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By Robert Rapier on Jul 26, 2012 with 41 responses

The Facts About Canada’s Oil Sands and Climate Change

Motivated Reasoning

This week I was reading an article from the Associated Press called Some fracking critics use bad science. The gist of the article is that Gasland director Josh Fox used false information in his new film, The Sky is Pink. Among other things, he claimed that cancer rates were higher in Texas where fracking is taking place. Three different cancer researchers in the area contradicted him on this claim.

But then the article went on to say something that I thought was very relevant to debates on just about any controversial energy topic — fossil fuel subsidies, climate change, hydraulic fracturing:

One expert said there’s an actual psychological process at work that sometimes blinds people to science, on the fracking debate and many others. “You can literally put facts in front of people, and they will just ignore them,” said Mark Lubell, the director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis.

Lubell said the situation, which happens on both sides of a debate, is called “motivated reasoning.” Rational people insist on believing things that aren’t true, in part because of feedback from other people who share their views, he said.

As a result, misinformation is hard to stamp out, because it tends to be repeated — confirming the views people already hold. That brings me to the topic of today’s column: Climate change claims around the Keystone XL pipeline.

Keystone Pipeline and Climate Change

tar sandsWhile some might mistake this column for advocacy for the Keystone XL pipeline, its real purpose is a call for truth in advertising. Whether the Keystone XL is wise energy policy is certainly debatable, but the debate should be on the basis of factual information. Our best chance for passing responsible energy policy is if all sides can differentiate between fact, opinion, hyperbole, and misinformation.

I have gone on record as saying I favor the Keystone XL pipeline for a very simple reason: We are going to continue to need oil for some years to come, and the pipeline would improve U.S. energy security. I also strongly advocate for policies that reduce U.S. oil dependence, so my ideal objective would be that the Keystone pipeline is built — creating jobs in the process — and the transition from U.S. oil dependence renders it obsolete. But it would be there as an insurance policy in case our policies fail to sufficiently wean us from oil in a timely manner.

Opponents envision that by shutting down the pipeline, they will slow the growth of the tar sands industry and force a faster transition from oil. The risk that they never acknowledge is that it may weaken our energy security by shifting our dependence from Canada to Venezuela or the Middle East, and further encourage Canada to strengthen their relationship with China. If that happens, then pipeline opponents will have made the situation worse on just about every count.

Game Over For the Planet?

NASA scientist and climate change advocate James Hansen declared that if the oil sands are tapped, “it is essentially game over” for the planet, and that the pipeline would be a “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.” Bill McKibben has led a high profile campaign of protests against the pipeline on the basis of climate change impacts. Keystone opponents have recently called for a review of the climate change implications of building the pipeline.

But then a paper published last February in Nature Climate Change calculated that if the 170 billion barrels of proven reserves from the Alberta oil sands were burned it would produce just 0.02 to 0.05 C of warming. That contrasts sharply with the hyperbolic statements.

So how did Hansen and McKibben respond? In Least Reassuring Reassurance of All Time, McKibben wrote:

If we burn through the known quantities of tarsands oil, that alone will raise the planet’s temperature by .4 degree Celsius—which is about exactly how much we’ve already raised the planet’s temperature by burning everything we’ve burned since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Hansen said:

“The argument that the currently known amount of carbon in the tar sands pit is small compared to the total fossil fuels burned in two centuries is fallacious and misleading — every single source, even Saudi Arabia, is small compared to the total. If we once get hooked on tar sands and set up infrastructure, the numbers will grow as mining capabilities increase. Tar sands are particularly egregious, because you get relatively less energy per unit carbon emitted and there is associated environmental damage in the mining.”

Joe Romm deemed the report confusing because the “study does not actually include the extra emissions from tar sands extraction in its core calculations” and he goes on to state that inclusion of those emissions could bump up the total by 17%.

The Facts

Let’s examine each criticism. Granted, Romm is correct and the emissions could actually be 17% higher. What does that mean? The 0.02 to 0.05 C of warming might be as high as 0.06 C. In other words, instead of warming by one-twentieth of a degree, it might be one-seventeenth of a degree. Romm chose not to spell that out, preferring to leave readers with the impression that the study is questionable.

With respect to McKibben’s comment, there is zero possibility of burning through all of the oil sands. It is technically impossible to extract all of the oil in place, so he put up a fictional case of burning through 1.8 trillion barrels of oil in place in order to make the number — 0.4 C — as high as he could possibly make it. The number is nonsense because the assumption is nonsense. The real question at hand is the 170 billion barrels of proven reserves, but more importantly how quickly that could reasonably be developed (more on that below).

Hansen’s argument is more along the lines of “We can’t get this oil sands thing started because production will grow and that will add to an already bad situation.” Of course Canada is highly committed to developing their oil sands, oil sands production has in fact been growing for many years, and a great deal of infrastructure is already in place.

Length of Time

Other than Romm’s nitpick, critics of the study didn’t find much fault with the calculations, but insisted “We have to make a stand over the oil sands.” But here is a point I haven’t heard anyone discuss. Canada’s oil production in 2011 was 1.3 billion barrels. Over the past decade, its growth rate has been under 3% (but still above the global average growth rate). Let’s pretend that growth rate can continue until Canada reaches 10 million barrels per day, putting its oil production on par with Saudi Arabia and Russia. How long would it take to produce 170 billion barrels of oil and contribute the 0.02 to 0.05 C  (or 0.06 C) of warming? Until the year 2075!

So given the very low contribution to the overall climate change equation — plus the length of time it would take to extract and burn through that 170 billion barrel reserve — the focus on this issue is tremendously misplaced. It is a classic tempest in a teapot. Time would be far more efficiently spent trying to figure out a way for the developing world to industrialize without consuming ever greater quantities of coal.

