WASHINGTON - For five years, the struggle over the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline dominated US and Canadian energy politics. When President Obama finally rejected the project last fall, he was able to start a new chapter with recently elected Prime Minister Trudeau, who seemed eager to move past the toxic politics of his predecessor, Stephen Harper.
Interesting argument, but maybe it’s time for a dose of realism. First, keeping oil in the ground: It’s going to happen, but not for many years. The best we can hope for is that by 2050 we will have reduced our dependence on fossil fuels by a substantial amount, and overall carbon emissions by as much as 80%–essentially what the G8 countries already agreed to, though the Paris Agreement only promised a global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible.”
Second, oil has a way of finding its way to the market regardless of political and technical barriers. What this means for the Canadian tar sands is that a failure to build pipelines will in the short run result in a substantial increase of shipments by rail, a far more dangerous method of transport (for confirmation, see Lac Megantic).
Third, political forces are already at work trying to put a “cap” on tar sands production, including the Alberta government which is capping emissions from the sands at 100 megatonnes a year (compared to 70 megatonnes at present). And that’s from a new and relatively progressive (NDP) government, who clearly understand that you can’t simply “turn off the taps.”
Fourth and finally, the best question to ask if you are really going to make a difference is: which pipeline route is the least environmentally damaging? In my view, the answer is the pipeline which avoids taking unrefined bitumen to tidewater and risking the much greater catastrophe which will occur if there is a major spillage near the coasts. At present, no pipeline proposal fits that bill, but opposition by environmental and aboriginal groups, as well as decisions by the federal government to re-vamp the EIA process, can provide a solution to this dilemma, e.g. by increasing inland refining capacity, agreeing to ship only final product, focusing on domestic, not international, markets for that product; and by insisting that tar sands producers improve efficiency and reduce per barrel emissions as a precondition of pipeline approval.
“Keeping it in the ground” is a nice rallying cry, but it’s unlikely to win the day.
The atmospheric level of greenhouse gases is already over 400 ppm.There is no possible industrial physical process that can be installed to reduce it back to 350 ppm. That proposal erodes the credibility of those aiming to do something about climate change. In addition, grave transportation problems will emerge when oil usage inevitably declines as land, sea and air vehicles use liquid fuels at a high rate.