The Only Choice Is Where It Gets Burned

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

The noted anti-development expert James Hansen and some other AGW supporters are out in force trying to block the proposed expansion of the existing Keystone Pipeline called the “Keystone XL”. They claim that it would be carrying “dirty oil” from the Canadian Oil Sands … and what makes oil “dirty” (other than not changing it every 3,000 miles)?

Why, CO2, of course, CO2 emissions from the Canadian oil production … as opposed to CO2 emissions from “clean oil” from Mexico, one supposes. They also claim that the oil sand production uses huge amounts of water. Finally, they say that there is a chance that at some point the new pipeline will create a spill … shocking news, I know, no pipeline has ever spilled before … and yet we continue to build them and use them. Go figure.

Knowing nothing about the project and little about the production of oil from sand, I thought I’d take a look at the situation. As is usual, I was surprised by some of the things I found out. First, where are we talking about? The oil sands are in Alberta, Canada, and the existing Keystone Pipeline starts in a town called Hardisty. Here are two existing and two proposed pipelines from the location of the oil sands.

Figure 1. Pipelines from the Alberta Oil Sands (orange sun). Existing pipelines are shown as solid lines, proposed pipelines are dashed lines. Current oil sands production is about 1.5 million barrels per day, and is projected to increase to 5 million barrels per day by 2020.

I read the AGW folks position papers, but unsurprisingly, their opposition fails to mention a few things about the situation.

First, it’s not like we’re not getting any “dirty oil” from Canada right now. The existing Keystone pipeline is currently delivering about 160,000,000 (160 million) barrels per year of the allegedly nasty stuff. So why are the AGW folks screaming as if they were “dirty oil” virgins? They’ve been burning it in their cars for the last few years, they have no plans to stop burning it in their cars, and now they’re bitching about it? Spare me.

Second, is the water use for oil sands extravagant? Survey says … no.

Figure 2. Life-cycle use of water to produce various kinds of liquid fuels, from CERA. 

In addition, the oil sand operators are limited by law from using more than 2.2 percent of the Athabasca River Water. Typically they use less than 1%.

Third, what about CO2? Well for me, I could care less. But some folks think it’s important. In any case, here’s the facts, from the independent analysis firm CERA (Cambridge Energy Research Associates), in a report entitled “OIL SANDS, GREENHOUSE GASES, AND US OIL SUPPLY: GETTING THE NUMBERS RIGHT” It says:

Transportation fuels produced solely from oil sands result in well-to-wheels life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 5 to 15 percent higher than the average crude refined in the United States.

That’s all? Five to fifteen percent higher? That’s what this whole screaming match is about? And the emissions from the oil sands mining or in-situ extraction are dropping all the time. Here’s the most surprising thing I found out. We import lots and lots of oil from Mexico … and emissions from Canadian oil sand oil are only 1.5% higher than those from Mexican oil.

Fancy that … nobody is complaining about emissions from “clean” Mexican oil, but “dirty” Canadian oil emits a WHOLE PERCENT AND A HALF MORE CO2 than Mexican oil and folks start screaming … does this make sense to anyone? Do we think the opponents of the pipeline might have some other agenda than CO2?

Finally, the most telling point to me in all of this is that the Canadians are not going to sit on the oil. Either it will go to the US via the existing Keystone and perhaps the proposed Keystone XL extension pipeline … or it will go to Asia via the Kinder Morgan and perhaps the Northern Gateway pipeline. But either way, it will be extracted, it will go through a pipeline, and it will be burnt.

So the choice is not whether the extra 1.5% of CO2 from the Canadian oil sands is going to enter the atmosphere—that ship has sailed. Their whole “dirty oil” CO2 argument is meaningless, because whether the Keystone XL pipeline is built or not, the oil will be burnt.

