Analysis of Keystone XL Pipeline Issue and Role of Human Activities in Inducing Climate Change

Analysis of Keystone XL Pipeline Issue and Role of Human Activities in Inducing Climate Change

Q. “The Keystone XL pipeline has been approved by the US Senate in a clear denial of the role of human activity for causing climate change” Explore the Keystone XL pipeline issue in this context and examine role of human activties in inducing climate change.

A. Keystone XL Pipeline Issue

• Passage of Keystone XL Pipeline Bill is the Republican Agenda in the US Senate
• January 27, 2015: US Senate Manages 53 votes in its favour, 7 less than 60 vote threshold to limit debate
• January 29, 2015: Keystone XL Pipeline Bill is passed by US Senate


• 1,900 km long Keystone XL pipeline
• Transporting 830,000 barrels of oil in a day from the Alberta, Canada oil sands to Nebraska
• Mining and turning tar sands into oil carbon-intensive and highly damaging for global warming

Republican Position

• Senate showing some signs of believing climate change is for real
• US Senate and clear Republican denial of human activities as a tipping point for inducing climate change
• Majority of senators held that humans are responsible for climate change yet 2 crucial amendements failed to across the 60 vote threshold
• However, clear Republican rejection of man made climate change in recent vote for Keystone XL Pipeline Bill
• Earth on track to become warmer by 3.6% celsius, according to Internatinal Energy Agency; above 2% goal of limiting increase in global average surface temperature to 2 degree celsius above the pre-industrial level
• 62-36 vote by Senate to amend the bill is likely to receive a Presidential veto

1. Republicans Versus Democrats and Environmentalists

• 875 mile pipeline will carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to US State of Nebraska for joining pipes running to Texas
• White House said the President will veto the bill
• Legislation would undermine well established review processes
• Some Democrats even voted for the project
• Congress needs two-thirds of each Chamber to bypass the presidential veto
• Project has pitted Republicans and other supporters against Democrats and environmentalists

2. Environmental Conservation Versus Job Creation

• Republicans say pipeline will:
• Create much needed jobs (total of 42,000 jobs in the US)
• Have little to no impact on the environment
• Democrats and environmentalists say pipeline will:
• Add to GHG emissions
• Contribute to global warming

3. Democratic Oppostion

• Democrats had said the amendement process had been initiated to ensure energy efficiency measures and acknowledge climate change is for real
• They say oil pipeline to benefit Candian oil firms and not help dropping petrol prices

4. Involvement of State Department

• State department is involved as the pipeline will cross international borders
• Keystone XL pipeline will carry around 830,000 barrels of heavy crude per day from Alberta fields to Nebraska
• Oil will be transported on existing pipes to refineries in Texas

5. Keystone XL Pipeline: Key Points

• The Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed 1,179 mile/1897 km pipeline running from oil sands in Alberta, Canada to Nebraskan Steele City
• The pipeline has the same place of origin and final destination as an operational pipe and it was granted presidential permit in 2008 by President Bush, yet it takes a more direct route
• Pipeline will allow increased supply of oil from Canada
• Sector running south from Cushing to the Gulf commenced operations in January 2014; additional refineries and ports from which oil can be exported were added
• Pipeline to be privately financed project with cost of construction shared between:
• TransCanada, energy company based in Calgary
• Other oil shippers
• To a lesser degree, US produced oil will be transported by the Keystone XL pipeline as against Canada

6. Pipeline Benefits

• Canada has 550,000 barrels of oil per day which it sends via existing Keystone Pipeline
• Oil fields in Alberta are landlocked and further developed, they need means of access to international markets; North American refineries are based in the Gulf Coast
• Pipeline gives both access to international markets
• Increased oil supply from Canada means less dependency on Middle East markets; more oil=lower price for customers
• Infrastructure project to create 42,000 jobs over 2 year period, according to US State Department estimates and 35 of these will remain following the construction of the pipeline
• Canadian National Energy Board approves Keystone XL pipeline in March 2010 and the project also needs presidential permit before construction

7. EPA Disapproval

• The Environment Protection Agency has encouraged the President to not approve the pipelinene
• Environmental assessment by this agency not in favour of the pipeline

8. Controversial Pipeline Project-Negatives

i. Hurting the Environment

• US State Deparrtment indicated Keystone XL will not impact the environment adversely in a significant manner
• Same department determined TransCanada would need to use alternate path to Nebraska as the Sandhills is a fragile ecosystem
• A push to move away from renewable sources of energy and towards fossil fuels is evident; the amount of oil produced in Northern Alberta is to double by 2030 according to projections

ii. Less Energy Efficient, More Damaging

• More energy needed to extract oil from Alberta oil sands than via traditional drilling
• Environment Canada says industry chemicals are seeping into the ground and water bodies as a result of the pipeline

iii. Risk to Local Communities

• Group called Cowboy-Indian Alliance cited destruction of local environments and indigenous communities as a result of this pipeline
• First Nations groups have also sued the government for damages to the environment resulting from oil sands development
• This includes rights to hunt, trap and fish on indigenous lands

