|September 24, 2015|
Hillary Clinton opposes Keystone, but other pipelines have forged ahead
|At a campaign stop in Iowa on Tuesday, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton broke her silence on where she stands on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline: "I oppose it because I don't think it's in the best interest of what we need to do to combat climate change." |
But while politicians have been dithering over the increasingly unpopular Keystone XL, international tar sands development and other carbon-intensive pipeline projects have been charging ahead.
And if Keystone XL were approved by a future president, its 800,000-barrel-per-day capacity would complete the fourth and final phase of TransCanada's international Keystone Pipeline System, which already consists of almost 3,000 miles of operating pipeline, built over the last five years.
But that's far from the only controversial crude oil project TransCanada has been working on while Keystone XL has made its way through Congress.
One way TransCanada might get around what Clinton called the Keystone "distraction" and pump more tar sands crude into the US might be the Upland pipeline, which the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has termed a "mini Keystone". In On Earth magazine this month, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) policy consultant Joshua Axelrod expressed concern that Upland "has more to do with crossing the border than building this particular pipeline".
In April, the Canadian energy company submitted an application for a new Presidential Permit to authorize the construction and operation of 240 miles of cross-border pipeline. The Upland Pipeline Project would connect the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to an area near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. The company said that the pipeline would allow 300,000 barrels of crude from the Bakken oil fields to reach "transportation connection points" in Canada.
While it is not Upland's stated purpose, opponents cite the likelihood that the pipeline would eventually be used to transport heavy crude from Canada into the US.
"Right now, the tar sands industry has reached its growth limit in terms of pipeline capacity," said NRDC attorney Anthony Swift. "They need new cross-border capacity, either to get tar sands into the US, or into an international market."
While Keystone XL might have been the "marquee pipeline project", Swift said, a line should be drawn in front of all tar sands projects, since the G8 commitment requires the US to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. "Tar sands are so much more carbon intensive than conventional crude, and tar sands projects produce for far longer than conventional oil fields," said Swift. "That's a real problem if we're committed to reduce carbon emissions by 80% in the next 35 years."
During the comment period last month, the NRDC, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity all requested that the State Department reject the pipeline proposal on the grounds that it does not make sense. Critics of the Upland project say that because it is dependent on the hotly opposed Energy East pipeline going forward and because there is no desire from North Dakota producers to move their crude by pipeline, it seems that TransCanada is likely playing the long game. "It doesn't make a lot of sense even if Energy East moves forward," said Swift.
They cite the fact that Bakken crude is expected to peak in the next decade, removing the need for a pipe to pump a nonexistent product to market in Canada. The project would also only make sense pending the approval of the proposed Energy East pipeline, which is facing steep opposition from political groups as well as the tribal groups whose land it would need to pass through.
Lena Moffitt, director of the Dirty Fuels Initiative at the Sierra Club, told the Guardian that "there is no demonstrated need" for the Upland pipeline, as North Dakota producers prefer the flexibility of shipping crude overland.
What tar sands producers like TransCanada do need, however, is more routes into the US market.
"To be frank, any attempt by TransCanada (or any company) to increase trans-border capacity is disconcerting," said Moffitt. "We've seen companies like Enbridge use what we think is a really shady tactic to 'repurpose' pipelines by reversing their direction."
The Sierra Club and other opposition groups believe that TransCanada could down the line get the permits to reverse the flow and turn it into a tar sands pipeline. TransCanada did not reply to a request for comment by press time.
The groups said a precedent had been set for tar sands producers to stretch the bounds of the initial presidential permit.
Canadian oil and gas conglomerate Enbridge, for example, is also attempting to double the number of gallons pumped along its Alberta Clipper pipeline, opened in 2010, to 880,000 barrels per day.
The Sierra Club is challenging Enbridge's expansion of the Alberta Clipper project, which Moffitt describes as illegal: "Under the guise of refurbishing, they've just put in a new line."
Moffitt said that Clinton's announcement on Tuesday is "huge", because it opens the door for reconsidering future infrastructure projects -- particularly tar sands -- in the context of US climate change commitments. "Seeing politicians citing the impacts of a project on climate is precedent-setting," said Moffitt. "There's no question that moving forward we need leaders to apply a climate test to major infrastructure projects."
If Clinton's position is consistent, Moffitt said, the next logical step would be to declare opposition to all tar sands projects. "If we're going to get serious about addressing climate change, we're going to have to view all energy infrastructures through the lens of climate change."
While Keystone might have stalled out, miles of pipe were dropped in fields across the US, before Transcanada had begun the environmental review process. While that pipe will likely be gathered up and repurposed by the corporation, said Swift, "all the pipe that was built before it was approved is a landmark to the company's hubris" -- a sign that the company is not likely to give up on tar sands any time soon.