Conclusions

My point here is not “Don’t worry, be happy.” Certainly we can say that in a world struggling to limit carbon emissions, Keystone XL will just add to the problem. But all carbon emissions add to the problem, and if that’s the case, have pipeline opponents stopped using oil? Almost universally the answer is no. Why? Individuals would probably rationalize that what they consume isn’t significant enough when weighed against the bigger picture.

But that’s my point about Keystone. We have all of this hyperbole around it, when the math shows that it would be effectively background noise. If you are basing your opposition to Keystone on the climate change implications, then you may want to question whether fighting to stop a 0.06 C temperature rise in 2075 is the correct issue to rally around.

There are more legitimate issues upon which to base your opposition. What might be the real downside of building the pipeline? Much has been made of the risk of spills and leaks. These risks do not disappear if the pipeline isn’t built; they just shift to the rail cars and trucks that are carrying that oil right now. The pipeline is likely an improvement over the status quo in that regard.

The real downside from building the pipeline in my view is that U.S. consumers — particularly those in the Midwest — are likely to pay higher prices for fuel. After all, the purpose of building the pipeline is to access new markets for the crude oil, which would relieve a glut of oil in the Midwest. This would mean higher prices as that glut is relieved (but potentially lower world prices as the crude is added to global supplies). Of course many climate change advocates believe we should pay higher prices for fuel, so you have to consider whether arguing this point is consistent with your views on fuel prices.

But that possibility could form the basis of an informed debate on the topic. We can weigh the jobs created and potentially the jobs saved in Gulf Coast refineries against extra costs to consumers in the Midwest. But the risk of a potential tiny temperature change more than 60 years from now does not — in my opinion — form the basis for a credible argument against the pipeline.

Link to Original Article: The Facts About Canada’s Oil Sands and Climate Change

By Robert Rapier

  1. By Addoeh on July 26, 2012 at 9:33 am

    If people were against the pipeline because of potentially higher oil prices, then the part of Keystone pipeline they would be against is the Cushing, Oklahoma to Texas leg.  That is the leg that will allow the oil to go to the world market.  I haven’t seen too many people against this part of the project.  In fact, Obama is for it.  I believe construction started on it last month and it is due to be complete sometime next year.

    In addition, the pipeline isn’t going to only carry oil from oil sands in Alberta.  There will also be some oil from the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana.  North Dakota is trying to get more pipelines built to alleviate the problems they have right now of transporting the oil via tanker trucks on their roads.

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    • By Robert Rapier on July 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      Valid  points, but certainly more worthy of debate than the climate change implications. Essentially, there are no climate change implications on any sort of time scale that is relevant.

      RR

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  2. By Ed Reid on July 26, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    I commend you for your consistently thoughtful, balanced approach to issues. It can be very difficult to keep your head, when others about you are losing theirs. Rudyard Kipling would be proud! :-)

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  3. By Ryan Kerney on July 26, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Might check yourself here:

    “Of course many climate change advocates believe we should pay higher prices for fuel….”

     I think TransCanada could be called a “climate change advocate,” although Jim Hansen and Bill McKibben are definitely not.

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    • By Robert Rapier on July 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      “Climate change advocate” is obviously not someone who believes we need higher carbon emissions. It is just shorthand for someone who thinks we desperately need to address climate change. 

      RR

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  4. By ben on July 27, 2012 at 10:06 am

    I hold that objections to the Keystone Pipeline/Alberta’s tar sands are as much less about  climate change numbers per se, as is the raw, emtional impact of activity depicted in the photo, above.   In exchanges with some of the leadership in Congress (loose construction on use of the term:) about international commerce, I receive feedback that the enviro lobby has drawn a line in the political sand on Keystone.  This has alot more to do with an emerging consensus among enviros that modernity’s headlong march to the siren song of “growth” is the cancer of our dilemma.   Until we have the courage to ”just say no,” we’re stuck with the attendant risks of a commercial impulse with it’s incessant drive to grow private wealth and the “progress” of nations.

    I admit to some misgivings about let’s cxall it a contrary, communitarian impulse–well-intentioned as it may be–that blithely vests decision-making into the hands of too-often conflicted officials who know not the full implications of their expedient (and too often unscientific) judgments.   Do we simply trust the marketplace?  Hardly.   Entrusting the collective security/societal health into the invisible hands of the profit motive where individual interests/impulses do not (and probably shouldn’t) anticipate the collective well-being of future generations invites peril.  While governments are not God neither are markets.  Both are indispensible even as both pose significant limitations.  We are left to free association and recourse through the use of largely private, intermediate structures to chart a route that aims toward informed judgments absent of political bias and superficial, emotional appeals.  Recent advocacy coming out of the Green Movement  often smacks of emotionalism moreso than sound argument.  This is tragic, as  the credibility of conservation and environmental stewardship is at stake.   A times, the ongoing debate about global warming sort of reminds me of that famed Churchill quote about the truth needing a bodyguard of lies.   I hope that we haven’t come to that.  

    Let the debate rage, but let’s keep our wits while sticking to the facts.           

    Ben 

     

           

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    • By Ed Reid on July 27, 2012 at 11:28 am

      “Let the debate rage, but let’s keep our wits while sticking to the facts.” 

      Ben,

      A fact-based debate regarding climate change would be both brief and narrow. The available FACTS are limited to: climate has changed in the past, is changing now and will continue to change in the future; climate has warmed since the trough of the Little Ice Age; there are numerous GHGs, including water, CO2, methane, etc.; CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased over the past 250 years; earth’s orbit and axis change over time; and, the sun’s output changes over time. All else is hypothesis or projection based on hypothesis.

      Readings taken from instruments are DATA; and, data are FACTS. DATA, adjusted to “correct” for some set of factors, are no longer DATA, but rather un-DATA and are no longer FACTS. The temperature DATA on which the global average temperature record is based are unusable without “adjustment” because of improper siting, installation and maintenance.