B. Role of Human Activities in Inducing Climate Change

1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Support

• Current warming trends likely human induced and proceeding at rate unprecedented in last 1,300 years
• Big picture available on global warming; considerable proof of climate change on global scale

2. NASA Studies

• Heat trapping nature of CO2 and other gases were shown scientifically: NASA
• Ice cores from Greenland, Antartica and tropical mountain glaciers show harmful impact of GHG emissions
• Large changes in climate over just decades, not millions or thousands of years
• Countries like the Republic of Maldives are vulnerable to rise in sea level (NASA)

3. Rise in Global Sea Level

• Global sea level rose around 17 centimeters/6.7 inches in the previous century
• Rate in the previous decade is nearly double of the last century (CSIRO, 2006)

4. Rise in Global Temperatures

• 3 major global surface temperature projections indicate earth has warmed since 1880 (GISS, NASA)
• This indicates that industrial development has a major role to play in global warming
• Most warming occured since 1970s
• 20 warmest years occuring during the period since 1981
• 10 warmest years in past 12 years (NASA)
• Through the 2000s, solar output decline caused deep solar minimum in the years between 2007-2009, causing surface temperature to increase (NASA)

5. Rise in Ocean Warming

• Oceans have absorbed increased heat, top 700 metres of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees F since 1969 (NASA 2009)
• Increase in meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet

6. Decrease in Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheet Mass

• NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment has shown that:
• Between 2002 and 2006: Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers or around 36 to 60 cubic miles
• Between 2002 and 2005: Antarctica lost 152 cubic kilometers/36 cubic miles

7. Deline in Arctic Sea Ice

• Extent and thickness of the sea ice have fallen in past decades (NSIDC, 2009)

8. Glacial Retreat and Extreme Events

• Glaciers are retreating in, as per data by NASA : Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, Africa
• National Ocean Atmospheric Association (NOAA) as estimated record low temperature events on the rise since 1950s.

9. Dereased Snow Cover and Ocean Acidification

• Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, acidity of surface ocean waters has risen by 30% (NOAA, NASA)
• Increase is the consequence of more release of CO2 into the atmosphere; more is being absorbed into the oceans
• Amount of carbon dioxide trapped by upper ocean layers is rising at 2 billion tons per year (Copenhagen Diagnosis, NASA)
• Satellite observations show spring snow cover in Northern Hemisphere on the decrease in past 50 years

10. Role of Humans in Greenhouse Effect

Climate scientists hold that main cause of present global warming is human expansion of the greenhouse effect

• Methane
Carbon Dioxide: Most common industrial effluent
Nitrous Oxide: Powerful GHG produced by soil cultivation practices such as commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion and burning of biomass material
Chlorofluorocarbons: Synthetic compounds of industrial origin regulated in production and release to atmosphere by global agreement for ability to damage Ozone layer
Global Warming: This is warming that results when atmosphere traps heat radiation from earth to outer space
• Gases in the atmosphere block heat; gases in semi-permanent state in the atmosphere do not respond to changes in temperature and they are forcing climate change
• Clearing of land for agriculture, industry and other human activities have increased GHG emissions (NASA)

11. Fourth Assessment Report. IPCC

• 1,300 scientfic experts have concluded more than 90% probability that human activities over the past 250 years have contributed to global warming
• Industrial activities have raised atmospheric carbon dixoide levels from 280 to 379 parts per million in the past 150 years
• Rate of increase in global warming is unprecedented within past 10,000 years or more

12. Countering Critics

Several investigations have proved that current global warming cannot result from changes in the energy of the sun:

• Since 1750, average amount of energy from the sun has remained constant or increased slightly
• Warming caused by more active sun would have led to warmer temperatures in all atmospheric layers; instead warming is at the surface and in lower parts of the atmosphere
• Climate models including solar irradiance cannot produce the current temperature trend without factoring in rise in GHG emissions


• This project has many economic advantages associated with it. However, disparity exists even within the State Department's assessment of the environmental risk posed by this project. Moreover, it is also been supported by other organisations as well.

• The Keystone XL Pipeline Project is also under dispute as it has politically divided the US senate. The real debate is between man made climate change believers and sceptics.

• The real issue behind accepting man made climate change is to understand the truth behind development sans responsibility. Economic activity cannot be mindlessly carried out; environmental regulations form a major part of it.

• Fast tracking environmental clearances does not ensure all around sustainable development unless it is carried out with responsibility. The right-wing argument is that the State Department report points to monetary benefits and job creation with little, no impact on the environment.

• Yet independent agencies have spoken out against this and there are complexities within the report itself which can only be worked out if there is open assessment of the risks involved.

• Transparency in granting environmental regulations and clearances would help in such cases. Moreover, the push is now towards renewable energy. By approving the Keystone XL Pipeline project, the Republicans are pushing the US back into the Dark Ages where fossil fuels reigned supreme.

• Hopefully, sense will prevail and environmental clearances will be granted with responsibility in the US and elsewhere. After all, if one of the world's most advanced nations does not set a precedent for others, then the trend towards the use of renewable energy will remain just that, instead of an established process.

• Voices of common man and ecology experts should reach the policymakers before it is too late. In fact, if some experts are to be believed, global warming has already reached a point of no return.
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