The only choice is whether it is burnt in the US or in China … and anyone who thinks that the latter course will cause less real pollution, not CO2 but real unburnt hydrocarbon and black carbon pollution, anyone who thinks there will be less of those nasty things if the oil is burnt in China is definitely not paying attention.

We have an amazing chance right now to secure a long-term oil supply from a friendly next-door neighbor instead of a bunch of aggro folks in the Middle East. If James Hansen and his allies prevent us from doing that, I will call down curses on their heads in the name of his precious grandchildren that he’s always talking about. Here’s the pathetic size of the emissions they’re up in arms about—the total emissions from the Canadian oil sands are 0.1% (a tenth of a percent) of global GHG emissions … and the emissions will happen whether the Keystone XL pipeline is built or not. If Hansen sentences his grandkids to get their oil from the Middle East and watch China burning the Canadian oil, he’s done much, much, much more damage to his grandchildren’s prospects than anything that might come from the extra few percent of CO2, CO2 that will come from the oil sands in any case.

I say emissions “might come from” the oil because the industry folks say that within the decade, the CO2 emissions from the oil sands will be on a par with conventional oil. They have already reduced emissions by about 40% from 2000 to 2009, and the process continues apace. Given their record, I see no reason to doubt that they will get to parity.

So I can only conclude that Hansen and his charming associates are not really concerned about CO2, they have other reasons for wanting to reduce US energy use and are using the small and decreasing difference in emissions as an excuse.

Bottom line? For me, the benefits from building the XL pipeline are much, much larger than any predicted costs, so my cost-benefit analysis says build it. Build it well, of course, route it around sensitive areas as best as we know how, build it to the highest of standards, oil spills are a bad thing … but build it no matter what the AGW folks might be on about.


PS – Actually, no, I won’t curse Hansen’s sorry carcass and pathetic actions and minions, that’s literary hyperbole. He’s doing a great job of cursing himself already, karma is a bitch, so there’s no need for me to gild the lily. The worst thing is, after all his concern about his grandkids, when they’re grown they’re likely to curse him if he is successful in making them depend on the Middle East for their oil.

[UPDATE] Someone pointed out that I had not adequately addressed the argument that there is great environmental danger from the proposed Keystone XL crossing the Ogallala Aquifer. The Aquifer supplies water to many of the plains states in the central US.

That might be a reasonable argument if there weren’t a host of pipelines that cross the Ogallala right now, including carrying Canadian crude. The aquifer is the irregular area in the central USA, colored blue.

Figure 3. US pipelines carrying crude oil from Canada (red), other imports (dotted), and domestic production (blue). SOURCE

There are a couple of pipelines carrying Canadian crude that are already crossing the aquifer.

Crude pipelines are not as big a problem over aquifers as refined products, since these are much thinner and seep and are carried by rain down to the aquifer much easier than is crude oil. Here are the refined pipelines crossing the Ogallala aquifer:

Figure 4. US pipelines carrying refined oil products. SOURCE

Note that these are only the major pipelines, there are a host of smaller ones as well. As you can see, the Ogallala Aquifer is already criss-crossed by all types of pipelines, carrying all kinds of crude and refined oil. If it were a huge environmental problem, we’d have known about it long ago.


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In my opinion, M Mann has little or no regard for his grandchildren and is abusing them by using them in this way. A drowning Mann will clutch at a straw as we are seing here. His grandchildren may well be ashamed to a acknowledge him in the future.

Rumor has it that China and OPEC are funding the environmentalist action against the XL pipeline. Anyone out there got real evidence?

More interestingly this is one mother of a shovel ready project that requires exactly squat $timula$ funding from the government. 10’s of thousands of jobs for construction and more once it starts delivering to refineries in South. Mostly Union jobs too so possibly Obama will get the message.