      We appear to KNOW very little, to hypothesize much from the little we KNOW, and to project from what little we KNOW a century into an unknown future. What could possibly go wrong?

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      • By shecky vegas on July 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm

        Ed – There’s no dispute that the Earth has over-heated itself several times in the past. The question is the time-scale involved. Prior to the last two Ice Ages, it took hundreds of thousands of years for the Earth to heat up. I think I even read the last one took some 2-3 million years. Whatever. My point is the warming trend we’re seeing now has taken place within the last 150-200 years. That quickened pace can only be attributable to one factor – The rise of fossil-fueled industry.

        Mind you, nobody planned on this. We simply didn’t know. But now that we do, steps should be taken to reverse the trend. Slogging through Canada’s tar pits or drilling into the Artic seas is not the correct direction we should be going. But we humans tend to be a stupid and greedy species, so it’s not surprising we act against our own best interests. Why else would we laud 6,000 calorie hamburgers?

        Ah, screw it. I’m gonna pop a beer and wait for the rats and cockroaches to take over. Maybe they’ll have a better game plan…

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        • By Ed Reid on July 27, 2012 at 3:34 pm

          “My point is the warming trend we’re seeing now has taken place within the last 150-200 years. That quickened pace can only be attributable to one factor – The rise of fossil-fueled industry.”

          The warming trend we have seen most recently began in ~1650, at the trough of the Little Ice Age. Our ability to measure the change in real time began ~1850.  The rate of change over the past ~150 years does not appear to be much different from the rates of change, both positive and negative, over the past ~4500 years. http://longrangeweather.com/global_temperatures.htm

          Your assertion that the current pace of change “can only be attributable to one factor – The rise of fossil-fueled industry.” is not FACT. It is either supposition on your part or your condensation of the “consensus” hypothesis. (You might note that the rate of change over the past 15 years has approached zero asymptotically. That is hardly the result of any weakness of the fossil fuel industry, especially in Asia.)

          Enjoy your beer while I act against your perception of my best interests. :-)

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  5. By Talli Somekh on July 27, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Robert

    Unfortunately, this is a very selective reading of the Nature article with some very poor reasoning as well.

    While the article does indeed say that extraction and burning of economically extractable oil is .01-.03 degrees, it does not define what “economically extractable” means. Visiting the updated statistics (they use statistics from 2010, but here are the numbers for 2012 http://www.ercb.ca/sts/ST98/ST98-2012.pdf) it seems that production costs are $50-71 for in situ conversion and $70-91 for mining (Table 3.10, page 3-30.)

    I certainly don’t believe that oil will remain as depressed as it is today, and as a loyal reader of your blog I don’t believe that you do either. It seems to be generally accepted that sooner or later the new normal will be well north of $100, probably closer to the mid hundreds, with spikes up to $200 in cases of war or severe global circumstances. So the “economically viable” target is a moving one, and in all likelihood only upwards.

    If economically viable reserves increased to .1 or even .2 degrees, would you still hold the same argument? That’s 5-10% of the total warming that people recognize as holding the line against disaster.

    We must also ask that if the Keystone pipeline is built with resulting greater access to market, how will that affect economic viability? Suddenly distribution costs are reduced significantly to a wildly hungry market. I can only imagine this will have an important affect, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they were marginal.

    What is also certainly true, and I’m sure you’re more than familiar with, the rallying cry of any major CAPEX project, “protect our steel!” would play a major role. One cannot suggest that investing billions upon billions of dollars in pipeline that extends thousands of miles will be easily marginalized when (ok, if) the great alternative energy revolution arrives. If anything, it will only build greater resistance to a shift to sustainable energy production.

    Another important thing to note is that the authors of the article are explicit in saying they are only measuring the effect of CO2 from burning and do not include the effect of any other GHG. They are not including any other emissions from either production or use. It’s important to note that there are vast methan emissions not just from the production fields but also from the tailing ponds where contaminated water is settled. This makes the paper an interesting contribution but far from the lynchpin of an argument you’re making it out to be.

    Even the authors of the paper say in the link to their website that you provide:

    “To keep warming below 2°C will require a rapid transition to non-emitting renewable energy sources, while avoiding commitments to infrastructure that supports fossil fuel dependence.”

    To be fair, you’re raising important points. We are nowhere near to even a minor transition from oil and fossil fuels and people will suffer from higher energy prices. Fossil fuels prices, though, have been artificially depressed for far too long, though, and we’ve built an unsustainable society on that soft ground.

    So I do believe that the analysis you’ve presented here and the conclusions you’ve drawn are naive, particularly given the flimsiness of the data presented by this paper.

    talli

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    • By Robert Rapier on July 27, 2012 at 11:57 am

      If economically viable reserves increased to .1 or even .2 degrees, would you still hold the same argument? That’s 5-10% of the total warming that people recognize as holding the line against disaster.

      Talli, this is why I took a look at the growth rate of the industry as well. The oil industry there can only grow so fast. We have all sorts of precedents around the world that suggest that even if the reserves are increased due to the price of oil going higher, it isn’t reasonable to believe that Canada can develop them on a fast time scale. (Things are slowing down there now due to the pullback in oil prices). So I believe my conclusion is valid: There isn’t a realistic chance that the oil sands can contribute much to the overall picture within the next 50 years. To believe otherwise is to project unprecedented growth onto Canada’s oil sands industry, and to presume that Canada’s oil production can ultimately rival that of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

      I believe that a look at the numbers shows that this is highly unlikely, and therefore that the focus here is misplaced.

      I can only imagine this will have an important affect, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they were marginal.

      All sorts of factors will limit the speed at which the industry will grow. That was the major point I made that I think everyone else has overlooked.

      Another important thing to note is that the authors of the article are explicit in saying they are only measuring the effect of CO2 from burning and do not include the effect of any other GHG.

