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US says Keystone pipeline won’t affect the climate because the oil will get burned no matter what

AP/Ann Heisenfelt
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is arrested in front of the White House on Feb. 13, 2013, for protesting against the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
By Christopher Mims
USAPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Whether or not President Barack Obama decides to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which is controversial with environmentalists, doesn’t matter, concludes a new report from the US Department of State. The reason is straightforward: Even without the pipeline, the tar sands oil of Canada—the extraction of which leads to the emission of substantially more greenhouse gases than other sources of oil—will be burned by someone, somewhere. It could be that it will be sold on the global market, notes the report, or perhaps it will be shipped via America’s remarkably efficient rail system for cargo.

Here’s the relevant quote from the report, emphasis added.

Based on information and analysis about the North American crude transport infrastructure (particularly the proven ability of rail to transport substantial quantities of crude oil profitably under current market conditions, and to add capacity relatively rapidly) and the global crude oil market, the draft Supplemental EIS concludes that approval or denial of the proposed Project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands, or on the amount of heavy crude oil refined in the Gulf Coast area.

If construction of the Keystone pipeline were barred, authors of the report estimate that by 2030, Canadian oil sands production would be only 2% to 4% lower than if it were allowed to go forward. The results of this report are bound to be controversial—even members of Canada’s own tar sands industry have said that without Keystone, they will be unable to get their oil to market, significantly reducing production of Alberta’s tar sands.

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