Mike Bromley the Canucklehead

There they go again, those dang pesky facts. A year or so ago, Uberdirector James Cameron showed his ugly mug up around Alberta, dragging a juggernaut of MSM with him, ostensibly to smear the oilsands in the wake of a few oiled ducks that set down in a tailings pond. The ultimate result? A collective yawn. Don’t hear much from ol’ Jim nowadays, you see. He’s an expatriate Canadian, and not one we, as Canuckleheads, are particularly proud of, it would seem. Another blowhard talent, good at Avatars and Deep Sea Photography, but stunned, as usual, by the facts. So one Jim down, another pops up. But Jim #2, you outta stick with the lecture circuit, that’s getting you in more hot water than is used to extract the dirty ol’ tar from the sand. Using recycled water too, I might add. But oh dear, those dang facts…you’re right, Willis, no point in gilding the lily.

Brian Johnson uk

Biofuel requires Huge amounts of water doesn’t it?


Canada’s entire co2 output is 2% of world co2. The oil sands throws out 5% of Canada’s 2%. Here are the entire breakdowns by sector of Canada’s 2% co2. (Source – Environment Canada 2010)
Transportation – 22%
Electricity – 16%
Manufacturing and heavy industry – 15%
Conventional oil and gas – 12%
Agriculture – 10%
Service industries – 8%
Residential – 7%
Oil sands – 5%
Other fossil fuels – 5%
Here is the water allocation for Alberta by sector – (Source – Alberta Environment)
Irrigation/Agricultural – 44%
Commercial – 30%
Municipal – 11%
Other – 8%
Oil Sands – 7%
Conventional oil and gas – 2%
NOTE – actual oil sands water usage is 1/3 of the total water allocated.
85% of all oil sand operations have NO TAILINGS PONDS what-so-ever. Same as conventional oil.
I’m working the night shift pumping oil down to our US customers – just thought I’d drop by on my break and find this article and just had to respond.

Asia is after hydrocarbons. Oil, coal bed methane, coal…this is not going to stop. Nor should it. Asia has the right to develop.
Canada has the right to exploit its resources. And we will. Hansen be damned. His science is lousy and his politics worse. Curb your dog Yanks. Because the oil is coming on stream and it will be sold. To you (I hope) or to the international market. We cannot afford to leave it in the ground and we won’t. As Willis points out, the only question is which direction we export it.

Dr A Burns

All fossil fuels are dirty according to the nut cases running Australia, so we’re going to get rid of them and damn the expense. What the hell if Australia returns to the Stone Age ? Here is an extract of the current bill before parliament:

The objects of this Act are as follows:

(b) to support the development of an effective global response to climate change, consistent with Australia’s national interest in ensuring that average global temperatures increase by not more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels;
(c) to:
(i) take action directed towards meeting Australia’s long-term target of reducing Australia’s net greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 2000 levels by 2050;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fbills%2Fr4653_first-reps%2F0001%22;rec=0

Philip Bradley

OPEC funding would make sense.
We are on the verge of a oil glut that will last for years. Libya coming back onstream, Iraq ramping up production by a couple of million bpd and competition from abundant cheap gas.
Somewhat ironically CAGW alarmism is causing increased use of gas over oil.
OPEC is deeply worried about this and increase oilsands production would just worsen the over supply.
I will LMAO if evidence comes to light that Hansen is secretly funded by OPEC.

Mike Bromley the Canucklehead

Philip Bradley says:
October 6, 2011 at 2:05 am
I will LMAO if evidence comes to light that Hansen is secretly funded by OPEC.

As will NASA’s admin, albeit a bit derisively. That would be instant termination, one would hope.

TBear (Warm Cave in Cold-as-Snow-Sydney)

Good analysis, but let’s leave the grandchildren – of Hansen or whoever – out of it.


Great read!!

Philip Bradley

The issue became politicized in Idaho and Montana. Letters and other communications opposing the transport (of equipment for the Alberta oilsands) streamed into the Department of Highways in Montana, Morrison said.
“We were shocked that only 37 per cent of those who wrote complaining [about the equipment going to the oil sands] lived in the state and the rest were from places like Nigeria, Venezuela. Most were international,” he said. “The equipment was held up for quite some time and some is still held up awaiting permits.”

