsewhere in the world as less oil is available.

    Some of the anti-Keystone group prefer this option as they believe it will force the world to favor alternative energy.

    I believe in these cases to follow the money. Keystone will mean cheaper oil worldwide which is better for the economy so it will be approved.

    1. from Mexico

      Well that’s certainly one way to frame the issue. According to this framing, the overriding narrative is one where environmental priorities face off against geo-political and geo-economic priorities.

      It is in complete denial, however, of the detrimental effect that environmental degredation has upon geo-politics and geo-economics. So the situation is far more complicated than your simplistic Manichean construct would lead us to believe.

    2. dirtbagger

      If your thesis is correct then let Canada send their tar sands to Vancouver. Outside a few temporary construction jobs, there is little long term economic benefit for the US to transport and refine this toxid gook which is destined for export to world markets.

      Texas is not all that excited anymore about the project. With projected production of 3.5 m bpd by 2016 from the Eagle-Ford formation that extends from Houston to Loredo and into Mexico, the XL project is seen as both unwanted and unneeded.

      1. from Mexico

        And about 50% of the oil produced from the Eagle Ford is prime stuff, the 40-44.9 API gravity sweet crude that is the kind of oil that refiners dream of. And because it’s just down the road from the refining centers on the Gulf of Mexico, it sells for a $6 to $10 premium over West Texas Intermediate.

        The other 50% of Eagle Ford liquids is classified as condensate, averaging 60.1 API gravity. These extremely light liquids, even though sweet, sell at a $12 to $20 discount under West Texas Intermediate. Refiners find condensate less attractive as a crude oil blend because it produces less of the valuable middle distillate blends, like diesel and aviation fuel.


      2. MRW

        Alberta Oil Sands syncrude has been piped to the US for decades, completely without incident. I can’t remember the terminal’s name or the state, whether its OK, or TX.

        Keystone XL is the second pipeline, not the first. Alberta has been supplying 21-22% of the US oil for over 30 years. The majority of operators there are American companies.

        1. different clue

          The Enbridge Pipeline leak at Marshall, Michigan would count as an incident to honest non-liars. Non-honest liars might try to define it as “not an incident”.

    3. Me

      It is not better for the economy, human civilization or the health of people. The problem is that we have a (destructive) market economy that ignores “externalities”. If we included the true costs that go ignored by the market (global warming, ocean acidification, species extinction rates, etc) these tar sands would already be way too expensive. We get to consume them and pretend it is good for anything, for anything more than a handful of years, because we ignore the costs we are creating by using the tar sands, but processing it and by extracting it. These costs exist; they will just be pushed off onto future generations.

      That is really where the problem lies. If you think that everything we do must utilize the market, you have to conclude that we must put a market value on species, on human lives (which the EPA already does in its cost benefit analysis), on carbon emissions, on deforestation, etc. We have to conclude that we could place a monetary value on these things and that we could put a monetary value costs that will be paid by future generations. We aren’t going to have to pay for these costs now really, our kids and grandkids, people not yet born, will pay for these costs. How do you do this? Economists will mess around with things like discount rates too, they try to figure out ways to place monetary values on these things, but they are all subjective evaluations. That lends itself to being corrupted by vested interests.

      So where does it leave us? Basically, I think we are screwed. I have a little boy and it saddens me what world I and my generation is going to leave him. It isn’t fair and I could never justify the inaction of my generation, of my horribly polluting country, but as usual we remained selfish and ignorant when we should have learned and sacrificed. Like with everything else now, our country simply knows how to consume, destroy and dominate others. I wish another country, with more of a social conscious, had the power we have now. We are functionally stupid, ideologically rigid, relatively rich and powerful. It’s a horrible combination, especially given what we are facing environmentally and ecologically.

    4. kaj

      Less oil is available!!!! There is too much oil floating around, so much so that the Saudis and the Kuwaitiś have cut back production. Unfortunately, many blogs get cluttered with outright lies and deception perpetrated by either the self-serving or the uniformed.

      An ex-oil trader.

