Green Groups Turn Up Heat Against Keystone

A report released Thursday by Oil Change International and other environmental groups says the pipeline is not in the national interest.

A band stands by at the Keystone XL protest at the White House on Sunday Nov. 6, 2011. (National Journal)

Oil Change International, in partnership with the Sierra Club,, and Environment America, released a report Thursday calling for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

The report — "Responding to the President's Climate Challenge: A Failing Grade for Keystone XL" — states that construction of the pipeline will increase carbon emissions and speed development of Canadian oil sands. In short, it would be a significant driver of climate change.

These findings stand in direct opposition to the State Department's draft environmental analysis of the pipeline, released in March, which said that Keystone XL would not significantly affect oil-sands development in Canada or atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.

The State Department's assertion hinges on the idea that Keystone XL is — in a sense — irrelevant. That's because, according to State, Canadian oil sands will be developed with or without the pipeline.

Environmental groups disagree. "Responding to the President's Climate Challenge" challenges this claim directly, saying that oil companies won't have the capacity to extract and ship crude from the oil sands as quickly or extensively as they could if the pipeline were in place.

In a press call Thursday morning to promote the report, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said that more than a third of oil-sands growth could be deferred if the pipeline is rejected. "Keystone XL is critical to tar-sands expansion," he said. When asked if oil companies would be able to move crude by rail or other means if the project stalls out, Brune replied: "I would say we have seen rail growth increase, but it's also clear that rail growth can't meet [oil] production forecasts."

Representatives from, Environment America, and Oil Change International also argued that Keystone XL would dramatically increase carbon emissions. One of the major points raised during the call was that oil sands crude extraction is more carbon intensive than conventional methods of oil drilling.

"The State Department estimates that oil from tar sands is 22 percent more carbon intensive than conventional oil," Brune said. Adding to this, Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, said: "Of course the pipeline will increase carbon emissions. The only thing that's more certain than that is that it will increase big oil's profits."

State has been tasked with making a determination as to how Keystone XL will affect the environment as well as if the project is in the national interest. The department is not expected to finalize its recommendations until later this year or early in 2014.

The president, however, has final say on whether the pipeline will be approved. Obama has said he will reject Keystone XL if it substantially adds to atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. Representatives of the various environmental groups responsible for releasing the report circled back to this point throughout the call, saying that Obama must reject the pipeline because it will increase carbon emissions. "President Obama can move us forward on climate and reject this pipeline once and for all," Brune said.

Read the full report here.