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By Russ Finley on Apr 21, 2014 with 11 responses

Lie To Me–Keystone XL Could Mean the End for Wolves

WolfPup

Photo courtesy Erin Eve via Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve gotten four email alerts related to the Keystone XL pipeline from my local chapter of the Sierra Club. They talk about wolves, water quality, and toxins, but other than one reference to the Boreal Forest storing 11 percent of the world’s carbon, they make no mention of climate change. Here’s a sampling:

Russell, can you help?‏ Wolf mothers and cubs are already cowering from helicopters dispatched to shoot them – all in the name of protecting tar sands mining sites.

The image has already been seared into my memory: wolves shot dead from helicopters to keep them away from the mines. I don’t want to see more of them dead, and I’m sure you don’t either.

Wolves are already at risk of being shot, but if Keystone XL is built, their quiet refuge in Canada will be all but decimated.

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The culling of wolves is an issue related to tar sand mining, but it has little, if anything, to do with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Here’s why, from Motley Fool:

Make no mistake about it: If the oil doesn’t make its way to the U.S. [via the Keystone XL pipeline], it will still make its way out of Canada. Unfortunately, it could be on a long boat ride to China. Because let’s face it: Oil prices around the globe aren’t likely to get any cheaper thanks to Asia’s voracious demand for oil.

The wolves are being used for marketing purposes. In reality, the tar sands operations may have increased (temporarily) the number of wolves by making it easier for them to hunt caribou thanks to all of the access roads that have been cut into the forests to facilitate seismic readings.

The wolves are being culled in an attempt to save the caribou herds which are dwindling, in part, because of increased predation. It’s another of those unintended consequences that usually result when we start screwing with mother nature. Inversely, the need for a deer hunting season is the result of having eliminated natural predators of deer (two mountain lions have found their way into in Seattle’s Discovery Park since I moved here–one was shot, the other was darted).

Andrew Derocher, a wildlife biologist at the University of Alberta put it succinctly:

It’s a Band-Aid type solution for a gaping wound,” he said. “We’ve changed the landscape so much that we’re sort of dealing with the symptoms rather than treating the disease.”

If I were King, I would not have allowed the tar sands to be mined for a number of environmentally related reasons. I support leaving our Arctic National Wildlife Reserve alone. If we one day lose that fight and, as is now the case with the Alberta tar sands oil,  have to choose between oil tankers and a pipeline, well, how much would it really matter at that point? In a nutshell, fighting the pipeline is too little, too late; a symbolic gesture based on an untested hypothesis with great potential to do more harm than good. That hypothesis is not well-defined, but it has something to do with sending a message of some kind to somebody.

The Keystone XL pipeline is almost certainly the least of two evils at this juncture in time. To borrow a phrase from Andrew Derocher, stopping the pipeline would be “…sort of dealing with the symptoms rather than treating the disease.”

Oil_Slick_Leaf

Finding an alternative to oil would treat the disease. See the above photo of my electric car overlaid on a picture of a parking lot oil slick. Simply forcing tar sand oil to use a more environmentally destructive path to market is shooting the environment in the foot.

James Hansen was one of the first to suggest that it is going to be nearly impossible to keep oil in the ground if you don’t have an alternative for it (and we don’t), which is why his primary goal has typically been to keep our vast coal reserves in the ground by promoting a proven alternative to it; nuclear energy. IMHO, his level of involvement with the Keystone XL pipeline, not to mention his association with the anti-nuclear Bill McKibben, is creating a growing credibility problem. What he needs is a good PR manager.

I’m much less concerned about the Keystone XL pipeline than I am about the government support of the expansion of dams, biofuels, and biomass. Roughly half of climate change is the result of things other than the burning of fossil fuels; things like deforestation and the expansion of agriculture. Not only do they exacerbate warming, but they also usurp large areas, simultaneously, directly, and immediately destroying ecosystems.

Hawksbill

Hatchling Hawskbill Sea Turtle–Photo Credit Nina Finley

Finding a way to keep coal in the ground might also make a dent in ocean acidification (that other problem associated with excess carbon in the atmosphere that rarely gets mentioned).

And as I’ve said before, I don’t think humanity is capable of doing what it would take to blunt a warming climate. My hope is that the climate change debate will at least accelerate the replacement of coal with a combination of nuclear, wind, and solar.

