WASHINGTON - The much-debated Keystone XL pipeline could produce four times more global warming pollution than the State Department calculated earlier this year, a new study concludes.
The U.S. estimates didn't take into account that the added oil from the pipeline would drop prices by about $3 a barrel, spurring consumption that would create more pollution, the researchers said.
Outside experts not connected to the study gave it mixed reviews. The American Petroleum Institute found the study to be irrelevant because regardless of the pipeline, the tar sands will be developed and oil will be shipped by railroad if not by pipeline, spokeswoman Sabrina Fang said.
The researchers estimate that the proposed pipeline, which would carry oil from tar sands in western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, would increase world greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 121 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.
The department said this year that at most, the pipeline would increase world carbon dioxide emissions by 30 million tons.
Such emissions have been on the mind of President Barack Obama, who has said his administration would allow the pipeline to be built "only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."
The new estimates, from scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute, were published Sunday by the journal Nature Climate Change. Peter Erickson, lead author, said his work implies that the pipeline could basically wipe out reductions from some potential pollution-cutting policies under discussion.
The State Department declined to comment on the research by Erickson and co-author Michael Lazarus.
Lower prices may sound good, but there's no free lunch, said Wesleyan University environmental economist Gary Yohe, who praised the work.
"Lower fuel prices are bad if they don't include all of the social costs," Yohe wrote in an email. "Consumers are happy, but the planet is not necessarily."
An increase of 121 million tons of carbon dioxide is dwarfed by the 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide the world pumped into the air in 2013. That's why University of Sussex economist Richard Tol dismissed the calculated Keystone effect as merely a drop in the bucket. If somebody is concerned about climate change, he wrote in an email, the pipeline "should be the furthest from your mind."
Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington agreed the amount is small, but said the concern is more about the idea of boosting emissions than the degree of change.
Independent energy economist Judith Dwarkin in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, dismissed the study, faulting the idea that added oil production will lower the price and boost demand. Usually, she said, it's consumption that spurs price and then oil production.
Nature Climate Change: http://www.nature.com/nclimate
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears
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In September, the Dalai Lama was one of nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates who sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging him "to say 'no' to the plan proposed by the Canadian-based company TransCanada to build the Keystone XL, and to turn [his] attention back to supporting renewable sources of energy and clean transportation solutions."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was among a group of Nobel Peace Prize laureates who signed letters to both U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging the men to stop the Keystone pipeline.
Gore has said it is essential to stop the Keystone pipeline because the tar sands oil it would carry is "the dirtiest source of fuel on the planet."
Actor and environmentalist Robert Redford recently added his name to the list of prominent individuals who are calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. In a video for The New York Times, produced with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Redford described the negative aspects of the proposed tar sands pipeline and said, "By deepening our reliance on oil, the pipeline would be a job killer." Redford has previously been vocal about calling for alternatives to oil. Writing last month for HuffPost, he said, "Let's build the next generation of energy efficient cars, homes and workplaces. Let's develop wind, solar and other cleaner, safer, more sustainable sources of power and fuel. Let's invest in high-speed rail and smart communities that give us better transportation options."
Actor Mark Ruffalo, famous for films like "The Kids Are All Right" and "Zodiac," is also an outspoken activist and opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. Ruffalo said in a video for the Tar Sands Action group, "I've seen the kind of damage that out-of-control energy development can do to water and to communities near my own home, where fracking for natural gas is causing widespread pollution ... All these problems are connected -- we need to get off fossil fuels." In the past, Ruffalo has also expressed his ire for hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction, or fracking. He told The Huffington Post, "The world is already leaving us behind. We're being left behind. America. Because the gas and oil industry has a strangle hold on us. And our politicians."
Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben has expressed strong disapproval for the planned Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, he was one of the first of over 1,200 who were arrested at the Tar Sands Action sit-in at the White House in August. Referring to his opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, McKibben told HuffPost, "The people who've carried this fight for three years are indigenous people on both sides of the border who have a huge stake in it because it's on their land, and farmers and ranchers from places like Nebraska," he said. He added, "It wasn't until I sat down and read Jim Hansen's analysis of how much carbon was in those things that I understood that this was not just a national issue, it's a global issue of the first order."
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, known for her role as Elaine on the popular sitcom "Seinfeld," has released a video urging President Obama to reject the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Dreyfus recalls when Obama said "Let us be the generation that ends the tyranny of oil." But she says, "Big Oil is still pretty much running the show." She claims that by rejecting the pipeline, Obama has a chance to "make good on [his] word." Louis-Dreyfus asks Obama, "Denying the permit for a brutally stupid, money-grab like the Keystone XL pipeline is a no-brainer, right Mr President?"
Actress Daryl Hannah has also lent her voice to the movement against the Keystone XL pipeline. In August, Hannah was one of the over 1,200 people to be arrested as an act of civil disobedience in front of the White House. Shouting "no to the Keystone pipeline" as she was handcuffed, Hannah made it clear she opposed the proposed Canada to Texas pipeline.
Maude Barlow, a Canadian author and activist and chairperson of The Council of Canadians, was arrested in September at a Keystone pipeline and oil sands protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. She was one of over 100 protesters of the demonstration's estimated 400 to be arrested. Writing for HuffPost Canada about her first experience being arrested, Barlow blogged, "I did it because I fear we are killing the planet and I can no longer be content to only write and speak about it. Today my feet spoke for me as I crossed that barricade and took away one more fear in my life." She also said, "By investing trillions of dollars into these pipelines, governments and the energy industry are ensuring the continued rapid acceleration of tar sands development, instead of supporting a process to move to an alternative and sustainable energy system."
Kyra Sedgwick, star of the television crime drama "The Closer," has voiced her opposition to the pipeline. In a video for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sedgwick said "Just like the BP oil spill, one glitch in the tar sands pipeline could destroy our clean water sources, possibly forever."
Joining several other prominent actors, David Strathairn appeared in a video urging President Obama to reject the Keystone Pipeline. He calls on his fellow Americans to join the November 6 Tar Sands Action in Washington, D.C. Strathairn, who is known for his portrayal of journalist Edward R. Murrow in "Good Night, and Good Luck," said, "Obama ran for office speaking of the dangers of our fossil fuel addiction, promising to fight climate change and fully embrace a clean energy future. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a dangerous step away from that commitment."