      Those impacts are going to be a fraction of those from actually burning the oil. That is the major contributor. As Romm pointed out, even including the energy-intensive extraction only adds 17% to the total.

      “To keep warming below 2°C will require a rapid transition to non-emitting renewable energy sources, while avoiding commitments to infrastructure that supports fossil fuel dependence.”

      And I would make a distinction here. You believe we will need oil tomorrow, right? How much will we need in 10 years? What happens if we don’t make the commitments to support our (hopefully) declining needs? That’s a great fear of mine. I think many environmentalists would naively say “no more new commitments” while we are certainly committed to some level of oil for years to come. Underestimating those requirements is potentially disastrous. Ensuring that we can meet demand — while simultaneously passing policies that cause demand to decline — is prudent in my opinion.

      I guess to drive the point home I would ask whether today you would support shutting down all projects that would deliver oil in the future based on the assumption that we won’t need it? I suspect the answer to that is no, and the reason is actually the same reason I support Keystone. I imagine the answer would come down to simply which projects you support.

      RR

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      • By talli on July 27, 2012 at 5:22 pm

        Hi Robert

        “I guess to drive the point home I would ask whether today you would support shutting down all projects that would deliver oil in the future based on the assumption that we won’t need it? I suspect the answer to that is no, and the reason is actually the same reason I support Keystone. I imagine the answer would come down to simply which projects you support.”

        I think you’re right to challenge me and every opponent on that fact as you are absolutely right that we will not be able to get away from fossil fuels in any short period of time. I’m not even convinced we will be able to do so on any long period of time.

        However, is Keystone an example of an existing infrastructure extension of is it a completely new front for or against fossil fuels? In the view of Keystone opponents, and one that I increasingly share, this is an effort to deny an effort that, metaphorical or otherwise, represents the continued denial of the reality of global warming.

        As Maurice eloquently describes, the Alberta tar sands are ecological disaster that have been hidden in the cold confines of northern Alberta. Destruction of habitat, water and air resources are far worse than the conventional oil production of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

        So you may be right that we can’t stop the continued demand for oil and we need to make sure that alternatives are encouraged, but we must also hold the line against fossil fuels.

        talli

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        • By Robert Rapier on July 27, 2012 at 11:05 pm

          However, is Keystone an example of an existing infrastructure extension of is it a completely new front for or against fossil fuels? 

          I view it as an extension because oil sands production has been growing, and it just adds infrastructure onto growing infrastructure. Plus, I don’t believe stopping it will do anything to slow down oil sands development (although the current price drop is doing that). If prices are sustained above $100, that oil will get to market. In fact, it is getting to market right now by truck and rail. And in my opinion it will ultimately find an outlet to China.

          RR

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          • By Addoeh on July 28, 2012 at 6:29 am

            The oil sands are already going through the existing Keystone Pipeline infrastructure (Hardisty, Alberta to Patoka, Illinois leg) and the Trans Mountain Pipeline (Edmonton to Burnaby, British Columbia).  There are a couple of other pipelines that would bring more of it; Northern Gateway and expansion of the Trans Mountain.  Both would go through BC to the Pacific Ocean.  Neither have been approved and both have their opponents, just like Keystone XL.

            I’d be interested in what the mix between oil sands and Bakken oil that the Keystone XL would bring to the market if it is built.  Is it 50/50, 60/40 to one side?  If Bakken oil would have a good percentage in the Keystone XL and it is cheaper to ship oil in pipelines, wouldn’t that help make up the difference in price that shipping some of this oil overseas would bring?

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  6. By ben on July 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    ER,

    We actually know a good deal and are learning more all the time.  We would do well to keep  presumptions–and egos–in check while we continue to collect the relevant data.   I think that is sort of the essence of our friend Rapier’s insistence on level-headedness taht come sout of the Oklahoma prairie.   As for hypothesizing, well, we ought not cast aspersions on the practice.  Science does require a measure or it and that is both practical and rewarding.   One only hopes that doubt continue to play it’s proper role in guiding the process toward widely-shared benefits of science, to include the inspiration behind this less-than-perfect art of discovery that drives human progress.

    Ben

         

     

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    • By Ed Reid on July 27, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      Ben,

      I am a great believer in clear and careful communication, particularly for issues of major national or global significance. Regarding climate science, the distinction between DATA, hypotheses and projections is critical. The distinction between GW, AGW and CAGW is also very significant, though the terms are far too often used carelessly and interchangeably.

      The US has spent tens of billions of dollars on climate change research. However, the quality of the global temperature record is pitiful, because the temperature measurement infrastructure was not installed and has not been maintained to the specifications of the organizations responsible for the infrastructure.

      There is no question that hypotheses are a critical to the scientific process. It is only after hypotheses have been constructed that the process of attempting to falsify the hypotheses can begin. That is the process which tests the hypotheses and ultimately results in the advancement of the science. It is critical that the bases on which the hypotheses depend are available for analysis as broadly as possible. Climategate illustrated, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the “TEAM” made significant efforts to limit the availability of the information necessary for other scientists to test their hypotheses. Those efforts continue unabated to this day.

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  7. By Maurice on July 27, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    RR, my basic compound math seems to differ from yours. Starting with an annual production of 1.3 billion barrels, using an annual 3% increase in oil production, and accounting for the cumulative annual consumption from 2011 takes my math to 2065 where Canada is producing 6.23 billion barrels a year, but 170.48 billion barrels have been produced over the years, so the current oil sand reserves are extracted a decade earlier than you suggest.

    However, surely there is the wider issue of the bigger regional environmental air, soil, biodiversity, water table and down stream pollution, contamination, plus already evident pipeline accident and leakage devastation resulting from the tar sands mining, operations, and transport. How much water can the region, and those who rely on the water downstream, afford to be extracted to service the tar sands production process before the water sources and aquifers are irreparably compromised? What global value and price do we place on these wider environmental issues?