      1. rob

        The gluts that were around since a few years ago,show that the “desperate need” for new sources, is just another “marketing technique”.The oil tankers filled with crude, in the carribean waitng to be unloaded.the filled oil storage tank fields… these were things that were true the last time I heard….

        If only there was a free market, and the collossal waste of money and resources could be funneled into sane energy alternatives, rather than cornered markets wanting more blood and treasure.

  9. Susan the other

    If it is a foregone conclusion that there will be a pipeline somewhere, then Keystone to the Gulf is the logical choice. It’s unfortunate that this is just a yes or no decision. It should instead be contingent on all sorts of conditions to mitigage the damage to the environment and to protect the environment. I’m assuming that Keystone will take a detour around the Ogalala (sp?) aquifer and that is certainly a good thing. There are all sorts of concessions Obama could win for the environment (like more fuel efficient engines; profits invested in trains, serious research into clean and alternative fuels, etc.) – but one thing is for sure: he won’t. And if he tries to make it look like he did it’s a lie.

    1. Paul Tioxon


      The Financial Times reports that Phillips 66, the oil company, has placed an order for 2,000 new oil tank cars. The order is seen as confirmation that no new Bakken pipe lines will be constructed soon. The 2,000 cars are expected to help PSX move up to 120,000 barrels of North Dakota oil to refineries on the east and west coast of the US.

      No word yet on who gets the order.

    2. MRW

      I’m assuming that Keystone will take a detour around the Ogalala (sp?) aquifer and that is certainly a good thing.

      I agree.

      This is actually the second Keystone pipeline.

  10. Norbert Salamon

    Of course, there is a possibility that the Gateeway Pipeline can start in a feww months, for there is a constitutional provision in Canada, that allows the Federal Government to declare a project of NATIONAL IMPORTANCE, which process bypasses all other opposition. this process wass last used for the Construction of the Transcanada Pipeline, supplying Albeta Gas to Eastern Canada.
    Were the fiancial losses [including tax losses] too large for too long, as the Canadain oil sells below WTI -nefermind Bret, the Government [Having absolute majority] could do the required legal step.
    This would be most disadventageous for the USA, and benefit to China – for without doubt by the time the pipeline finished, they woud construc a refinery to process the bitumern and or the upgraded product.

    1. MRW

      In the USA, oil and gas are considered National Security Item Number One. People, businesses, households come second.

      Oil is a national security issue for military preparedness. (For example the full-in cost to get oil to our troops in Afghanistan is $800/gal because it has to go by truck and helicopter.) You can’t fly supersonics on solar power. You can’t run ships on wind and solar. You can’t cook military meals for millions on solar, or renewables that require a dependable oil backup solution for when they don’t work.

  11. curlydan

    Conservation (not alt fuels) is the best long-term energy policy, but God help us if anyone wants to even start down that road. No, instead we twist ourselves into knots trying to find the next best thing to satisfy our fix.

    We are corrupted by earnings per share and GDP growth, and we can’t follow a conservation course unless we’re willing to sacrifice a few percent off those holy metrics.

    1. MRW

      Energy is an input into society’s progress. The production of it in the 20th C created electricity, the emancipation of women from housekeeping chores that used to take up 9 hours a day, and the incredible progress we have made as a nation.

      Now other countries globally want what we have. Do you blame them?

      1. Gaylord

        No, that is an illusion from the past. We’ve recently learned that burning fossil fuel energy is the road to ruin of civilization, not to further progress. Wise up, man!

  12. barrisj

    Obama and Harper will get together, both will agree that Keystone is all about “jawbs, jawbs, and more jawbs”, and believe it, that toxic waste – sorry, petroleum – will flow/ooze its way to Gulf ports. Canadian economy is totally reliant on the extractives industry, and right-wing Albertan government has a big seat at the table…Harper won’t roll over on this one.

    1. mac

      I am sure that this article like all others has truths and falsehoods, so one has to try to sort them out and decide which side to support, if the support of ay one person matters.
      The lift of jobs and more oil certainly has to be good for the economy of both the US and Canada.

