Sunday, March 3, 2013

State Department Mostly Correct About Canadian Pipeline

I do not like going against a "party line" consensus on politically hot environmental issues, but I am one who takes seriously science, a matter now in dispute since creationists are now playing the "religious freedom" card in trying to support creationist teachers in public high schools. No, I am not going to deal with that issue in this post,  but I want to make clear to the deluded supporters of Bill McKibben on the pipeline issue that if they wish to consistently and honestly stand up to these frauds pushing this distorted First Amendment line they must take their science seriously.

I am sympathetic with close personal friends who participated in the demos in DC on this recently.  But, facts are facts, and in the end I think the most recent State Department report is mosly factually correct folks, the State Department draft statement on the XL pipeline looks to me to be the straight stuff, a serious study by reasonably knowledgeable people not personally or institutionally being paid off by oil or coal companies or anybody else, indeed going against the a priori views of their new boss at State, Kerry.  So, this is not corrupted bs, but serious studies done before the capability for such studies is degraded by the disgusting sequester.  It is for real, and, sorry my enviro friends, but this is like Alar.  Anybody in the longer run supporting McKibben will simply look foolish, like those who freaked out about Alar.  It is seriously unfortunate that so many serious environmentalistests (and partisan Dems) got themselves so worked up about this big nothing of an issue.

Bottom line: Right wingers and AFL-CIO whining about jobs are wildly exaggerating.  A couple thousand jobs maybe for the next 2 years in construction, after that less than 100 in the long run. 
Gag, this is a big deal?   Sorry that the union movement in the US has sunk this low. And on the other side, nearly zero CO2 is involved in this decision, one way or the other.  A big nothing in the end, all the way around, despite the hyperventilations emitted on both sides.

For environmentaists, get real. The US has 55,000 miles of crude oil pipelines and 95,000 mile of refined products pipelines.  The XL project involves less than 2000 miles, and half of it is already approved and being built (south of Cushing, OK, actual site of where "Mid-Texas crude oil prices" are determend).  If this is turned down, well, either the Canadians will build to the Pacific or the East Coast, although at higher cost either way, but anybody who thinks those wannabe Texans in Alberta will be deterred by a negative ruling from the US is not fully aware of reality. 

No, folks, saying no to XL will not prevent the tar sands of Alberta from being dug up and burned.  In fact, I wish they would not be, but the State Dept report very realistically recognizes that we have no authority to tell the Canadians what to do, and while the Albertans may be running around in ridiculous cowboy hats (and they do), the long history of US violations of international treaties with Canada on environmental issues puts us in a position of not being able to remotely open our mouths to them on this issue in any way.

 Even within the US, given our massive existing set of pipelines, this is simply not a big deal.  We are already seeing it.  There were legitimate complaints raised about dangers to the underground water in the Sand Hill region of Nebraska.  TransCanada revised their plan reducing the exposure of their line the sensitive water areas to a 10-mile line of possible underground water pollution in a rural area.  OK.  So maybe we could reduce this to zero, but this is getting down to a very small area to hold up a massively backed project, the alternatives to which will be much more expensive for the whole world economy, but which will happen anyway even if this project is not approved. 

I suspect that strongly pro-dealing-with-global-warming new SecState John Kerry will, after the next half year of comments, eventually support this very dirty deal.  And unless something I am not expecting shows up to show that this is much worse than it appears, I shall strongly support what I expect will be his decision to agree with the carefully done (if still mildly flawed) decision to agree to letting TransCanada support this pipeline.  There will be later opps to deal with this seriously, and they will involve Kerry talking privately and fundamentally with the Chinese.

The real bottom line is that I have been very frustrated by this whole discussion. Both sides have made a stupid big whup about this, but, frankly the whole debate has been a pathetic joke given that on both sides very few jobs or CO2 emissions are involved (For those of you who do not know what "epsilon" is, well, that is what the late and famously eccentric and brilliant mathematician, Paul Erdos, used to call children, including to my face, me quite a few decades ago).

16 comments:

chrismealy said...

You'll let us know what we are supposed to care about then?

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

There are many environmental issues to care about. Somehow or other this penny ante pipeline got picked up by not very well informed environmentalists and turned into this big global warming issue. Global warming is indeed the most important world issue facing us, and it shows up in many ways.

But this case was ridiculously exaggerated to the point of embarrassing the entire world environmental movement. I do not know fully who was behind this idiotic and ignorant fiasco, but whoever it was should not in the future be taken remotely seriously. It looks like it was probably McKibben, but I am not sure. If indeed it was him, he should step down, resign, and shut the fuck up in the future. Really.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Look, folks. This is one of the most important issues in the world. This means that if those running the politics are a bunch of irresponsible ignorant egomaniacal fools (and, yes, leading the world movement on this can lead one into wrongful falsehoods), they should be removed and sent as far away as possible.

It looks like McKibben is the ignorant egomaniac who had led the world environmental movement into this sinkhole. If is not him, please somebody say who it is. It is him; he should resign, apologize, and shut the fuck up in the future.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Apologize about the duplicate comment. And, I personally respect Bill McKibben, who has put lots of effort into fighting global warming. I am sorry he got himself so worked up about this ultimatly unimportant issue.

Bill H aka run75441 said...