    Such an easily accessible pipeline is also going to be very vulnerable to manmade, weather and climate damage, and an attractive sabotage and terrorist target, with the commensurate environmental problems and clean-up and security costs.

    As the easier tar sands are exploited, the extraction becomes more difficult and energy intensive, and the cost of the labour, resources, fuel and water to run the tar sands operations increases, the RoI and energy out/input balance with further bring the economics under pressure.  

    Do we really have to wait for the climatic tipping point to hit us before we fully realise and reconsider our addiction to oil and react when it is far too late? Just because we can extract this fossil fuel, doesn’t mean we should to perpetuate a problem the majority seem intent on studiously ignoring.

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    • By Robert Rapier on July 27, 2012 at 4:15 pm

      RR, my basic compound math seems to differ from yours.

      I am heading out the door for a few hours, but I will check the calculations when I get a chance.

      However, surely there is the wider issue of the bigger regional environmental air, soil, biodiversity…

      Certainly those are legitimate topics for debate. As I always say, there is no free lunch. We just have to figure out which trade-offs are most acceptable by the most people. 

      Do we really have to wait for the climatic tipping point to hit us…

      The answer to that is “Probably, because the majority of (growing) global carbon emissions are out of our control.” Whether we do or don’t do the Keystone Pipeline is going to have very little relevance given the very strong growth in coal consumption in developing countries. So my point is that there are far bigger problems that advocates largely ignore.

      RR

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    • By Robert Rapier on July 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      RR, my basic compound math seems to differ from yours. Starting with an annual production of 1.3 billion barrels, using an annual 3% increase in oil production,

      Oh, I know what the difference is. I used the actual average growth rate for the past 10 years, which was something like 2.7%. That is almost certainly the difference.

      RR

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  8. By ben on July 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I dare say the good folks of Alberta will (and should) have the major say on the who, when and how of energy production in their province.   The U. of Calgary has one of the best engineering schools in NA, and these folks will prove integral to innovations that will begin impacting the speed/efficiency of future production up north.  In a decade’s time, we will view today’s energy conversion methods as primitive.   Current debates about “if” will have long given way to multi-billion dollar infrastructure commitments in collaboration with Canada’s trading partners.  “Who” is really the operative question that will largely influence the destination of end-user benefits.   In his week’s news, we are beginning to bear witness to just how this one may play out and this saga will surely involve participation from postal codes well beyond the lovely landscape of Alberta. High-value liquid fuels, specialty chemicals and polymers will influence the investment made within Alberta vice today’s presumption that this is all about hauling dirty oil halfway around the world.   So, if you’re buying land between Calgary and Edmonton, well, get ready for some property taxes for all those new schools, playgrounds and social services.  It’s not the Wild West by any stretch.  More like Nashville meets Houston in Denver which sounds pretty foot-stompin lively to me.            

    Ben

               

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  9. By ben on July 27, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Talli’s closing remark “…..but we must hold the line against fossil fuels” really captures the essence of my earlier observation about what is really behind the Keystone campaign–and it is an all-out campaign to be certain.  

    Her heartfelt lament that “…..fossil fuels have been artificially depressed for too long, though, and we’ve built an unsustainable society on that soft ground“ speaks to what has become consensus among self-styled “progressives” on how modernity somehow lost it’s way on the road to aimless consumerism.   I can’t say that her working assumptions about the artificial basis of fossil fuel costs squares with economic facts (a case can obviously be made that a burdensome regulatory framework and manifold taxes do contribute to costs) nor is there evidence that the sustainability of the American Way has already been relegated to the ash heap of history.  Gosh, I’d like to think we’ve got a few decent innings left in this ballgame of ours.  That said, we’d do well to not only keep exploring, but actually incentivizing alternatives to the current business-as-usual that has the our economy  walking on eggshells over where the next lunatic may send America’s pensioners in droves back to the stools at the front entrances of local Wal-Marts.   Much of R-Squared’s focus has been advocacy of sort of a Third Way of assessing what went wrong in world of energy production and, much more importantly, what we might do about in light of the incessant   the fiddling down along the Potomac (a tume that I must, regrettably, listen to at fairly close quarters).

    Let’s keep the arms limber in anticpation of a late-inning rally.  We certainly aren’t out of it, yet!

    Ben

                      

     

     

     

          

     

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    • By talli on July 27, 2012 at 7:43 pm

      Ben

      My argument for why fossil fuels have been artificially depressed sits simply with the idea that while the subsidies that Robert railed against in a previous blog post may not exist, he didn’t include the massive investment in American military power that is needed to make sure distribution lines are open. If you disagree with that statement, please explain to me why a second US carrier was deployed in the region in recent weeks (http://nbcnews.to/OjIH9d.)

      Unfortunately, American prosperity in the second half of the 20th century was built on cheap, abundant fossil energy. To argue otherwise would require a massive restating of fact. But this era is over, full stop. We may very well have a few more decent innings, but the game will no longer be played in the way it has been until now.

      You’re right that one way to move to a more sustainable energy regime is to build incentives into the system. The Pentago has been trying to do that with their biofuel program and look how the petroleum industry, led by their congressional Republican proxies, have been attacking those efforts.

      Yet even if there wasn’t greater resistance to alternative solutions than the environmental and conservationist communities could ever muster, there is still the issue that AGW is very real and must be addressed. To argue otherwise, as dear, poor Ed seems to enjoy doing so much, is just no longer credible.

      I really loathe to present this issue in such Manichean terms, but this is a fight of opposed forces and the tools employed have to be diverse; technical, political and cultural. As this summer’s drought attests, the coming years will contain some of the greatest threats society has ever faced.