      1. different clue

        Yes, till the lift in atmospheric carbon from burning all that oil lifts the rate of glacier/ice cap meltdown. That meltdown will provide a lift to sea level rise which will destroy all economic functions in whatever seaside land gets flooded out by a rising sea.

        Thereby cancelling out all the economic lift from burning all that oil.

  13. The Black Swan

    When these types of discussions are had it always seems to be framed in this way: a healthy environment is a hindrance to business so we destroy the environment to protect business. Yet we rarely hear: business is a hindrance to a healthy environment so we must destroy business to protect the environment. People are always going on and on about the cost of business, as if it is the #1 concern and thing of most importance. Yet it is an artificial creation of mankind. We are destroying reality in the pursuit of a fiction.

      1. Gil Gamesh

        You got that right. There is no space between state-managed capitalism (for the benefit of investors) and pre-industrial societies.

  14. Progressive Humanist

    Not only the environmental damage, as if making earth uninhabitable for future generations is not enough, the social damage of giving Koch Industries 2 billion a year to buy off what’s left of Wall St, White House, MSM, etc., is similarly unfathomably dangerous.

    1. MRW

      The environmental damage is de minimus in Alberta. You need to see it for yourself. McKibben and Klare make statements that come to them in the shower. They haven’t even read the science on it.

    1. Gil Gamesh

      Oh smart we are. But wise? Never.

      Earth is our landlord, and she is about to evict us for abuse of premises. A planet whose mean temperature is 5 to 8 degrees F hotter than the current mean temperature (and that will happen this century, little doubt) will not support 7 billion humans by a long shot. Maybe a couple hundred million. And none will be surfing the Web.

      1. MRW

        A planet whose mean temperature is 5 to 8 degrees F hotter than the current mean temperature (and that will happen this century, little doubt)

        Not according to the latest leaked IPCC AR5 report due out at the end of this year. Google it.

  15. MRW

    Mr. Klare should avail himself of Google. As a Peace and World Security Professor, he can be forgiven his lack of physics or chemistry bonafides, but research ought to be up his alley, unless he’s as much of an hysteric and uninformed book author as Bill McKibben.

    Klare writes this: “After all, tar-sands crude is highly corrosive, and leaks are a notable risk.” A quick Lexis-Nexis search at his univ. library would have yielded this:

    Study eats into oil-sands opponents’ corrosion claims

    CALGARY — The Globe and Mail
    Published Friday, Nov. 23 2012, 5:00 AM EST Last updated Friday, Nov. 23 2012, 5:00 AM EST

    It has taken on the air of fact among those seeking to halt pipelines designed to carry crude from the oil sands. The diluted bitumen those pipelines would carry, critics say, is more corrosive than “normal” crude. In other words, the chemical nature of oil sands crude places the steel it travels through at risk.

    But a new study conducted by federal scientists finds exactly the opposite: Diluted bitumen is not more corrosive. In fact, when comparing four types of dilbit, as it’s called, with seven other kinds of oil, the dilbit is among the least corrosive.

    The study is a major strike against a key argument made by opponents of pipelines such as TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL and Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway.

    Just last week, Quebec Environment Minister Daniel Breton argued that Alberta crude was found to be more corrosive on older pipelines and could result in spills, as he warned Quebec could oppose a plan to pipe western oil through the province to eastern markets.

    The challenge to those claims comes from work conducted by a Natural Resources Canada lab in Hamilton. It builds on efforts that have seen government researchers test the corrosive qualities of oil since 1993. For
    the latest study, conducted this year, they compared various types of oil with a salt solution, which corroded pipeline steel at a rate of nearly 20 milli-inches per year. Anything below four is considered non- corrosive. The dilbit came in at three and below.

    In fact, “we are not seeing any corrosion rate which is more than around four … in all the around 100 crude oils we have tested so far” in two decades of work, said Sankara Papavinasam, a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada.

    As for dilbit, “we did not see any difference whatsoever. We could not differentiate” it from other types of oil.

