08/30/2013 03:34 EDT | Updated 08/30/2013 04:00 EDT

Keystone XL Pipeline Will Be Like 51 New Coal-Fired Power Plants: Report

Environmental activists march through midtown protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, May 13, 2013 in New York. The group marched from Bryant Park through midtown to rally outside the Waldorf Astoria hotel where President Obama was attending a fundraiser. AFP PHOTO/Don Emmert (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline will increase carbon emissions by the equivalent of 51 coal-fired power plants or 37 million new cars on the road, says a new report from a coalition of environmental groups.

In a twist to the ongoing battle over the controversial project, the groups’ report — titled simply “Fail” — uses the industry’s own arguments to cast the pipeline as a major enabler of pollution.

President Obama’s long-awaited decision on the pipeline “is so important precisely because it has critical implications for the rate at which tar sands are extracted,” the report said, estimating that Keystone's approval would increase oil sands production by 36 per cent.

“If Canadian heavy [crude oil] is forced out to the world market, this will encourage more tar sands development, and release more climate-disrupting pollution,” the report said.

It estimates that Keystone XL would increase carbon emissions by 181 million tonnes per year — or the equivalent of roughly a quarter of Canada's current carbon emissions, which stand at around 700 million tonnes.

The report contradicts a U.S. State Department study released earlier this year that said Keystone XL would have no significant impact on emissions, largely because oil that isn’t carried by Keystone would end up getting to market by other means.

But the green groups behind the report — which include the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the National Wildlife Federation — cite data from financial analysts and Keystone backers to argue the pipeline would increase emissions by allowing increased production.

They cite a report from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) stating that if the only pipeline projects to go ahead were the ones already built or under construction, oil sands production would be 2.5 million barrels less per day by 2030 than it would have been with new pipelines.

The report quotes a TD Bank report which declared that “production growth cannot occur unless some of the planned pipeline projects out of [Western Canada] go ahead.”

That's music to the report authors' ears, who say that not only should Keystone be halted — so should the development of all new fossil fuel infrastructure.

They cite earlier environmental reports that argued any further development would make it impossible for the world to keep carbon-caused global warming to within two degrees celsius.

TransCanada Corp., Keystone’s builder, rejected the report’s findings out of hand.

The people who are credited with preparing and reviewing it are paid professional activists who continue to distort and mislead the public about this pipeline,” spokesman Shawn Howard told the Globe and Mail in an email.

CAPP also responded, telling the Globe that Keystone “is not about whether the U.S. should use oil. It is about where that oil comes from. And the responsible choice is Canada.”

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