Study: Keystone's climate impact would be 4 times greater than feds claim

The State Department's analysis of the proposed pipeline left out one major factor, researchers say

Published August 11, 2014 2:39PM (EDT)

    (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

The State Department, in concluding that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly contribute to climate change, left out one important factor, researchers say -- and it could mean that we're talking about a lot more climate change-causing emissions than we thought.

By increasing the availability of oil, a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found, the pipeline would decrease the price per barrel by about $3. That comes with a major downside: it would also cause the amount of greenhouse gas emissions to quadruple from what the government estimated, resulting in 121 million added tons of carbon dioxide pollution. According to lead author Peter Erickson, "his work implies that the pipeline could basically wipe out reductions from some potential pollution-cutting policies under discussion."

Reactions have varied to the findings, the Associated Press reports. The State Department has yet to respond, while American Petroleum Institute dismissed them entirely, arguing, as it has in the past, that the Alberta's tar sands oil is going to find a way out of the ground one way or another. Outside experts emphasized that the extra greenhouse gas emissions still aren't particularly significant, compared to the 36 billion tons of CO2 emitted worldwide in 2013. Still, they argued, it ups the symbolic stakes: How can a government that claims to be committed to cutting carbon pollution turn around and allow something that will do precisely the opposite?

President Obama famously said that he'll approve the pipeline "only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." That said contribution could end up being four times higher than the number he was working with, and end up undermining some of his other hard-won victories, may be at least worth considering.

By Lindsay Abrams

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