    Dilbit also tends to be a more acidic crude, but “we did not see any correlation between TAN” – that refers to Total Acid Number – “and the corrosion rate under pipeline operating conditions,” said Mr. Papavinasam.


    “The temperature issue is a key one,” said Anthony Swift, an energy analyst at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council. Mr. Swift was the lead author on a report that made public the notion that dilbit could be risky. That February 2011 publication, whose information has often been repeated by pipeline opponents and even U.S. legislators, concludes that “There are many indications that DilBit is significantly more corrosive to pipeline systems than conventional crude.”

    Asked if the federal study would persuade him to acknowledge that science has found differently, Mr. Swift said: “if it does, we will.” He reiterated that temperature creates concerns both for internal and external corrosion, and that friction from the oil travelling through the pipe also serves to elevate the temperature.

    But in some ways, the science already has spoken, and Mr. Swift’s concerns are not shared by at least one of the scientists tasked by the U.S. government to provide a definitive evaluation of the dangers of dilbit. Frank Cheng holds the Canada Research Chair in Pipeline Engineering at the University of Calgary. He is the sole Canadian researcher among 12 experts chosen by the National Academy of Sciences to examine the corrosive properties of oil sands crude for the U.S. Congress. Their report is due at the end of 2013; it is primarily a literature survey, and will rely in part on the Natural Resources Canada work.

    It is true, Mr. Cheng said, that higher temperatures produce more corrosion, and dilbit pipelines typically operate at 50 to 60 degrees Celsius, he said. But the difference in corrosion rates at 60 degrees and 20 degrees “in my opinion is minor. So it’s not significant,” he said. As for friction heating? Mr. Cheng’s inquiries, including a field trip to speak with pipeline operators, have generated a similar finding: it happens. But it is not, he said, “an issue.”


  16. sierra7

    I have lots of respect for Mr. Klare’s writing……over the years.
    But, (no negative to Mr. Klare) what the he$% is wrong with telling Canada to build it’s own refineries (even with China backing) and deal with the inevitable envirenmental crap on it’s own territory?
    We seem to stick to the same old narrative mentioned by another commenter above: either we give in to industry or we will suffer dire consequences regardless of the continuing pollution of too many corporations of this beautiful planet!

    The narrative has to change…..has to!!

    I will go to my death happily knowing that the beautiful butterfly will inherit this planet…
    We don’t deserve it.
    NO, NO, NO! On the pipeline thru the US to the refineries in the South!!

    1. MRW

      Albertans would LOVE to build the refineries and sell the final product. Love to. They would make a fortune, which in Alberta the people benefit from because of the royalty structure that accrues to the province. They benefit from the resources under the ground.

      But the companies doing the extracting of the Oil Sands are mostly American companies and they want to get the profits.

      If Alberta refined it, the gas they would send down to the US would be lighter and corrosive.

      What you don’t realize is that you’ve been driving your car and lighting your furnace with Alberta oil for decades. Ever hear about a leak?

      Syncrude is three times denser than regular oil. It’s like a concentrate. You get three times as much final product from it as you do from sweet oil.

      1. different clue

        I heard about a leak two years ago from the Enbridge Pipeline near Marshall, Michigan. Did you hear about it too?
        Were you just hoping that nobody else heard about it?

  17. Jonathan Bernstein

    Does anyone really think that a lobbying combination of China and Big Oil will fail to get Alberta’s oil to China if America blocks Keystone? Especially with Canada’s Conservative Government under Prime Minister Harper?

    I’d love to see Idle No More (the Native Canadian, or rather, First Nations, answer to Occupy Wall Street) stop Tar Sands exports from Canada if we won’t take them, but that is one longshot bet in my opinion. If America doesn’t buy Tar Sands crude, China almost certainly will. That oil is just too valuable to stay in place, given the way the world economy works now. Everyone in the world (almost) wants it, dirty or not.