Stephen Wilde

A ‘glut’ of oil would help us get past the coming economic stresses whilst the global economies try to wean themselves off irresponsible government borrowing and printing of fake money.
Additionally it would accelerate the third world dash towards relative prosperity and, as we should all know, prosperity, freedom and education inevitably lead national populations to voluntarily reproduce at less than replacement level.
That is the way forward.
As with all authoritarianism the contortions of the environmentalists would prevent progress towards population stability by perpetuating poverty indefinitely.
As always, the law of unintended consequences applies.
It is becoming clear that with responsible Oil Sand exploitation there is enough to cheaply fuel the world for centuries whilst we manage a transition to a stable, then declining global population on a voluntary basis.

Jarryd Beck

Well presented arguments, but one complaint:
In the paragraph starting with: “Third, what about CO2? Well for me, I could care less.”
It should be, “I couldn’t care less”.
I don’t care how good everything else is, this is my one giant bug bear of speakers of English. I feel like smacking anyone who says it around the head. If you could care less, then you care a bit. If you couldn’t care less then it is impossible for you to care any less, you don’t care at all (which is what you mean to say).

Willis Eschenbach

Wil says:
October 6, 2011 at 1:43 am

… I’m working the night shift pumping oil down to our US customers – just thought I’d drop by on my break and find this article and just had to respond.

Thanks for the numbers and the comments, Wil. And for the oil as well.

John Marshall

Friendly oil is better!
The US also has plenty of oil waiting for the law to change so extraction can take place.
Unfortunately President Obama is misguided and puts unwarranted environmental concerns above the jobs of Americans.


Philip Bradley says:
October 6, 2011 at 2:05 am
I will LMAO if evidence comes to light that Hansen is secretly funded by OPEC.
We do know Mr Hansen has taken funding from profiteers in EXXON, Coal, and Tobacco.
Page 123 [ ” The campaign on Hansen’s behalf resulted in a decision by NASA to revisit its media policy.” ]
Page 143 [ “politicization of science ($720,000)” ]
[ “Altria Group (MO): Soros owns 9,500 shares of Altria. It is a new buy for the latest full quarter in 2010. Altria, which produces and sells popular tobacco products such as Marlboro and Parliament cigarettes, Copenhagen and Skoal smokeless tobacco and more, offers a 6.10% dividend yield and has a market cap of just over $50B. The company has an impressive 84% ROE over the last 12 months and despite being a tobacco company, recently ranked 35th on a list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens by Corporate Responsibility magazine.”]
[ “Petroleo Brasileiro (PBR): This massive Brazilian producer has been boosted recently by the major discovery of reserves off the Brazilian coast. This type of extraction is more costly than traditional extraction, so, as prices for oil rise, the justification and margin on this type of extraction grows. Libyan instability leads to a spike in oil prices, which leads to increased value of PetroBras’ reserves. That said, this type of extraction is also known for its long-term nature. That means that investors are aware that the benefits of the reserves will be elongated over a period of time so momentary shakes to the oil market can have less of an effect on the stock. This is a double-edged sword. “]
COULD the above oil extraction in Brazil be the reason for the Oil Sands attack?
IMO Mr Hansen’s Hypocrisy has no ends.

James Bull

Just a thought how much air borne plant food would it take to tanker it from Canada to Asia as opposed to pumping it through a pipe to the USA?

Barry Sheridan

Messers Hansen, Mann and their assorted supporters are truly a ridiculous bunch. Besides the routine hypocrisy inherent in their statements and actions they appear unable to come to terms with the fact that as this riposte points out, the developing world will grasp the oportunities let go by the decrepit older democracies without any of the pathetic handwringing now common to public discourse in the US, Europe and elsewhere. Talk about stupidity.

