Keystone XL is not about climate change, Joe Nocera

The argument against the XL pipeline is based on US interests, should not be about climate change.

Joe Nocera published a column in the Feb 19 (2013) print edition of the New York Times. He explains why we must support the XL proposal because climate protesters have it all wrong.  In the process he brings up a lot of non-climate boiler-plate used to promote XL.


Joe Nocera, 2013

We agree with Nocera’s headline: How Not To Fix Climate Change.   As we (LastTechAge) have said before, using climate damage from the extraction process as an argument against XL will only cause Canadians to circle their wagons for protection against U.S.A. savages.

Most Americans don’t realize that US-Canadian history is a lot different from Canadian-US history; same facts, much different spins.  Yes, shale/tar-sands oil is extraordinarily destructive but we must close down our own facilities before we  go a-preach’n.

Joe’s Climate-Change Argument

Dr. James E Hanson

Dr. James E Hanson

Nocera  says: “the strategy of activists … who have made the Keystone pipeline their line in the sand, is utterly boneheaded.” His reason for this statement seems to be that activists like the respected Dr. James Hansen are fighting monster moneybags like the Koch brothers.

Since it is not possible, for any reason, to expect Hansen and crew to win over the long run (a multi-decade timeframe), it is plainly unreasonable to try.  Climate damage is a very real and  Dr. Hansen has long history with  early predictions of the developing problem that have proven accurate.  Our issue is that the efforts to embargo products to force Canadian behavior patters could generate strong Canadian push-back.

LastTechAge Argument

Keystone XL route

Keystone XL route

The real argument against is XL is that there are at least 10 different pipelines already are bringing dilbit into the US, including the brand new Keystone, which opened in February 2011 and transports 500,000 bpd.  The XL proposal,  formally introduced in 2011, increases flow to about 850,000 bpd (not even a factor of 2 increase).

This is our 5th post on XL.  Here is the  map we presented earlier.  Click to enlarge.  Also, check out a succinct recent summary, XL Primer.

The XL in the original proposal is shown on our map as a red dotted path. Recently, the northern end was rerouted to bypass some of the the Ogallala aquifer.

What’s Not To Like About Dilbit Pipelines?
3 issues matter to U.S. citizens: Energy security, pipeline safety, generation of good, lasting jobs.

  • Dilbit definition 160x135 XL would not supply all that much oil (compared to total inflow) and is not for U.S. use, by design.

Currently, about 10 pipelines  ship dilbit from Canadian tar sand fields (Athabasca is the biggest in Alberta) to the U.S.  Right now, Keystone accounts for maybe 10% of the total.  

Keystone currently goes to refineries in Illinois. It is also delivered to Cushing Oklahoma, where WTI oil pricing is set.  Incoming stuff forms an overload glut in the end locations and is dumped into massed ranks of storage tanks.
Question: Why so? Why not expand the current refineries to process the dilbit?

Charles(L) David(R) Koch

Charles(L) David(R) Koch

Answer:   The Koch brothers,  who have a control over a fortune with joint net worth of about $50 billion ($50 thousand million), have announced their intention to open the line to the coast where dilbit can be refined and shipped.  The oil glut is very temporary, per the Kochs.  If you owned one of the refineries, would you would waste the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars needed for upgrades? The Brothers Koch have a major base in Cushing.

It’s about energy security, stupid … or is it?
(A) If our friends in the North want to dedicate this stuff to US usage, why are they not pushing facility enlargements in Wood River, Patoke and Cushing? They could start off-shoring their profits today.  No.  This stuff is not intended to help pitiful pickup drivers throughout the US.
(B) XL does not represent much of a jump in current US access to non-USdilbit.  XL is only about 7% of the total flowing in today (70% more than the baseline Keystone, which is about 10% of the inflow amount).   So why will energy skies fall if it is turned down?

  • XL would be more leak-prone than any of the other current 10 lines  shipping between Canada and the US.  The pumped fluid is diluted bitumen (dilbit), bitumen fluidized with solvents (proprietary, but naphtha, benzine, and toluene are among those mentioned).  Compared to good ol’ Texas crude, dilbit is more acidic,  heavier, and more frictional.  It needs higher temperatures and pressures to push it down the pipe.  Dilbit it is more aggressive on pipelines than Texas crude.
    Note: For its XL upgrade, TransCanada is requesting

– larger diameter pipes for more volume flow – higher profitability
– thinner walled tubing – lower installation price
– fewer monitoring stations – lower installation price and operating costs.  

If pipelines did not leak, there would be no issue. But Keystone (thicker walls, lower pressures and more frequent monitoring stations) has already  had a flock of leaks. Compare the 12 during the first year of operation to 1 leak in 7 years they were promising.  

Some pipelines are worse. When the Enbridge dilbit pipeline 6B  ruptured 3 years ago in Michigan (Kalamazoo River, near Marshall), the bitumen sank to the bottom of the river; the solvents wreaked havoc with the soil; the fumes damaged human health.   2013 – remediation has not yet been completed.  Flow rates in the thicker walled Enbridge  6B were much slower.   XL has to be a worse problem.  

The higher pressure in thinner pipe screams environmental disasters around the edges of the mid-continent aquifer.  One must have imagination to envision the toxic geyser that would/will follow a XL rupture.  I suppose we are about to discover if Obama has such a good imagination (a.k.a. “vision”).  Check a good reason to reject XL:  after “geyser”,  add “into the mid-continent ground water”. 

  • XL will not create lots of  permanent jobs contrary to the pro argument. This non-issue is due to a huge TransCanada mis-statement early on and was exposed by independent investigators at Cornell University.  This has been debated and debunked  over and again.  Another round here will not change anyone’s mind.  Curious about actual permanent job benefits?  go google it  yourself.

Meanwhile, the XL preparations move forward

TransCanada has nearly completed its land grab from US owners. All kinds of legal tools have been employed along the route, including eminent domain takeovers.

This is not necessarily driven by Canadian masters, the Koch Brothers are key players in the new line. Their involvement is one of the reasons our Joe N thinks Resistance Is Futile. Who could stand up to the Borg brothers?  The new XL layout  sort-of misses the Ogallala water source, but actually would be along the edges.  Anyone aware of studies of the propagation of low density petroleum solvents through soil and fractured rocks?  Pipe rupture is a when issue, not an if one.

Energy security, pipeline safety, employment

click for all our discussions about the Keystone XL pipeline

Nocera has nothing to add that has not been discussed over the past 2 years.  In fact, nothing has changed, no one has anything new that can change the situation.  but the tools of folks like the TransCanada owners and their partners like Charles and David Koch continue their attempts to destroy U.S. future.

Nocera recycles the same ol’.  Does smoke from constant repetition make a fake fire more real?   Stopping dilbit transport via XL is not about climate change; this is really a U.S. issue based on our own criteria.


Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2013 Feb 24
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About LastTechAge

I am a physicist with years of work in fusion labs, industry labs, and teaching (physics and math). I have watched the tech scene, watched societal trends and am alarmed. My interest is to help us all improve or maintain that which we worked so hard to achieve.
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