    In Canada Parliament’s controversial C38 bill would strip the First Nations of many of their legal rights to the resources in their territories. It’s a bill that Harper wants, and with his Conservative majority in the Commons it won’t be easy to block. Such a law would diminish the First Nations’ legal leverage even more.

    You can block Keystone in the hope that it will force America to get energy in a more sustainable way, but less so in the hope that we can stop Canada from selling its oil where it wants to.

    1. MRW

      Canada is a constitutional monarchy. PM Harper is not Head of State, like Obama is. The Queen is. (The Governor-General her representative.) The treaties were made with Britain and the Crown before Canada was formed, some of them 100 years before. The treaties were not written with Canada, so Harper is going to have a hard legal time tearing up something the country didn’t have a hand in.

      1. Nathanael

        Harper is trying anyway. Canada is known for violating treaties with Native Americans, just as the US is.

    2. MRW

      China is already a significant investor in the Oil Sands. It owns 40% of one company, 20% of another. I don’t know what the aggregate is but it ain’t chump-change. It will take every drop Alberta has, even if it has to go via rail (already built) to the Vancouver depot.

      That will also mean that the US will need to open up its Alaska reserves. What is Canada gets pissy as a result, and the stuff can’t go via pipeline across Canada anymore? What if we have to ship it around the Panama Canal to the Port of Houston for refining? What’s that going to do to the price?

  18. MRW

    I’m getting tired of this hysteric and his lack of basic science info:

    “Alberta’s tar sands are the continent’s biggest carbon bomb,” McKibben wrote at TomDispatch. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature.”

    (The fact that this ex-New Yorker writer has never set foot in Alberta to check out his topic is shown in the fact that he still calls them the tar sands.)

    For Mr. McKibben’s information. the CO2 count under the forest canopy in the magnificent Rocky Mountains (Jasper, Banff) and just about the entirety of British Columbia is 600 PPM. And it ain’t no 600 F. He’s just making info up out of his a**.

    Has this ignoramus ever looked at a govt safety doc? 5,000 PPM is considered the upward limit by the govt for occupational safety. Same with the Navy and submarines. Offices, schools, auditoriums, often have 3,000 PPM. CO2 is a plant food. Global agricultural output has increased over 30% since 1990 with minimal increase in the need for water usage. This is a plus for society, not a minus.

    As the new growers of marijuana in Colorado and Washington are going to discover, CO2 is what you need. One website of growing paraphernalia urges home growers to get a CO2 machine because plants (all plants) like 1000 PPM to 1500 PPM to flower properly. 400 PPM stresses plants and makes them think it’s Fall. The increased CO2 reduces the need for extra water because the plants can make sugars faster with the extra CO2.

    As for McKibben’s hyperbolic assumption that begins “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide …” he doesn’t take emission controls into account. The only directly emitted contaminants from all burn sources are sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Because of the EPA, we’ve installed scrubbers and filters on coal plants, and catalytic converters on cars, etc. We’ve reduced air pollution drastically, dramatically, since 1970. The indirect air contaminants are ozone and aerosols, which are formed later by chemical reactions in the air.

    CO2, although a by-product of the burning of fuel, is largely created in this world by the decay of soil, plants, and trees, and from the oceans. It is stored in the deep cold from eons ago–think of the number of volcanoes along the ocean floor ridges that emit the stuff–and gets released during the Pacific oscillation process that goes on across the Pacific Ocean during La Nina and El Nino. (Think: those blue and clear water long rectangles that slosh on a fulcrum that you can buy from tchotchke catalogues.)

    McKibben is simply lying to people. The IPCC AR5 was leaked this past December; it’s due out at the end of this year or early 2014. A significant chart shows that the First Assessment Report predicted 8-12 C by the end of 2100. The Second AR predicted something like 6-8 C. Can’t remember the Third. The Fourth (2007) was still predicting 4C for a doubling of CO2 (up near that CO2 range that McKibben was squawking about).

    So what did the IPCC find from OBSERVED SATELLITE DATA and OCEAN BUOYS, and LAND STATIONS from the reliable sources that actually take the measurements? Global mean temp average has flatlined for the past 15 years WHILE the CO2 was climbing, and that a doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F). (Google IPCC AR5 leaked document.)