      So yes, Keystone is both a real and metaphorical fight. From the perspective of those looking to address AGW (and I wouldn’t limit it to the left vs the right, not all conservatives are blind to reality), not taking a stand here, in the case of fracking in the Marcellus shale and every other fossil fuel project, would be a great abdication of responsibility.

      talli

      PS
      As Robert will support, I’m very much not a female. Although good on you for picking up on the gender confusion of my name!

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      • By Robert Rapier on July 27, 2012 at 10:59 pm

        he didn’t include the massive investment in American military power that is needed to make sure distribution lines are open.

        Now I have readily acknowledged that we don’t pay full costs for oil. And I would love to see people pay those full costs at the pump. But I also want to be sure that the discussion is factual; thus posts like my last one where I point out the confusion over subsidies. 

        RR

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      • By Ed Reid on July 28, 2012 at 8:53 am

        “…there is still the issue that AGW is very real and must be addressed. To argue otherwise, as dear, poor Ed (NOTE: Soft ad hominem) seems to enjoy doing so much, is just no longer credible” (NOTE: Argument from authority.)

        Note thatdear, poor Ed” is touched by your gentile concern. :-)

        AGW is likely a component of the recent warming, though the magnitude of its contribution is uncertain. The real question is whether it is a threat; and, if so, whether that threat is serious, no less imminent.

        AGW cannot be “addressed” effectively on less than a global scale. “To argue otherwise is just no longer credible.”  (That’s my argument from authority.)

        Individual state, multi-state, national and regional efforts are Quixotic. The growth rate of annual emissions from Asia is too large to be offset by emissions reductions in the developed countries.

        If you find you are digging yourself into a hole, the first imperative is to stop digging. The developing countries of Asia, as Robert has note previously, are not inclined to “stop digging”. I am willing to wait to put on “sackcloth and ashes” until they are ready.

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        • By Ed Reid on July 28, 2012 at 8:59 am

           Sorry, “gentile” should have been “genteel” in second paragraph above.

           

           

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  10. By Benjamin Cole on July 28, 2012 at 12:53 am

    Another interesting aspect about the Keystone pipeline: It is a private pipeline, for private profit, yet it has the power of eminent domain. Ranchers cannot refuse to let the pipeline cross their ranches, and if they refuse, they are dragged into court, where they lose, and face court fees and settlement costs. 

    The passionate defenders of sacrosanct property rights suddenly grow mute at this situation.  

     

    But really?  A profit-seeking enterprise (not a public road, or hospital, sewer line etc) can just seize your property and use it?  The precedent is astonishing. 

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    • By Russ Finley on July 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

      Benjamin said:

      A profit-seeking enterprise (not a public road, or hospital, sewer line etc) can just seize your property and use it?  The precedent is astonishing.

      Interesting point. Certainly the corn ethanol industry is a profit-seeking enterprise. It is also unprecedented to have government mandated consumption (10% of the fuel you buy) of a chosen industry’s product, while usurping 40% of our corn crop to do it. I have not yet found any past examples of government forced consumption to match it. It’s the polar opposite of government mandated rationing.

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    • By Addoeh on July 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm

      Sports venues have also been using eminent domain for decades to get construction done.  The most recent example is the new Barclays Center for the Brooklyn Nets.  A lot of these, including the Barclays Center, are a private venue for private profit.

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    • By Ed Reid on July 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm

      Eminent domain requires “just compensation”, but not owner permission. Typically, in the case of a pipeline, eminent domain provides a right of way for a buried facility, though in some cases it might involve the installation of  pumping station.

      Eminent domain has been used for decades to facilitate the installation of natural gas pipelines and oil and finished goods (gasoline and diesel fuel) pipelines. Frequently the land above the pipeline can continue to be used for grazing or hay production, or even for golf courses. However, the pipeline retains rights of access to the land for inspection and maintenance. It would be a rare case in which a person’s home was taken through eminent domain for a pipeline installation. Structures typically cannot be built in rights of way.

      See Kelo vs. New London, Connecticut for another example of eminent domain use for economic development; in this case, economic development which never happened.

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      • By Russell Frege on November 20, 2012 at 7:22 am

        Modern societal infrastructure would be impossible without eminent domain. This does not negate the fact that in the present case ranchers and farmers are being forced into easements for infrastructure to ship a product that is degrading the agricultural productivity of their land. Indeed, from the strictest libertarian perspective the societal benefits of eminent domain do not matter where property rights are concerned, nor do broad social benefits from economic activity warrant permission to pollute because pollution is after all vandalism. I take a more pragmatic utilitarian line myself on both matters, but nevertheless I share the strict (ideological)* libertarian’s outrage at a property owner being forced to lease to the very perpetrator of the vandalism.

        *Of course, the logical implications of strict libertarian ideology are quite different from the rightwing employment of mere libertarian rhetoric, but this is a digression.

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    • By George on July 29, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      “The passionate defenders of sacrosanct property rights suddenly grow mute at this situation.”

      Please spare us your sanctimony about property rights. Many states have instituted property taxing to support their school systems. Many poor taxpayers have lost homes and properties for failure to pay property taxes. In effect, we rent our homes from the local governments, to support teachers unions. Under such government-imposed conditions there are no “property rights.”

