The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Industry

Coming Clean: The President and ‘Dirty’ Keystone XL Oil

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted March 9, 2015

Apparently not content with the four Pinocchios he recently earned from the Washington Post for statements on the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama last week put in a bid for five with remarks aimed at the project’s environmental impact.

At an appearance in South Carolina, the president termed “extraordinarily dirty” the methods used to develop Canadian oil sands:

“The reason that a lot of environmentalists are concerned about it is the way that you get the oil out in Canada is an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil, and obviously there are always risks in piping a lot of oil through Nebraska farmland and other parts of the country.”

First, after more than six years of review by his administration, the president really should take the time to read the U.S. State Department’s environmental review of Keystone XL  – the latest of five that all have cleared the pipeline on environmental grounds. As well, energy consulting firm IHS found that Keystone XL and the oil sands it would deliver would have “no material impact” on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

One other point before we tackle the “dirty oil” claim. President Obama is still talking as though he doesn’t realize that up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day delivered by Keystone XL would come from the U.S. Bakken region in the Upper Midwest, mischaracterizing the pipeline as benefiting only Canada. This is simply not so.

Now the president’s “dirty oil” smear. Take a look at this graphic from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers:


As you can see, in terms of full-cycle – wells to wheels – greenhouse gas emissions Canadian oil sands is comparable to other heavy crudes (which are the crudes that would be displaced by Canadian imports) and a number of California crudes. This also is reflected in data compiled by the California Air Resources Board.

According to the Environment Canada 2014 report, between 1990 and 2012, greenhouse gas emissions associated with every produced barrel of oil sands crude were reduced 28 percent. Same report: Oil sands account for 8.7 percent of Canada’s emissions and about 0.13 percent of global emissions.

Like his other errant claims on Keystone XL, the president misses the mark on this one as well. Now, let’s see if the Post’s FactChecker takes notice. He’s gonna need more Pinocchios.


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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