John W

“I read the AGW folks position papers, but unsurprisingly, their opposition fails to mention a few things about the situation.”
Unsurprisingly indeed! The whole truth is a foreign concept to the AGW climate con artists.

Peter Miller

It has become self evident that if something makes economic sense, then the greenies will probably be against it, but if it produces carbon dioxide, then they will definitely be shrill in their cries of objection, regardless of the net amount of the ‘evil gas’ produced.
Canada’s tar sands reserves are currently estimated to contain 180 billion barrels of crude oil and both production and reserves are rising fast:
Daily US crude oil consumption is around 18.7 million barrels per day – so Canada has around 26 years of US consumption in its oil sands reserves.
The generally accepted resource estimate for the amount of crude oil which will eventually be recoverable from the Canadian tar sands is around 2,000 billion barrels, or 293 years of current US annual consumption. Note: It takes time, technology and detailed exploration to turn resources into reserves.
My advice to our American cousins:
1. Tar and feather – appropriate punishment – anyone opposing these pipelines, and
2. Either invade and occupy Canada, or be a damn sight nicer to them – Canadians are a much nicer bunch of people to deal with than those from OPEC.


With Brent at a $24 per barrel premium over WTI this is a great export opportunity for North America, and would also bring Brent and WTI back in sync, helping the rest of the world, especially developing countries, keep their oil bills and price risks down. Same applies to shale gas.
Funny how existing dominant producers always play the environmental card when their position is threatened.

Jose Suro

Thanks you for doing this research. I did not know the facts until now. Below is a link to a short telephone interview with Hansen after his arrest. He was asked about exactly the same question; other countries are going to burn oil anyways. He never answered, going instead into the usual Earth’s energy budget imbalance / grandchildren diatribe. The link – from the horse’s mouth:

Thanks again,

There is an opportunity to restore the ogallala reservoir with water that is obtained from coastal desalinization plants and pumped through pipes that join the path of Keystone XL (If not for the “oh look. I told you so saboteurs” glamorizing their self-importance by creating disaster, it would work out great for everyone.)


“Gild the lily”…I object, although perhaps it’s pedantic. The original quotation from Shakespeare is “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,” which are patently unnecessary actions. Gilding a lily doesn’t really make much sense to me.
But as to the substantive points, I agree that the pipeline should be built. And I think the Obama administration agrees with its advantages, especially that of reducing the dependence on the more volatile Middle East. I think that the activists aren’t really concerned about the immediate effects of the pipeline, but they *want* to see continued higher prices and Middle-East dependence, because those arguments are used to create opposition to fossil fuel usage. Anything which makes fossil fuel less objectionable, which makes the average U.S. consumer more at ease with its usage, is therefore a bad thing (in the minds of the activists).


Why do I hear my nan’s voice in my head ‘Cutting your nose off to spite your face’.


“Transportation fuels produced solely from oil sands result in well-to-wheels life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 5 to 15 percent higher than the average crude refined in the United States.”
Does the analysis of emissions from crude refined in the United States include the emissions from the drilling and transportation of crude to the U.S.?

Jim, too.

There is another interesting angle that may be figuring in to this story that involves Mr. Buffet and trains…


Willis writes “We have an amazing chance right now to secure a long-term oil supply from a friendly next-door neighbor instead of a bunch of aggro folks in the Middle East.”
Some more stuff to ponder wrt peak oil…
In terms of production potential, I’m sure the Canadian output could be increased but nowhere near enough to supply the US in it entirety. To put that claim into perspective, the 160 million barrels per year Canada produces amounts to about 2 days worth of world oil usage at around 80 million barrels per day. The US has a sizable portion of that.
So if the US consumes around 20% of the worlds oil, then that represents 10 days worth of oil produced over the year. And again for perspective, production would have to be ramped up more than 30x to cover the US’s complete requirement. No small feat.
And for a final perspective on that, I dont know how many years of oil is supposed to be there but even assuming it could be extracted fast enough with a 30x multiplier on current production, if say there was 200 years worth, then that equates to only 6-7 years worth with the increased production.