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  11. By ben on July 28, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Such grist for the mill!  Talli (the man), sorry for mis-identification.  Personally, I find the fairer sex, well, fairer:)

    As for all your insights, I must say that you appear both bright and well-intentioned.  Some see this as a deadly combination. I’ll take my chances:)   

    I have an office down the hall a few paces from a former assistant to Gen. James L. Jones, USMC (ret.) who is of the opinion that recent attempts at interjecting the DPA into promotion of biofuels via DOD’s appropriation process is a misjudgment; it bodes well for neither the armed services nor alternative energy.   He is joined in such a view by Senator James Webb (D-VA) , another highly decorated Marine, who sits on both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee (and who actively campaigned for the president’s election).  So, the issue is hardly a Republican-only dissent.   These guys are smart, civic-minded and suffer fools not at all.   It’[s probably fair to suggest that they share the author of this blog’s heartburn about the lack of a coherent national energy security for America.  I suspect that you, too, share in this frustration.  Likewise, one assumes that a fair-minded person will insist that some measure of the investment of blood & treasure made in the sands of Middle East over the course of the past decade (or ist that half-century?) must be included in calculating the real cost of energy supplies.   Is this a producer subsidy or a consumer subsidy?  Or is it both?  And does it matter?  Perhaps.   What is clear is that the government of the United States has not been serious about coming to terms with either bad habits or emerging competition.   Like it or not, the chickens are about to roost.  Or to lean further into the basbeall analogy, the bullpen is left to clean up for the starting pitcher–never a recipe for season-long success.

    As for Mr. Ed,  his citation of all things Kelo v. City of New London is too delicious to resist.  Without a lengthy recitation of the facts here, I will share a brief piece that appeared in the wake of the High Court’s controversial 5-4 decision: 

    “The well-laid plans of redevelopers, however, did not pan out.  The land where the (plaintiff’s) little pink house once stood remains undeveloped (to this day).  The proposed hotel/retail/condo development project has not been built.  Pfizer, Inc. (a commercially  interested private party) subsequently announced that it was closing it’s neighboring $350 million research center in New London and would consolidate to to their facility in nearby Groton.”    The final cost to the city/state for the purchase/reclamation of the site is $78 million and the promised 3,100 jobs and $1.2 million in annual tax payments, well, they sort of disappeared.   To think, these guys actually prevailed in their eminent domain challenge to the Court.  A reading of Justice O’Connor’s sensibly-minded dissenting opinion is very much worth the read.  Hey, even Justice Thomas was willing to share opinion (indignation is more like it) on the matter!              

    Another interesting footnote on Kelo v. City of New London; before the Supreme Court’s ruling on thsi eminent domain case, there were seven states with legal restrictions on the use of eminent domain “for public use” by the government involving seizure or takings under the Takings Clause of the 5th Amendment.  There are now forty-four.  For those interested, Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion (for the majority) speaks to a “fact-based test” that now informs ongoing debate about governmental power as it bears on Takings.  Keystone proponents/opponents, please take note.  It promises to remain interesting. 

    Thanks for caring enough to argue–and do it with, as mu associates would say, a good measure of esprit de corps.   After all, and like it or not, we are all in this together

    Ben

     

                

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    • By Ed Reid on July 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm

      Kelo, in my opinion, joins Dred Scott and Obamacare among the worst Supreme Court decisions ever. The failure of the development project is cold comfort for Susette Kelo.

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  12. By carbonbridge on July 29, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I dare say the good folks of Alberta will (and should) have the major say on the who, when and how of energy production in their province.   The U. of Calgary has one of the best engineering schools in NA, and these folks will prove integral to innovations that will begin impacting the speed/efficiency of future production up north.  In a decade’s time, we will view today’s energy conversion methods as primitive.

    ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

    What IF there was a stackless gasifier which could adjust for long residency times (like 45 minutes) and cleanly convert ALL the carbon from the Tar Sands into CO & H2 syngas intermediates?  And all the sand remaining after its former volume of hydrocarbon bitumen was gasified became inert – converted into glassy slags where most of it would be recycled back into the same pits from whence it was mined? 

    Inert glass doesn’t leach anything, yet you need a true ‘slagging gasifier’ which would operate at only 1-2 psi while at high temperatures.  The water utilized herein would be only a mere fraction of what is utilized today in generating steam from via the combustion of methane to collect only a portion (not all) of the thick bitumen from the sands being mined and processed.

    The synthetic methane (syngas) can be piped to urban markets where it combusts cleaner than methane NatGas does.  OR this syngas intermediate can be converted into very clean liquid fuels via different GTL processes.  Some GTL synthetic fuel outputs are biodegradable, depends upon whether oxycarbons are produced or hydrocarbons.

    Just another angle to consider here which could reduce pollution and warming on both the processing and combustion-sides of the Canadian Tar Sands mining equation.

    -Mark

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  13. By MattZ on July 29, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Hi Robert,

    While I appreciate your analysis of facts, changes in public policy rarely come about because of facts and evidence, but due to the more powerful forces of symbolism and narrative that motivate people to demand change.  Many of us “environmentalists” don’t believe that politicians have our best interests in mind and so the public court of opinion and consumer choice is where we try to shift policy.  From this context it is easy to understand why the Keystone has become a lightning rod.

    For me, the goal of sustainability (if you believe such a thing can exist in our current model of continual growth) can only be reached when all of the costs of production and consumption are internalized into the prices of the goods and services being produced and consumed. Unfortunately many of the true costs are externalized and borne by society and because these costs are outside of the market system, government is the only actor that can truly step in to correct these market failures.  The fight over keystone is a negotiation and if we didn’t demand its shutdown due to concerns of climate, spills, water use, land use, pollution, etc.  then I don’t believe we would make much progress on any of these fronts. It’s precisely because we make such a big stink about these things, that we see changes in regulations, investments in new technology, etc.  

    For example, here in Canada, both the Alberta and Canadian governments have continually claimed that toxic pollution from oilsand production is well monitored, well under current health limits and guidelines, and the any toxicity is a result of the oilsands simply existing and seeping into the waterways and not from the actual industrial activities.  It took a lot of loud noise-making to elevate the issue to the point where independent scientists were brought in to study the situation and they basically showed that both levels of government were full of BS and indeed the levels of toxicity were from the industrial processes, that they were far higher than government limits, that there was indeed a high probability that the increased cancers rates were from this pollution, and that neither the industry or the governments even had the proper monitoring systems in place to even know what the truth was. For us, this was just another example of government being in bed with industry and helping to hide the true costs of production. Of course, this embarrassed the industry and government and so they announced a world class monitoring system that will be put in place over the next few years.  If it wasn’t for the big campaign against the oilsands (combined with the evidence of course) we wouldn’t have seen even these small changes. This is one small example of a narrative that plays over and over again in so many industries.  It’s the narrative where an industry has external costs that it should be responsible for, but they are passed on to society instead.  Worse, instead of having good government that actually represents the interests of its citizens and is willing to bring about regulation to internalize these costs, they are more aligned with industry and it’s only when we raise a big stink that things seem to change.

