The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Industry

EPA and Prolonging Keystone XL’s Review

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted February 3, 2015

After more than six years of delaying, blocking, sidetracking and goalpost-shifting on the Keystone XL pipeline, the White House clearly knows something about political football – specifically, using all of the above to keep Keystone XL on the drawing board and out of the ground.

It’s not a game to the American workers who’ve seen coveted jobs delayed, nor is it fun for the entire country, in terms of blocked economic stimulus and sidetracked energy security.

Now EPA is tagging in with an out-of-left-field assessment of the State Department’s final environmental review. We say that because State’s environmental report was completed a year ago – making five reviews that all basically said Keystone XL would not significantly impact the environment, climate or otherwise.  

While other involved federal agencies recently weighed in on the pipeline’s importance to U.S. national interests, EPA – at the 13th hour – says current crude oil prices make it important to “revisit” State’s environmental conclusions.


Unfortunately, for an administration that has practically made a badge of honor out of stiff-arming Keystone XL – in the face of bipartisan congressional support and the broad favor of the American people – EPA is simply providing another excuse for the White House to continue doing nothing.  API Executive Vice President Louis Finkel:

“Suggesting that the drop in oil prices requires a re-evaluation of the environmental impact of the project is just another attempt to prolong the KXL review. Keystone XL was put forward when oil was less than $40 a barrel, so price has little impact on the project. … The science behind building the Keystone XL pipeline has been settled five times over. The State Department has concluded the pipeline is safe to build, and it will not have a significant impact on the environment. After initially approving its own environmental review, EPA’s latest change of heart can only be described as politics as usual here in Washington.”

Think about it: After all of the reviews, all of the science, all of the public hearings and all of the debate, EPA now contends that a decision on a $5.4 billion infrastructure project must be held hostage to what’s happening right now in the global crude oil market? Put another way, it appears EPA is saying the Keystone XL decision hinges on whether other countries will freely pump their oil. Sounds like a something written by project opponents.

Beyond that argument, EPA engages in a little fear-mongering on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the pipeline. That stuff always plays well in the press, right? EPA:

The Final SEIS also finds that the incremental greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction, transport, refining and use of the 830,000 barrels per day of oils sands crude that could be transported by the proposed Project at full capacity would result in an additional I .3 to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTC02-e) per year compared to the reference crudes. To put that in perspective, 27.4 MMTC0 2-e per year is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 5.7 million passenger vehicles or 7.8 coal fired power plants. Over the 50-year lifetime of the pipeline, this could translate into releasing as much as 1.37 billion more tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

First, EPA incorrectly says all of the 830,000 barrels per day of oil that Keystone XL would deliver would be Canadian oil sands, when the fact is that figure also includes a significant amount of light crude oil from the U.S. Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana. Then there’s some manipulation of State’s greenhouse gas emissions assessment. Here’s the full quote from the section in the State report that’s referred to by EPA (Volume 3, Chapter 4, Page 4.1-4-5):

The range of incremental GHG emissions (i.e., the amount by which the emissions would be greater than the reference crudes) for crude oil that would be transported by the proposed Project is estimated to be 1.3 to 27.4 MMTCO2e annually. This is equivalent to annual GHG emissions from combusting fuels in approximately 270,833 to 5,708,333 passenger vehicles, the CO2 emissions from combusting fuels used to provide the energy consumed by approximately 64,935 to 1,368,631 homes for 1 year, or the annual CO2 emissions of 0.37 to 7.8 coal fired power plants. (Emphasis added)

The manipulation comes in the omitting of the potential impacts from the lower end of State’s range. When EPA sought to put the numbers “in perspective,” it only used the largest numbers in the range – when in fact the impact could be 95 percent lower.

Some genuine perspective: Even using the high-end emissions number, as EPA did, you’re talking about one-half of 1 percent of emissions from U.S. energy usage over the 50-year lifetime of the pipeline.

EPA leaves out something else important: the relative certainty that things will change, that over a 50-year horizon, technologies will evolve that further reduce emissions. State didn’t overlook it:

The increments presented here are based on lifecycle emission estimates for current or near-term conditions in the world oil market. Over time, however, the GHG emission estimates for fuels derived from both oil sands crude oils and the reference crude oils are likely to change. Since the lifecycle emissions of both WCSB oil sands crudes and reference crudes will change over the design lifetime of the proposed Project, comparisons based on current data will not account for future changes that could alter the differential between oil sands and reference crudes.

In fact, this already is happening. Emissions associated with every barrel of oil sands fell 28 percent between 1990 and 2012, according to Environment Canada 2013.

EPA’s late-to-the-party bid is another unfortunate chapter in the holding action the administration has been employing for more than six years. Finkel:

“After more than six years the time for review is over. We continue to urge President Obama to reconsider his veto threat. All he has to do is look at his own State Department analysis on KXL to see that the project is in our national interest.  It’s time to put good public policy ahead of politics.”


Mark Green joins API after spending 16 years as national editorial writer in the Washington Bureau of The Oklahoman newspaper. In all, he has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, including six years as sports editor at The Washington Times. He lives in Occoquan, Virginia, with his wife Pamela. Mark graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and earned a masters in journalism and public affairs at American University. He's currently working on a masters in history at George Mason University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.

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