    Big whoop.

    If the data were showing something else, I’d be jumping up and down myself. But this hysteria has now reached Fra Giordano Bruno proportions.

    The Oil Sands are Mother Nature’s oil spill. The oil oozes up out of the ground as it’s done since the tectonic plates created the Rocky Mountains. The whole boreal forest is soaking in the stuff. It oozes out of the banks of the river upstream from where they are taking the oil out of the sand via steam. The Aboriginal people used the goo to waterproof their canoes, which the French Jesuit priests first wrote about in the early 1700s.

    And the whole of Canada, for McKibben’s info, only produces 1.9% of CO2 emissions globally to the US’s 20%. Of that 1.9%, the Oil Sands are .7%. Saudi Arabia, that tiny little country by comparison, produces 26%.

    1. Tom

      So you are a proponent of burning up as much possible fossil fuel now as opposed to using the stuff in as an efficient manner as possible. It sounds as if – it a quick profit – might as well play it now thinking. I am not an opponent of progress, I am an opponent of putting off technological advances for the sake of a quick buck. IBGYBG by the time our children’s children face the consequences of short sighted reactionary motive to – burn baby burn – get all the profit and leave nothing behind. Easy fix (got to grab the profit) mentality now – screw the consequences.

      Maybe I am a fool to think that progress can come with improved standards of living and health and global environmental health and equality and scientific advancement and reduced warfare and reduced suffering and and and..
      But I ain’t no fool and it is possible.
      Somehow the threat of global warming induced by human activity is construed as a threat to our global economy when, in fact, it is a huge opportunity for growth. I would say the problem is – the power elite are too lazy to recognize this fact.

      1. MRW


        So you are a proponent of burning up as much possible fossil fuel now as opposed to using the stuff in as an efficient manner as possible.

        Not at all. Even though we’re swimming in the stuff now globally, I am a proponent of efficient engines that make use of it. Why don’t we have cars that run at 100 mi/gal? The technology to do this has been around for decades. Truth be told, I’m an energy from the vacuum person. I don’t even see a reason for using substances out of the ground to power our lives. Yang and Lee got an instant Nobel in 1957 for figuring out how it worked, but it was buried. Since the military needs oil, however, and oil is the national security issue #1 as a result, we’re going to have an oil-driven world until new forms of transportation on different energy systems come onboard. The idea that we might still be on oil 200 years from now seems preposterous to me.

        What I don’t enjoy is clogging the necessary public debate full of inaccurate info, or information that doesn’t comport with the data, and getting overly dramatic. Chicken Little climatology. McKibben is wrong about CO2.He’s sold 14 books because James Hansen said that 350 PPM is the upper limit. Files in the face of history; the CO2 count has been much higher in the past when there were no or few humans. Flies in the face of horticulture and biology. There’s not one real greenhouse in the world where they pipe in high amounts of CO2 for the plants where it’s been reported that the CO2 raised the temperature inside it. Not one. There aren’t 2500 scientists who said the science is settled. I read the 189 pages of the comments of the scientists and activists who purported to say that, per the IPCC who had to release those comments in 2010 after a FOIA request; it was about 50 who agreed with the IPCC, not 2500. And the global mean has flatlined for the past 15 years.

        What do you expect me to do? Ignore the evidence?

        We need a public debate about our energy policy, a measured informed debate, not these hysterics that frighten small children and baffle their parents. Especially when it’s hysteria from models extrapolating into the future (with the precautionary principle in tow) and not observed data. Moreover, we need to learn how the climate works operationally, and people can’t seem to agree about that.

        1. Nathanael

          It’s absolutely true that the CO2 count can go far higher and life on earth will be fine — just as it was in the time of the dinosaurs!

          There’s only one catch: most of the food crops which HUMANS can eat will suddenly be confined to tiny ranges near the poles. Also, the sea food chain will collapse due to ocean acidification and prevent us from living off food in the sea. As a result, humanity could go extinct.

