Reject Keystone XL. It is about US ecology, not global climate

The US State Department released its Keystone XL pipeline report.  Guess what?  It concluded that accepting or rejecting XL would have little affect on world climate.

XL – pretty small stuff.  The State Department report is right as far as it goes.  The XL proposal is for an  increase in  the carry capacity of the current Keystone line from about 500 M b/d to about 850 M b/d, an increase of about 70%.  But the current Keystone line is one of 10 or 12 that enter the US, most bringing in dilbit.  The only way closing the XL proposal would help global warming is if we could simultaneously force the end of shale oil production in Canada.  No, that just won’t happen.

Dilbit definition 160x135So XL’s effect on oil supply is diluted to a 7% increase in the stuff coming into the country.  This is what the weird-Right (w-R) calls the solution to US energy security.   Just 7%  more and we will have solved everything!  Wonderful – F150 drivers  won’t worry every again about fuel fill ups!  Small increase in dilbit but huge profits for US investors.

Another way toward “pretty small.”   Suppose 100% of XL’s Canadian dilbit is refined and sold exclusively in the US.  In good times (2008)  US users accounted for 18 M b/d in oil and XL would add 350 k b/d.  (M = million, k = thousand).  About 1.9% of our oil use, not my  idea of what “energy independence” should mean. At $100/barrel, pipeline  owners share $33M/day.   These are big bucks to the few families that will share it; it’s the real reason the weird-Right want the thing.

Alternate ways for transport.  Rejecting XL  would not stop the flow of oil from Canada.  A report in the Washington Post discussed transport by rail that is being developed.  Read the report.  Rail is actually much safer than than pipeline, especially if the trackbed and rails are new and the tank cars  sturdy (like double bodied ocean-going LPG tankers.  Small chance of legislating that kind of rail car).

Stopping XL will not turn off Canadian dilbit production, no matter how hard we interdict their product.  But it might enrage Canadians to override First Nation activists and open the path through their reservation to Kitimat on  British Colombia’s Northwest shore. Or use the “Southern” path to Burnaby, near Vancouver.  My view, we should reject XL for our own protection and let the Canadians fight their own environmental issue.   XL threatens U.S. mid-continent water and we can influence that.  It is not about eliminating atmospheric CO2.

Real-world disasters are due to simultaneous events.   The likelihood of a spill along the path is 100%, since all lines currently entering the country spill.  All of the big disasters of our day have been due to multiple causes happening together, not the single event issues that are used in failure mode studies.  Pause and recall that the Fukashima disaster was due to a highly unlikely monster earthquake and tsunami events.  Core-melt disasters were rated as one incident every several thousand  years (per failure mode analysis); world-wide, 5 were unclassified during the last 40 years.  Recall that the US Space Shuttle system had a failure rating of 1/1000 launches (actual:  1/50).  The landscape of technology is littered with multiple improbable  events occurring together.

Start with XL’s  extra thin walls, extra high pressures, extra high fluid flow.  XL will leak at least as much as every line. Now, add a tornado with massive river flooding, plus  an earthquake  – the confluence at low probability of simultaneous disasters.   XL represents a monster disaster-in-waiting.

Environmental issues are real.   Global warming is an issue that will have massive impact on the lives of the babies born this year; it will dominate the working lives of their children.  It is hard to overstate the consequences of (1) a 5, possibly 7  °C increase in the global average,  (2) energy prices that will have risen out of the reach of normal people, and (3) loss in water availability as human populations continue to grow.  In mid-America, XL might make clean safe water nearly impossible to get, but India, Russia, Australia (etc) would hardly feel an effect.  Unpopular conclusion  →  In fact, none of these three changers of world reality can be remediated the by canceling XL.

Climate activists think they can beat Canadians into submission. This would be a tidy way to close Alberta strip mining sites and forget about the whole thing.  Wrong way to approach it, guys.  LastTechAge is very sympathetic with the goal, but to do more than feel-good events that satisfy our inner child, we must do more.  Close our own Earth-ripping shale oil extraction sites. Push for new, demanding emission requirements at the refineries.  Set automatic triggering of fines that force pipeline backers (TransCanada and the Koch brothers) to fully compensate every penny of loss for every spill; these fines should be paid – if the companies go bankrupt, the managers should be personally held responsible.  After these easy things are accomplished, U.S. activists could stand with those Canadians who look with horror at their own monster tar sand activities.  Canadian activists are the ones who will make the difference in Canada.   This has been the topic of many of LastTechAge posts about XL,  here, most recently.

XL approval vibes are not good.   Obama might announce his decision this summer (up from this winter/spring).  Because of the freely flowing money, he must be given solid U.S.-based reasons to turn it down.  I suspect those in the US who will personally be enriched are currently optimistic.  I hope that Pres Obama will make the right decisions.

click for other discussions on K-XL

Joe Nocera released another blast against the XL resistance.  In the earlier one,   Nocerea supported the XL build with a wry comment on an interview with James Hansen, an early climate-change scientist whose 1980’s climate data projections were seen in 2008 to be accurate, if a bit too optimistic about our atmosphere’s resistance to change.  In his 2013-Mar04 column, Nocera dropped references to XL and went into direct attack mode against Hansen.  This is a smart move by the weird-Right:  Assassinate the bad-news messenger, all will be happy.

Trolls+Rancid This latest New York Times column was cherry-picked  by another w-R blog with the modified title that called Hansen a Junk Scientist something Nocera never did.   Clearly, the end moves have started in the XL chess game.  The trolls are roaming about the countryside, and the rancid commentators are prancing about their TV stages.   Plenty of money to burn, and the smell of blood is in the water.  


Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2013 Mar 05
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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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