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Reaction was fast and furious to the State Department’s final report on the environmental impacts of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Friday, and you couldn’t be blamed if you wondered if environmental groups, the oil and industry and government were responding to completely different reports.
While many headlines trumpeted the report as good news for Keystone XL backers, we believe it swung the pendulum towards a rejection of the pipeline by President Obama.
Why? Because President Obama says that he is committed to climate action, and the report is clear that in a world where climate change is taken seriously, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would undoubtedly have a significant impact on climate change.
It is the President who will make the final decision to approve or reject the pipeline, and if he is serious about his commitment to climate action, this report gives him everything he needs to reject the pipeline.
The report looks at a series of scenarios and the climate impact of the pipeline in each one. In one of these scenarios, we are tackling climate change; demand for oil continues to drop in North America and the tar sands continue to face transportation constraints – not unlike the constraints they are facing today.
While the report still downplays the climate pollution, it is in this scenario that the pipeline would contribute most significantly to global carbon pollution, up to 5.7 million news cars or 7 coal-fired power plants worth of emissions per year. The other scenarios are ones in which the global demand for oil is aligned with carbon emissions that would lead to dangerous global warming. The other scenarios are ones where we are not meaningfully tackling climate change.
If the President is committed to a safe climate future – it is one that does not include the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
The tar sands exist because of a perfect storm of conditions: a high oil price, no meaningful regulatory costs, and a world with little action on climate change. This is a set of conditions that is crumbling despite increasingly desperate efforts to keep this expensive and carbon intensive operation profitable. Industry and government know very well that pipelines, and especially Keystone XL, are the key to being able to lock in more expansion and more production.
While some who support the pipeline argue that tar sands oil will still be brought to market regardless of whether the pipeline is approved – namely by rail – the cost, lack of policy, public concern and logistics are enough for experts and industry alike to know that rail cannot replace pipelines. In fact, industry projections depend on approval of every pipeline on the table plus some rail to be able to triple tar sands product as planned by 2030.
Notably, the State Department itself threw cold water on the chances of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline being built, stating that“…this project has been so derailed via political opposition, state determines ‘it remains uncertain at this time if the project would receive permits and be constructed and therefore… was eliminated from detailed analysis.”
Industry’s hopes for tar sands expansion are far from inevitable. Regardless of the Keystone outcome, it will never be easy to build another giant tar sands pipeline on this continent again.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and the President has committed to doing everything he can to avoid the worst of it. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is the test of his sincerity. It is the single biggest thing he could do as President to make it clear to Canada and the world that the era of reckless fossil fuel development is over. That a country – like Canada – can’t get away with leaving its fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution completely unregulated. That now is the time to be investing in smarter, cleaner energy, not locking ourselves into decade’s worth of some of the world’ most carbon intensive fuels with a new giant pipeline.
Last week in his State of the Union speech the President said, “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
The reason we can be so optimistic about this report is that it gives the President the evidence he needs – if he is serious about the climate crises – to reject this pipeline, and leave a legacy of a clean energy future.
Big Oil Is Gaming the System to Raise Domestic U.S. Prices
Completion of the entire [Keystone] pipeline would raise prices at the pump in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains 10 to 20 cents a gallon, Verleger, the Colorado consultant, said in an e-mail message.The higher crude prices also would erase the discount enjoyed by cities including Chicago, Cheyenne and Denver, Verleger said.
CNN Money reports:
Gas prices might go up, not down: Right now, a lot of oil being produced in Canada and North Dakota has trouble reaching the refineries and terminals on the Gulf. Since that supply can’t be sold abroad, it reduces the competition for it to Midwest refineries that can pay lower prices to get it.
Giving the Canadian oil access to the Gulf means the glut in the Midwest goes away,making it more expensive for the region.
Tyson Slocum – Director of Public Citizens’ Energy Program – explains:
How does bringing in more oil supply result in higher gas prices, you ask? Let me walk you through the facts. A combination of record domestic oil production and anemic domestic demand has resulted in large stockpiles of crude oil in the U.S. In particular, supplies of crude in the critical area of Cushing, OK increased more than 150% from 2004 to early 2011 (compared to a 40% rise for the country as a whole). Segments of the oil industry want to import additional supplies of crude from Canada, bypass the surplus crude stockpiles in Oklahoma in an effort to refine this Canadian imported oil into gasoline in the Gulf Coast with the goal of increasing gasoline exports to Latin America and other foreign markets.