          Certain other plants, which HUMANS CANNOT EAT, will thrive! Isn’t that lovely.

          I’m sure that future intelligent species will look at the bones of humans and think that this was a strange species, and wonder what catastrophe wiped them out.

          That doesn’t change what the tolerable CO2 levels for HUMANS are.

        2. Nathanael

          “And the global mean has flatlined for the past 15 years.”

          “What do you expect me to do? Ignore the evidence?”
          I expect you to continue lying about the evidence. The evidence proves that you are a liar.

          And by the way? Greenhouses do not operate using the so-called “greenhouse effect” which causes global warming. You can look this little fact up on *Wikipedia* of all places.

    2. different clue

      CO2 is not a plant food. CO2 is one of two inert compounds that plants use sunlight energy to make into plant food. Water is the other inert compound that plants use sunlight to make into plantfood. The plantfood that plants use light-energy to make CO2 and H2O into plantfood with . . . is sugars. The plant then works those sugars up into every other compound the plant uses to grow and live and reproduce with. To call CO2 a plantfood reveals crashingly total ignorance of what “food” is.

      But anyone who believes otherwise can try this experiment. Put some plants in a controlled atmosphere with all the CO2 you want in their controlled atmosphere. Keep those plants in their chamber with the abundant CO2 deprived of all light. Which is to say zero pitch-dark total blackness light-deprivation. See how lond the plants live and grow by eating the CO2 as “plantfood”. Let us know your results.

      1. different clue

        By the way, what is the CO2 concentration OVer that forest which is claimed to have 600ppm CO2 UNder the forest?

        1. different clue

          Or con-conversely, put enough CO2 into the atmosphere to trap enough IR heat to create persistent droughts in heretofore agro-breadbasket areas and see how photosynthesis proceeds in the absence of H2O to go along with all that CO2.
          And that is the experiment we are running today.

          1. different clue

            By the way, every time you claim that there has been “not one single pipeline leak” of Canadian oil in those pipelines, I have mentione “one single pipeling leak” that was known to have occurred near Marshall, Michigan. I notice you have carefully avoided responding every time to my every mention of that leak. Am I the only one to have noticed your careful
            avoidance of my comments on this matter? Or might other commenters also be noting your carefull avoidance of my reply of a regionally famous and notorious leak in reply to your claim of “not one leak”? And if other commenters are noticing this, what might they begin thinking of your credibility and honesty?

    3. Nathanael

      You’re simply lying to people, MRW.

      A PPM count in a localized area at ground level has nothing to do with a global climate PPM count.

      McKibben knows what he’s talking about, while you are using masses of misleading claims to attempt to disagree with him. I’ve caught you out repeatedly already in this thread; you’re not credible.

      1. different clue

        Plus he keeps lying about “not one pipeline leak” and carefully ignores my replies about how “there was TOO one pipeline leak” near Marshall, Michigan.

        But he may not be a pure PetroHarperite Tar Sands Flack. He may be one of these cheetos-in-the-basement delusional paranoids. What might be the “tell”? These two sentences here . . .

        “Truth be told, I’m an energy from the vacuum person. I don’t even see a reason for using substances out of the ground to power our lives. Yang and Lee got an instant Nobel in 1957 for figuring out how it worked, but it was buried. ”

        Oooo! Energy from “the vacuum”? Tell us all about it!
        And provide some links for us to kick around.

    4. Me

      I am not going to touch on your individual points, which are absurd. You seem to miss the bigger picture. Even if CO2 emissions were nothing, what about ocean acidification? Deforestation? Overfishing? Population and resource growth? What about soil erosion? A massive increase in species extinction rates, is that a conspiracy too? CO2 emissions are one part of the developing environmental collapse. No one is being alarmist. The overall environmental picture is alarming, the damage being done to ecosystems worldwide is alarming and even if CO2 emissions weren’t as a big of an issue as it is there are endless other environmental issues we have to deal with that are 100% the result of human activity. You’d oppose doing anything about the other issues because they are necessarily large, connected and would require us to radically change our economy, societies and behavior. That is exactly what fools like you don’t want us to do.

