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Obama’s Climate Plans Have Keystone Opponents Worried

Tomorrow, US President Barack Obama will unveil his climate change plan focused on reducing carbon emissions as promised during the campaign for his second term in office. Keystone XL opponents think it will be a big plan intended as a trade-off for green-lighting the controversial pipeline.

"This Tuesday, I'll lay out my vision for where I believe we need to go - a national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change and lead global efforts to fight it," he said in a White House video.

What will that vision be? Most likely it will include a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and set the stage for another round of regulations pending from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on new power plants plans. It will also likely including plans for controlling carbon dioxide from the burning of coal and from other fossil fuels.

Environmentalists are concerned that the climate change strategy will just be a ploy to appease them in the face of plans to green light TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline that will transport heavy crude (dirty oil sands) from Canada to US Gulf Coast refineries. Opponents of Keystone XL say this will override anything Obama has in store by way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and controlling carbon dioxide.

It is less likely (though not impossible) that Obama will talk about Keystone tomorrow, but opponents think the climate change plan he unveils will be designed to wow and thus lay the stage for less opposition to Keystone when it is approved. We don’t expect a decision on Keystone XL until the end of this year, or perhaps even early next year.

One of the most visible of these opponents is billionaire Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund investor and environmental activist. Steyer told reporters last week that “the idea of a trade here is very confusing and not logical”, and warned that curbs on power plant emissions would be meaningless if Keystone XL goes ahead.

Environmental and civil rights activist Van Jones--who served as Obama's special adviser for green jobs in 2009--has also criticized the perceived tradeoff, calling it a political "miscalculation" that would alienate the president’s supporters.

We thought we would take this time to review the interesting voices who have come out for and against Keystone XL in interviews with Oilprice.com over the past year.

“I am concerned that the media is not adequately explaining the difference between conventional and unconventional oil and gas. Proponents of fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline, deep-offshore production, and so on all say that these are just other forms of "oil" and "clean-burning natural gas," without explaining that vastly different production techniques are involved and that these techniques have significantly worse impacts on the environment.”Michael Klare of TomDispatch.com.

“Keystone XL is important for several reasons. First, blocking the project will alienate our most important energy trading partner, Canada. Some folks talk about US energy self-sufficiency, but for oil that is a much taller hurdle; however, North American oil self-sufficiency could be achieved in less than a decade. Who knows how Canada will react to such a snub and an apparent violation of NAFTA? Retaliatory measures in energy trade are not out of the realm of possibility. The irony is that Canadian oil sands syncrude, bitumen, and heavy oil will continue to move south irrespective of Keystone XL’s fate, so any purported environmental benefits from stopping the project are a wash. And Gulf Coast refiners are eager to replace declining supplies of heavy crude from Mexico and Venezuela (not to mention the reliability of the latter’s supplies) with low-gravity feedstock from a friendly North American supplier whose supply will only increase.” Chris Faulkner, CEO of Breitling Energy.

“In order to avoid the most serious and expensive consequences of climate change, we need to reduce carbon emissions. Expansion of Keystone is not consistent with that goal. The total amount of oil in the Alberta Tar sands is equivalent to six Saudi Arabia’s. Mr. Watts and others have claimed that the oil will be burned regardless but just because this statement is uttered doesn’t make it true. Approval of Keystone will increase production by about 35-40% and it will lock us into a long-term supply of the dirtiest of the dirty fossil fuels.  Not only are Alberta tar sands dirtier than conventional oil, but their by-product (petroleum coke) is being used as a dirty replacement of coal. Rather than approve this pipeline, and further contribute to driving society over the climate cliff, we should invest in long-term clean renewable energy production right here in the United States. If we did this, we would receive the economic benefits and the world’s climate would improve at the same time.” – John Abraham, scientist.

“That oil is going to be burned no matter what. Either it ends up in the US via Keystone XL, or it ends up in China and India via a West coast pipeline through Canada if Keystone is rejected in the US. The line in the tar sands environmentalists are drawing over KXL isn’t going to make a bit of difference to the use of the oil and its effects on climate. The environmental protests are all for show and without substance.”Anthony Watts, former TV meteorologist.

“The pipeline is something that is a convenience in getting more oil from Canada into U.S. refineries. There are other steps (pipelines now flowing backwards for example) that are being taken to deal with the situation. As long as the sole export market for the oil is into the United States, Canada has to take the price that it is offered for the oil, or not sell it. Should a second sales path (such as a pipeline to the coast) allow significant sales to other customers (say China) then the price will likely go up, and supplies to the US will get more expensive, and potentially smaller.”Dr. Dave Summers, co-founder of The Oil Drum

“I think he [Obama] will approve it [Keystone XL]. The Governor of Nebraska gave the new route the okay. I think now that Obama has been re-elected he will go ahead and approve. Again, that is a lot of job-creation for an economy that is struggling. More pipelines are good for Canadian producers as it helps get our oil to market.”Chris Cooper, Aroway Energy.

By. Jen Alic of Oilprice.com

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