Hi Dr. Rosser:

Just a dumb question; why would we place more capacity and oil in one of the more sensitive ecological areas when it comes to hurricanes and associated weather solely for exportation?

I believe Canada remains the #1 supplier of oil (even though bitumen) having taken over from the Sauidis years ago. Maybe, we should be looking for a better solution than the Gulf region of the US and keep their oil in the US.

Peter Dorman said...

Barkley, I'll leave it to others to argue the pipeline itself. Just one small detail: you seem to have bought into the "Alar scare" meme. Alar may have been overblown, but the scaremongers were more right than wrong, and the apple industry has done just fine in the decades after the ban. For a blow-by-blow, see PR Watch: http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/1997Q2/alar.html

There's also an analysis by the Environmental Working Group (a source well worth knowing), but they seem to be offline as I write this.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Peter,

Maybe you are right about Alar.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

I will add that yesterday's WaPo published a story that TransCanada is starting to ship their stuff by rail. Already over 60% of what leaves North Dakota goes by rail, with only 27% by pipeline. The idea that killing XL is going to stop tar sands development in Alberta is simply false. They will not bother buidling pipelines to either coast, they'll just ship it by rail, although that will slow things down a bit.

The real irony is that this will be somewhat more expensive than a pipeline. Unfortunately, that direct expense will be accompanied by indirect extra environmental expense, burning fuel on trains is more environmentally damaging than pumping it through pipelines. So, given that the tar sands are going to be developed and sent through the US (the rail lines cannot be blocked), in fact in the end the XL Keystone pipeline will be better for the environment than the most likely alternative.

Bill H aka run75441 said...

Dr Rosser:

With all due respect, there are already two pipelines going to the west coast to Vancouver and a US city. Each city has ports.

Enbridge (pipeline system) Losing Bakken Oil Business to Railroads, Refiner Says; http://www.1derrick.com/rail-preferred-for-bakken-oil-enbridge-pipelines-underused/5583/ Bloomberg Maybe I am missing your point; but, this sounds more like competition. Pipelines have been underutilized for some time now.

john c. halasz said...

Sorry Barkley, this is one of the dumbest comments you ever wrote.

In the first place, the "State Dept" report was outsourced, in typical neo-liberal fashion to energy consulting firms:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/06/keystone-xl-report-oil-consultants

Even if you dismiss any overt bias or corruption, the issue of "cognitive regulatory capture" arises, as the authors routinely take up the industries POV.

john c. halasz said...

In the second place, the report uses rail cost from the ND shale oil and simply extrapolates from them to the (unbuilt) Alberta case. There is, indeed, a pipeline bottle-neck, given increased U.S. oil production, which accounts for the discrepancy between the WTI (domestic) and the Brent (international) price, which is why shipping by rail from ND is viable, since getting it to the east coast where imports prevail is marginally more profitable. But the ND oil is light sweet crude. And it has crowded out tar sands oil for limited transport and refinery capacity in the midwest, such that tar sands oil is now going for $56/barrel with a production cost of at least $50/barrel, scarcely viable and justifying of further investment.

john c. halasz said...

Thirdly, there is heavy opposition in BC to pipeline expansion and little likely that any additional capacity will soon be built. So much so, that Harper, an Alberta pol, originally a protege of Preston Manning, is considered to be losing his re-election prospects by losing any BC support. They are planning to ship it to Montreal, (and we here in VT are fighting off an attempt to ship it from their to international markets in Portland ME through a 60 year-old pipeline!), but that's just a measure of their desperation. The key issue is can they readily get the gunk to international ports to fetch a much higher price and thus far they can't.

john c. halasz said...

The matter has little to do with U.S. oil supplies, since at most it would amount to substituting for heavy, sour Veenezuelan crude with still worse Canadian crud. But it has everything to do with blocking off access to international markets as things now stand, which will dry up reinvestment in expanded Alberta bitumin production via recycling its profits, which have currently crashed. As is clearly explained in this Michael Klare article:

http://www.opednews.com/articles/Michael-Klare-Will-the-Ke-by-Tom-Engelhardt-130211-190.html

john c. halasz said...

So there is no claim that stopping Keystone XL is the be-all-and-end-all of the issue, only that slowing the expansion of bitumin extraction would likely result in the medium-run, once you take account of actual facts on the ground (including costs and prices), rather than abstracting technocratically into a sub specie aeternitatis view that eventually such costs and price barriers would be overcome. (So you're really in no position to call others ignorant and deluded with such condescension, when you yourself haven't looked up the facts and are relying on a WaPo article!) But opposition to the XL pipeline, even though, given the "correlation of forces" it will likely fail, at least lays down a marker in public understanding and opens the way to more permanent long-run solutions, such as a graduated, escalating carbon tax-and-rebate scheme.

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Matson said...

I'm not in agreement here Barkley. You write that "nearly zero CO2 is involved in this decision", but there is a large difference in the price paid for oil between Alberta and most U.S. markets. If pipelines equalize those prices it would justify a significant expansion of a very dirty operation.

And don't be so sure that "If this is turned down, well, either the Canadians will build to the Pacific or the East Coast..." The Harper govt can't just jam it through, they'll need help in the provinces, where they have more enemies than friends.