Frank K.

Stuart Lynne says:
October 6, 2011 at 1:25 am
“More interestingly this is one mother of a shovel ready project that requires exactly squat $timula$ funding from the government. 10?s of thousands of jobs for construction and more once it starts delivering to refineries in South. Mostly Union jobs too so possibly Obama will get the message.”
Stuart brings up a great point. Here we have a project which can provide REAL jobs for the U.S. and Canada (not the fake, government-funded Solyndra jobs), and help provide true energy independence for North America (how many times have we heard that we need to be “energy independent”?). I sickens me that we have people who are independently wealthly or have secure academic/government jobs protesting the creation of good U.S. jobs, particularly while unemployment hovers at 9% with no prospect of declining anytime soon.
And thanks Willis for this essay – it brings some sanity back to the debate rather than emotion.
For all of you out there who support the pipeline protesters, PLEASE make sure you STOP ALL USE OF PETROLEUM PRODUCTS. NOW. TODAY. We know you wouldn’t want to be seen as a hypocrite.
Here’s a partial list of products made from petroleum for you reference…


Dr A Burns says:
October 6, 2011 at 2:05 am
All fossil fuels are dirty according to the nut cases running Australia, so we’re going to get rid of them and damn the expense. What the hell if Australia returns to the Stone Age ?
============spot on!
I see we sell the “cleaner” lng lpg to china for a pittance, ditto our petroleum goes os.
the WE pay high singapore prices for other petrol and for our own gas.
if they really didnt have their brains in their butts we would be using the gas more than we do and govt would be seriously helping to convert ALL cars to lng, and NO cars to be produced without dual fuel fitting. electric cars? that charge on Coal fired power, stupid to the max!
but then JuLiar and bob the point of embarrassment.
anyone read the CFI (carbon Farming initiative)?? its convoluted and seriously insane.

Jurg Burg

It’s not a given that a pipeline will be built to the west coast of Canada to ship oil to Asia. The environmental groups are already starting to line up money to fight the pipeline — pumping the cash to native groups to protest, something that always plays well in the media. The ultimate goal of the enviros is stop investment in oil sands and other unconventional oil with the purpose of diverting that investment to their favourite “green” companies — solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, etc. Note that over the past few years David Suzuki has been organizing protests in Quebec to stop oil sands oil from going east, thereby cutting of exports to Europe. The EU has just decided to penalize oil sands oil with their fuel quality directive (though it still has to be approved in the EU parliament), something championed by the European branches of the same environmental groups operating in North America. The protests against Keystone XL are intended to stop increased exports of oil sands oil south. So, if there’s no where for the oil to go, then investment dries up and goes elsewhere. The next big target, for which the environmental groups are preparing, is the fracking process for natural gas (tight gas) as well as tight oil formations. If they succeed with Keystone XL they will get a huge morale boost to fight on other fronts. Tracking the financing of these groups is difficult because large portions of their funding comes from organizations like the Tides Foundation and Joyce Foundation — basically money laundering groups for the uber-rich who don’t want the public to know what they’re funding. Take a look at the Tides Foundation tax forms which lists where they have given money and there is an extraordinary amount targeted specifically for their anti-“tar sands” campaign. This is just the tip of the iceberg!

More Soylent Green!

If we don’t buy that oil, it will be sold to someone else and shipped across the ocean. Pick your poison – a pipeline or supertankers?
And how about ‘Peak Oil?’ We’re going to run out of oil someday, so let’s stop using it right now. Stop this pipeline, stop that refinery, stop drilling and looky looky – production drops! See, Peak Oil!

Cameron W Gilchrist

Green groups sue to stop Keystone oil pipeline.
Who funds “The Center for Biological Diversity”? “Friends of the Earth”? “Western Nebraska Resource Council”? What no PETA?