      You also fail to see that while CO2 emissions have been higher (although the IPCC Synthesis report says they are higher now than at any point in the past 650,000 years and that the general consensus IS that warming has occurred significantly since the Industrial Revolution) in the past, before humans, we as humans are concerned with how habitable the planet will be for our species. I am sure other organisms could survive with much higher CO2 but could human civilization? I won’t ask YOU that question because you don’t seem interested in analyzing this with much connection to reality. You also, once again, aren’t putting CO2 emissions within the proper overall context.

  19. Phrase

    … i posted this article with this very succinct note … “Keystone XL-Presidential Decision-seemingly a good critique-but restricted narrative limits focus-imho-will the ‘decision’ point to the beginnings of a crack in the prevailing dominant global-neoliberal-financial-corporate-controlled-captive sovereign nations … should one position have such power ? … but this is just about “Tar Sands Oil” … really ! … ideology focuses response … interesting !” … [… i appreciate the integrity and concern exhibited by ‘nakedcapitalism.com’ and the comments, thanx ] … phrase

    1. Gaylord

      Excellent, prescient point. The whole damn system is unsustainable. There will be a reckoning — I’m not sure whether Nature will slam us silly first, or if some man-made conflagration will erupt (world depression & war?) — but drastic changes will result. We can do this the hard way or an intelligent way, but I’m afraid TPTB will insist on going down hard.

      1. different clue

        TPTB hope to exterminate the rest of us over the next few decades and hope to survive themselves to inherit the Earth all to themselves. ” The Few, The Proud, The OverClass . . . shall Inherit the Earth.”

        How do you kill 6 billion people and make it look like an accident? Foster global warming, foster antibiotic-immunity in nasty diseases, defund public health infrastructures, etc. etc.

  20. SaintGermane

    Long time lurker. Love the place. Can anyone tell me why no one is discussing building a refinery near the tar sands themselves?

    I’m opposed to further exploitation of fossil fuels since I think the risks to our climate outweigh the utility of the fuels, but as an academic question, I am sure there must be a reason?


  21. jfleni

    RE: Tar Sands?. Look, why do we really need this vast amount of Canadian oil?

    For Power generation? No way! Wind and solar, some coal, some hydro, and the sharply diminishing number of nukes have all that covered and more. Texas .. you know all those raving Comunists with Rick Perry waving the red flag..now produces vast and increasing amounts of wind power, and suddenly those good ol’ boys think it ‘s just terrific: manna from heaven when the wind blows hardest as it usually does in Texas.

    Answer number 1: FOR CARS – GAS BUGGIES? But the pent up demand for much better public transportation, both local and long distance like high speed rail,will be satisfied sooner or later; car registrations are falling quite sharply and fast, a looming worry for the auto companies. A sane public trasportation program would make even a small of amount of tar-sand oil completely unnecessary. The future floor under oil demand will be the essential uses of the motor truck, including four-door four-ton pickups, hopefully loaded with tools, pipes, lawnmowers, etc, etc, not just empty tool boxes.

    Considering how easy it is to manufacture the relatively small amount of motor fuel we really need (methanol, despite conversion costs) from garbage, sewage, agricultural waste, and much more, motor fuel demand is bound to decrease over time.

    Answer #2?: China? OK, let them have it and pay the Canucks through their polluted noses. They know perfectly well that clotting up their heavily polluted country with gas-buggies is crazy, which is why they pay such close attention to good public transit. Our plutocrats won’t get much of it, and that really seems to be the real rub for Barry and his DC plutocrat butt-kissers.

    Barry is a jumped-up, no business or legal experience lawyer, whose political experience mostly consists of bowing to whichever plutocrat has his attention at that moment, which explains why his policy is so confused, and confusing. Add to that a lack of advisors who are even more ignorant and inexperienced, and you get a real zoo. And that’s what we are seeing.

  22. Skippy


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