Keystone XL’s Impact Statement: How Stupid Do They Think We Are?

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John Atcheson
This just in: building a pipeline to carry the dirtiest oil ever used, creating 17% more greenhouse gasses than conventional oil and hastening the greatest environmental disaster ever faced by humanity, has no negative environmental impact. At least that’s the conclusion of the Environmental Impact Statement issued by the State Department …

Dateline Mayflower Arkansas: According to some estimates, more than 150,000 gallons of bitumen ran through the streets and yards of Mayflower Arkansas, spewing fumes and posing a risk to health, property, and wildlife when the Pegasus pipeline, owned be ExxonMobile burst …

In related news, A tax loophole for tar sands that allowed ExxonMobile to avoid paying into the Oil Liability Trust Fund means US taxpayers will likely get stuck with the bill … the loophole could ultimately cost Americans $400 billion …

Elsewhere in the news, The National Safety Council gave ExxonMobile a Safety Award on April 5th for its leadership and “comprehensive commitment to safety and excellence.” The award was presented at a fundraiser in Houston. Oh, a Safety Award. At a fundraiser. To one of the most profitable companies in history. I feel better…

Breaking News: Indian Country Media Network features a video campaign opposing the use of ports in British Columbia for tar sands released on the 24th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Disaster. Some 80% of BC residents oppose allowing tar sands to pass through BC …

Dateline New Orleans: BP called its first witness in the civil trial against its Deepwater Horizon disaster which spewed some 4 million barrels of oil into the gulf. Some legal experts suggest BPs best hope may be to convince the Judge they were just a little negligent, as opposed to grossly negligent …

News you may have missed, Since the gulf disaster less than a year ago, there have been 15 major oil spills, 8 of them involving ruptured pipelines resulting in tens of millions of barrels of oil spewing into the environment.

Which brings us back to that XL EIS, which suggests the probability of a leak is negligible.

Wait a minute. How stupid do they think we are?

Basically, the US government and the oil industry are trying to slip this past a gullible public with vague assurances of safety and promises of jobs and economic growth.

The comment period for the Environmental Impact Statement on the XL Pipeline closes on April 22, the shortest public comment allowed, for one of the most important decisions humanity will ever make.

But the fact that pipelines leak, and tar sand bitumen is notoriously hard to clean up is the least of the problems with the EIS.

The real problem is that it assumes we must continue to use fossil fuels in much the same way, and at the same quantities that we do now, for the foreseeable future.

As a result, they are able to construct an absurd argument – that the continued use of fossil fuels – the gravest threat to our environment the world has ever faced since the dawn of human existence – has no environmental impact.

It is done with the skill of the sophist and the tools of wizards, witches and warlocks.

The Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed XL pipeline fails to ask the right question. It addresses GHG emissions from the construction and operation of the pipeline – which is tantamount to asking tsunami victims if their leaky faucet bothers them. It addresses operation and maintenance of the pipeline, another gnat on an elephant. And incredibly, it addresses the effect of climate change on the operation of the pipeline itself … yes, ask not what billions of barrels of crude tar sands can do for global warming; ask instead, what global warming can do to tar sands transport. Really.

In a section marked Life Cycle Analysis, it concludes that the carbon intensity of alternative to tar sands will go up, so the increased carbon emissions of tar sands won’t matter as much, if at all.

But wait a minute. What if we didn’t use more oil? What if we used less? We have the technology to cut oil use drastically. Plug-in hybrids and electric cars get the equivalent of about 100 miles per gallon, they are cheaper to run, and they are much cleaner, even if they use relatively dirty fossil fuels to charge their batteries. And in many areas they can use renewables which are becoming cost competitive with new fossil fuel power. Moreover, the grid has enough off-peak power to charge an enormous fleet of electric cars with existing capacity.

So at this point, the decision to use oil is not destiny, it is choice. And if it’s a choice, the entire basis of the XL EIS is null and void.

Now let’s look at the question of whether we should make the choice to get off oil. The environmental issue is a slam dunk. If we stay above an atmospheric concentration of 350 ppm carbon dioxide for any length of time we court disaster – and for you fundamentalists out there, it’s disaster of biblical proportions. We are currently 396.8 ppm. So our emissions have to go down, and go down now.

There has been a lot of talk about the pipeline creating jobs and fueling economic growth. In actuality, it will do neither. Here’s why. Clean energy investments create three times as many jobs per dollar invested as fossil fuels do. So in essence, each dollar we put into fossil fuels at the expense of clean energy actually costs us jobs and that slows growth.

The EIS sidesteps the real issue: We must get off fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. Expanding our use of fossil fuels with dirtier oil is a form of madness we simply can’t afford.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on