The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Study: Keystone XL Will Have 'No Material Impact' on Emissions

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted August 9, 2013

IHS CERA’s new environmental assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline and pipeline-related oil sands development sends a pretty clear message to President Obama as he decides whether to approve the full project’s construction: There’s not a climate rationale for rejecting the pipeline – and along with it, tens of thousands of U.S. jobs, economic uplift and greater energy security.

While the IHS report no doubt will have little effect on pipeline opponents – less than 15 percent of Americans in this recent survey – it should get the attention of the president, who has said the Keystone XL should be built only if it would serve the national interest and not “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”


We’ve made the affirmative national interest case for the full Keystone XL a number of times (see here and here). But with the new IHS analysis, the president now has five environmental assessments on the pipeline, and they’re all saying pretty much the same thing: The pipeline and oil sands development won’t have much effect along the project route or on climate. IHS:

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would have “no material impact” on U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions …

And the State Department – a total of four assessments, including the most recent in March:

“… there would be no substantive change in global GHG emissions.”

The IHS study – like State’s assessment – concludes that oil sands development will grow with or without the Keystone XL. Key findings:

  • With or without oil sands supply to U.S. Gulf Coast refiners via the Keystone XL, those refiners will continue processing heavy crude oils – at facilities that are second to none in the world in the ability to process those crudes in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.
  • Thus, the Keystone XL decision is a decision about where those heavy crudes come from – neighbor and ally Canada or other sources. IHS said if the Keystone XL is rejected by the president the chief beneficiary will be Venezuela.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from heavy Venezuelan crude are in the same GHG intensity range as oil sands.
  • Oil sands crude will get to market – as Gary Doer, Canada’s U.S. ambassador has said – with or without the Keystone XL. Rail already has helped the market balance supply and export capacity. IHS expects rail shipments of oil sands to double this year and increase to about 360,000 barrels per day by the end of 2014.


"Given sufficient investment, our view is that the economics for moving heavy oil sands crude by rail could improve further, even approaching pipeline economics. Consequently, even without the Keystone XL pipeline, we believe that oil sands production would grow at a similar rate. Therefore (greenhouse gas) emissions will be unaffected by the fate of Keystone XL.”

The Keystone XL’s effects on the environment and climate have been raised, discussed and thoroughly analyzed. The analytical conclusions are remarkably consistent – “no material impact,” as IHS CERA puts it. The finding is definitive and should be decisive in the president granting the Keystone XL the go-ahead.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.