Cushing typically is a busy place – I noted in my recent Senate testimony how Wall Street speculators were snapping up oil storage capacity at Cushing. And all of that surplus capacity is pushing WTI prices down – and for many in the oil business, downward pressure on prices is a terrible thing. As MarketWatch reports, “[B]y running south across six U.S. states from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, [the Keystone pipeline] would skirt the pipeline hub at landlocked Cushing, Okla., a bottleneck that has forced Canadian producers to sell their oil at a steep discount to other crude grades facing fewer obstacles to the market.
There are several global crude oil benchmarks, and the price differential between Brent and WTI now is around $10/barrel, which is a fairly significant spread, historically speaking. Moving more Canadian crude to bypass the WTI-benchmarked Cushing stocks, the industry hopes, will align WTI’s current price discount to be higher, and more in line with Brent.
The Keystone pipeline isn’t just about expanding the unsustainable mining of … Canadian crude, but also to raise gasoline prices for American consumers whose gasoline is currently priced under WTI crude benchmark prices.
Slocum notes that oil is America’s number 1 import at time same that fuel is America’s number 1 export.
Specifically, more oil is being produced now under Obama than under Bush. But gas consumption is flat.
So producers are exporting refined products. By exporting, producers keep refined products off the U.S. market, creating artificial scarcity and keeping U.S. fuel prices high.
Slocum said that the main goal of the Keystone Pipeline is to import Canadian crude so the big American oil companies can export more refined fuel, driving up prices for U.S. consumers.
Tom Steyer points out:
Statements from pipeline developers reveal that the intent of the Keystone XL is not to help Americans, but to use America as an export line to markets in Asia and Europe. As Alberta’s energy minister Ken Hughes acknowledged, “[I]t is a strategic imperative, it is in Alberta’s interest, in Canada’s interest, that we get access to tidewater… to diversify away from the single continental market and be part of the global market.”
And see this NBC News report.
As Fortune explains, the U.S. is now an exporter of refined petroleum products, but Americans aren’t getting reduced prices because the oil companies are now pricing the fuel according to Europeanmetrics:
The U.S. is now selling more petroleum products than it is buying for the first time in more than six decades. Yet Americans are paying around $4 or more for a gallon of gas, even as demand slumps to historic lows. What gives?
Americans have been told for years that if only we drilled more oil, we would see a drop in gasoline prices.
But more drilling is happening now, and prices are still going up. That’s because Wall Street has changed the formula for pricing gasoline.
Until this time last year, gas prices hinged on the price of U.S. crude oil, set daily in a small town in Cushing, Oklahoma – the largest oil-storage hub in the country. Today, gasoline prices instead track the price of a type of oil found in the North Sea called Brent crude. And Brent crude, it so happens, trades at a premium to U.S. oil by around $20 a barrel.
So, even as we drill for more oil in the U.S., the price benchmark has dodged the markdown bullet by taking cues from the more expensive oil. As always, we must compete with the rest of the world for petroleum – including our own.
This is an unprecedented shift. Since the dawn of the modern-day oil markets in downtown Manhattan in the 1980s, U.S. gasoline prices have followed the domestic oil price ….
In the past year, U.S. oil prices have repeatedly traded in the double-digits below the Brent price. That is money Wall Street cannot afford to walk away from.
To put it more literally, if a Wall Street trader or a major oil company can get a higher price for oil from an overseas buyer, rather than an American one, the overseas buyer wins. Just because an oil company drills inside U.S. borders doesn’t mean it has to sell to a U.S. buyer. There is patriotism and then there is profit motive. This is why Americans should carefully consider the sacrifice of wildlife preservation areas before designating them for oil drilling. The harsh reality is that we may never see a drop of oil that comes from some of our most precious lands.
With the planned construction of more pipelines from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, oil will be able to leave the U.S. in greater volumes.
This isn’t old news … or just a hypothetical worry.
As Bloomberg reported in December 2013:
West Texas Intermediate crude gained the most since September after TransCanada Corp. (TRP) said it will begin operating the southern leg of its Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast in January.
[West Texas Intermediate oil] prices jumped to a one-month high, narrowing WTI’s discount to Brent. TransCanada plans to start deliveries Jan. 3 to Port Arthur, Texas, via the segment of the Keystone expansion project from Cushing, Oklahoma, according to a government filing yesterday. Cushing is the delivery point for WTI futures. Crude [oil pries] also rose as U.S. total inventories probably slid for the first time since September last week.
“With the pipeline up and running, you are going to see drops in Cushing inventories,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts. “It drives up WTI prices far more than Brent. You are going to see a narrowing of the Brent-WTI differential.”