Gail Combs

Jay Currie says:
October 6, 2011 at 1:45 am
…..Canada has the right to exploit its resources. And we will. Hansen be damned. His science is lousy and his politics worse. Curb your dog Yanks……
And to think it is MY tax dollar paying this criminal while the other criminals in DC shield him from prosecution under the Hatch Act.
Oh for a Grand Jury to go after that man. Yes a Grand Jury CAN go after him if the government won’t.
“…In the expanded legal dictionary/digest called “Words and Phrases”, on page 363, it defines the grand jury as: “The ‘grand jury’ is inquisitorial body of county, drawn and summoned from among its best citizens, and must investigate all violations of law under presiding judge’s direction and make presentments in accordance with such investigations.”
In the second column of this page it continues: ” ‘Grand Jury’ is not judicial but accusing body, permitted to act upon knowledge obtained by members from any source.”……
“But when grand jurors possess personal knowledge or are furnished with reliable information indicating that a crime has been committed by someone within borders of the county, it is the duty of the grand jury to fearlessly and fairly investigate the charges and indict the culpable party if the evidence warrants that finding [from U.S. Supreme court cases of Blair v. United States and United states v. Philadelphia].”, and
“In the Blair case, supra, discussing the rights of a grand jury to investigate crime, Mr. Justice Pitney said: ‘ It is a grand inquest, a body with powers of investigation and inquisition, the scope of whose inquiries is not to be limited narrowly by questions of propriety, or forecasts of possible result of the investigation’”….”
Too bad the Power Mongers have made darn sure the American people are ignorant of their rights as, other wise we would see a bit of house cleaning in the US government…..

t stone

Brian Johnson uk says:
October 6, 2011 at 1:39 am
Biofuel requires Huge amounts of water doesn’t it?

You bet it does; it also requires a lot of conventional fuel to produce and haul it around.

chris y

Andy Revkin had a post about this a month ago. Here is what I posted there on 9/9/11-
Nature Climate Change August 2011, pp 241-242, “What’s in a name?” by S. van Renssen reports that average refined oil sands delivered product is only 11% more emissions-intensive than average EU crude. As production processes improve, this will drop further.
Estimated total reserves of 1.8 Trillion brls of oil.
Of this, about 10%, or 170 B brls, is recoverable with today’s technology and price. This will increase with improved technologies and/or higher oil prices.
Total oil sands land area is about 140,200 km^2. This is 0.8% of Canada.
Recoverable oil density is at least 1.2 M brl per km^2.
Current production rate is 1.5 M brl/day.
By 2019, this will increase to 3.2 M brl/day.
By 2019, total area developed will be about 1000 km^2/yr.
Of this, 20% is surface mining. The remaining is in-situ with minimal surface perturbation.
By 2019, surface mining will be about 200 km^2/yr.
This is 0.03% of Alberta’s area, or 12 parts per million of Canada’s area. It is more than the annual ice loss of Greenland or the Antarctic. But, it is still pretty darn small.
All producers already issue bonds, by law, to pay for environmental recovery back to self-sustaining ecosystems, monitored by gov’t agencies.
Production will continue for at least 100 years, at which point almost all of the surface mined regions will be fully restored Boreal forest.
Alberta’s growing economy, currently with 31% of GDP generated by energy industry, will continue to benefit from developing its energy resources.
This resource is worth more than $20 Trillion to Albertans. The world is awash with customers. Good luck trying to stop them.