    Instead of taking a leadership role and developing innovative and best-in-class technologies for sustainable development, it seems that certain industries are preferring to water down regulations, fight attempts to internalize costs, and just generally be bad corporate citizens.

    Ultimately, I appreciate your analysis of the facts, but I hope you understand that the battle for public opinion, which ultimately changes public policy and molds consumer choices, is not fought and won with facts, but only support by them.

     

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    • By Robert Rapier on July 29, 2012 at 11:43 am

      While I appreciate your analysis of facts, changes in public policy rarely come about because of facts and evidence, but due to the more powerful forces of symbolism and narrative that motivate people to demand change.

      I agree with that. However, unless we separate fact from hyperbole, I think there are often unexpected consequences as a result of certain actions. You may think that doing A gets B, because that’s what everyone has been saying, but instead it gets X or B plus undesirable Y and Z.

      I think my position is best summed up in my comment to Talli. Even the most staunch environmentalist would come down as supporting some fossil fuel projects, unless he thought mass starvation was a good idea. The question then becomes, “Which projects do you support, and why?”

      RR

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      • By Russell Frege on November 20, 2012 at 7:43 am

        “Which projects do you support, and why?”

        There is a principled way to answer this question. Assume each person in the world gets 85 tons of emissions per lifetime, which is what the global carbon sequester commons can absorb at the target of 2c warming. Support the projects that bring those in the developing world up to their share. Oppose the projects of those in the developed world who already far exceed their share and ought to be taking the lead in shifting infrastructure and investment to a low carbon emissions economy.

        Of course, since we in the US and Canada already far exceed our share (360 tons) the practical negotiation is delicate. It is highly impractical to get into line overnight. But “justice is fairness” or so they say, so we’ve got to figure something out. The environmentalist position that while we’re figuring things out new fossil fuel infrastructure in North America isn’t really a great priority (in fact makes the problem worse) is not nearly as poorly thought out as you suggest, however.

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        • By Robert Rapier on November 20, 2012 at 10:51 am

          Oppose the projects of those in the developed world who already far exceed their share and ought to be taking the lead in shifting infrastructure and investment to a low carbon emissions economy.

          But there’s the rub. This means you oppose every project in the West. So, do we stop using oil overnight, or do you acknowledge that this is impossible? If the latter, then you have to support some projects or acknowledge that mass starvation ensues.

          RR

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  14. By pelinoc on July 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Robert,

    I admire your commitment to facts and rationality in these debates. I have to agree with Mattz, however, in that facts and rationality are not really what is at work in most of these cases. Keystone is a fundamentally political argument, not economic or even environmental. It became a ligtening rod primarily BECAUSE IT COULD, in a political sense: there was the opportunity for action with a reasonable potential of a satisfactory outcome, that would have the further benefits of being useful for building overall support for the movement, enlisting new members, and raising money. It was in many respects a perfect opportunity for this politically motivated group of activists.

    On rational economic and environmental grounds, it is suspect. According to the IEA, 2009 production of crude oil in Canada was 95 million metric tonnes, while in the US it was 245 million metric tonnes. Notwithstanding the growth of the oil sands, Canada has a long, long way to go before even catching up to the US, much less Saudi Arabia (408) or Russia (477). If crude oil production is the bane of climate change, why not protest against the biggest producers, or even US domestic production? Because it does not have a reasonable chance of working, and as a result it would not have all those other ancillary political benefits.

    Numerous other environmental goals and objectives, not least of which is quickly growing coal use in Asia, are legitimately much more important on rational environmental grounds, but politically they are non-starters because of the lack of likelihood for success.

    Every proponent of a big project is going to have to look at themselves through the kind of political lens that has so affected Keystone (TransCanada obviously was surprised this time). Rational arguments based on facts are just the tip of the iceberg…

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  15. By Russell Frege on November 20, 2012 at 6:02 am

    “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t cut down all the trees on the island.”

    “Oh c’mon. These trees right here are only a small percentage of the trees on the island. And those trees over there, just a tiny fraction. And the ones over yonder, a mere smidgeon.”

    “Yeah, but…”

    I think environmental campaigners are right to make a stand. We have to peak emissions in 2020 then decline sharply. That’s what we must do to keep warming under 2c. Building new infrastructure, imposing eminent domain on private property owners, and creating increased local risks just makes no sense. The “as we transition” talk might have made sense 20 or 30 years ago, but the industry has blocked reforms that would have allowed a more gradual and rational transition. Indeed, their representatives in congress continue to blockade rational legislation. Perhaps it will come to this, the campaigners’ pipeline blockade will only be abandoned when the industry abandons their legislative blockade. Until then, an uncompromising stance toward every “little bit” is in my opinion completely warranted.

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  16. By Russell Frege on November 20, 2012 at 6:26 am

    In fact, though he is selectively misquoted in the media regarding his research, Swart himself argues as follows: “In general, building new large-scale infrastructure which commits society to long-term fossil-fuel usage is not consistent with keeping warming below 2°C, regardless of the particular fossil-fuel resource.” In particular, he points out that if the US and Canada utilize the tar sands (economically viable) then that alone will take up about 3/4ths of our equal share per capita emissions under a 2c scenario:
    http://climate.uvic.ca/people/nswart/Alberta_oil_sands_2C_warming.html

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