chris y

Then there was the pearl-clutching over bird kills at the oil sands tailing ponds, to which I responded as follows–
The American Bird Conservancy (ABC), an avian conservation group, observes that upward of 14 birds per megawatt of wind energy are killed each year, numbering more than 440,000. The organization projects the number will rise substantially as wind energy production increases.
A wind farm averages 25% of capacity. That gives 14 birds per (1 MW * 365*24*0.25) = 0.006 birds/MWhr.
Oil sands tailing ponds have killed about 1000 birds per year. Oil sands currently produce about 1 Million brls per day. That amounts to 365 M brls per year.
A barrel of crude contains about (37 MJ/litre*3.78 litres/gallon * 42 gallons/brl) = 5.87 GJ/brl. That gives a total energy content of 2.14 x 10^9 GJ/year.
A kWhr of energy is equivalent to (1000*3600) = 3,600,000 J = 0.0036 GJ. Therefore, the oil sands produce about 594 Billion kWhr per year, or 594 Million MWhr per year. The average bird kill rate is therefore 1000/594×10^6 = 0.0000017 birds/MWhr.
The oil sands have a bird kill rate per energy produced that is approximately 3500 times smaller than wind farms.

Buck Smith

On big reason to approve this project is that it will result in less oil spilled on US coast lines. It is a fact that oil spills with pipelines are much rarer, more easily contained and hence smaller. If we don’t build this pipeline then we will have more oil on ships coming in to US West, East and Gulf Coasts.

Not really to the point but what does “XL” stand for? Extra large? My next guess, seeing as it essentially is taking the shorter (straight line) path that the previous Keystone pipeline took a longer, “adjacent sides of the right angle” path, would be express line.

More Soylent Green!

Five Truths About Climate Change
During the decade that Al Gore dominated the environmental debate, global carbon-dioxide emissions rose by 28.5%.
But over the past decade, carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S. fell by 1.7%. And according to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. is now cutting carbon emissions faster than Europe, even though the European Union has instituted an elaborate carbon-trading/pricing scheme.
This may be behind the paywall, but I think you can register for 2 weeks free access.

Philip Peake

Willis — this is off topic (slightly), but I just read an article (WSJ – online) about the USPS wanting to encourage more junk mail as a way to solve its financial woes.
it might be interesting to do some back of the envelope calculations to estimate what the contribution to anthropogenic CO2 is from the manufacture, distribution and eventual destruction of all of this junk mail is. Whatever it is, IMHO it is too much.
The industry will claim that using recycled paper means they are “green” . Of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that paper has limited recycling ability, and all the paper they use is less paper for other uses which instead have to use fresh trees.
The air and road transport of this weighty junk of course uses non-recyclable petroleum products.


Mr. Eschenbach I am in total ageement. The jobs, the oil and the tax revenue all are needed to help our economy. I used to own Kinder Morgan stock (KMP) and they are a good company as far as I could tell. The stock made me a little extra taxable income. Ain’t capitalism great.

Steven Kopits

US per capita consumption of oil is down 15% since 2005. And it shows on the economy.

R Barker

Is this the same bunch that gets apoplectic with every oil spill into the ocean or are there separate groups for each environmental concern in an effort to stay deconflicted?

Tom in Co

Shipping Canadian oil overseas to China, while we have to ship more oil in from the Middle East makes no sense within the “green” metric. “buying Local” goes for all products, not just groceries.
In addition the Keystone pipeline will aid the US domestic production. Much of the North Dakota Bakken oil is currently stranded and has to be put on rail cars to get to refineries.

David Strom

Just an FYI, Reason magazine recently published an article about the oil sands process, and I was impressed by the progress being made in reclaiming the tailings ponds. See: .
Now if somehow I could feel better about “mountaintop removal” coal mining …

David Strom

Greg Holmes

Excellent post, thanks.


In addition, even if the oil doesn’t get to Houston/Port Arthur via the Keystone extension, it will get there some other way. Other companies are looking at building other pipelines:
West Texas Intermediate is selling for over $20 a barrel less than Brent because it’s all backed up in Oklahoma. Whoever can get that oil down to the refineries in Houston, where it can be turned into products for export is going to make a lot of money. All the hippy protesters in the world aren’t going to stop it.