  1. By Forrest on April 23, 2014 at 8:26 am

    My personal experience and information not as idyllic per most for ancient forest land. My BIL was life time biology teacher and held such beliefs of virgin pine forest in
    Wisconsin. He took me at a young age to visit a stand of protected white pine virgin forest. Not very impressive. It was quiet, void of wildlife, and void of diverse plant life. It
    was park like, not many birds either. I remember grade school teachers and text books depicting 19th century robber barons chopping down pristine white pine forest teaming with happy wild life in effort to gain profit. My neighbor a forestry grad of Michigan State would actively log forest to maximize the ability of woodland to grow. Nature does a poor job of this. Depending on local topography of landscape he would plant red pine, select log, or clear cut. He would leave select trees to either reseed or attract wildlife. Past the decades, I was amazed at the value of his wood land acreage per timber and wildlife. I did look up U.S. wood land acres. Since the 1600′s the Rocky Mountain 150 million acres unchanged per modern day. Pacific coast’s 250 million acres maybe lost 25 million acres or 10%. Northern U.S. has 60% of its 300 million acres and gaining. Southern U.S. has 64% of original 1600′s 350 million acres of forest.

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    • By Forrest on April 23, 2014 at 8:39 am

      Also, the forest ability to sequester carbon per acre not very impressive. Old growth woodland in balance and provide no sequestration. Giant redwood can carbon sink for hundreds of years, but per acre per year not that impressive. Charcoal can accomplish carbon sink for hundreds of years as well and do so immediately. In the process of trapping carbon, a nice benefit of charcoal is the improved soil fertility. Forestry studies will calculate tons of tree growth per year. This is proportional to CO2 sequestration. A Vermont 60 year old forest will grow 1-2 tons per acre per year if actively trimmed/logged for maximum growth. Biofuel hybrids expected to produce 20 tons per acre per year. These perennial plantings expected to provide prairie life habitat for wildlife as the harvest will be staggered to balance workload and supply.

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  2. By Forrest on April 23, 2014 at 8:45 am

    The 40 acre corn field in my backyard is extremely popular with wildlife. They fatten themselves for winter and spring by gleaning corn kernels. Also, during corn growth the field a jungle of animal habitat. I live by an old growth forest set up as bird sanctuary. A couple years ago I made a daily trek through the preserve to make a statistical sampling of value to wildlife. This was a one year observation sample. The forest a dying old age hard maple forest with little diversity. I would rate the forest extremely poor for wildlife.
    Given wood peckers should have received a benefit and per my recent bird feeder
    observations would agree. The most popular area for wildlife observed when walking close to home during these treks. Human activity attracts wildlife as the gardens, compost piles, and plantings teaming with food and cover. The best development to nature is the increasing popular movement to landscape for wildlife. The near by marsh was equally attractive. An area with minimal tree cover.

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    • By Forrest on April 23, 2014 at 8:49 am

      Naturalist will tout the farmer land bank as nature preserve win. Around here that is not the case. These lands set fallow growing sparse weed crop. They sit gaming tax dollars with no one taking interest in investing or putting the land to high value prairie, crop, or forest land. People think absence of human activity just the juice to let nature work its miracles. Maybe within century time span, but man can make the property extremely attractive within a few years.

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  3. By Forrest on April 23, 2014 at 8:48 am

    The dams per northern Wisconsin extremely important per economy and wildlife. I am an avid outdoorsman and have observed river vs flowage fisheries and wildlife. I wouldn’t suggest destroying river, but placing a dam within optimal zone of river will increase the
    diversity and value of landmass. It will support more wildlife and produce electric power. The benefit compromise is specific to proposed dam site. No generalities of benefit or harm possible for all dam sites.

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  4. By Optimist on April 23, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    “If I were King, I would not have allowed the tar sands to be mined for a number of environmentally related reasons.”

    Uhm… King Russ, we have a problem.

    Following your excellencies wise decision NOT to mine the tar sands, oil prices have spiked to $200/bbl. Those ignorant peasants are revolting, going as far as to burn effigies of your grace in the streets.

    As calculated by your wisenose, global temperatures have already dropped by 0.0000002°C…

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    • By Russ Finley on April 23, 2014 at 11:06 pm

      …pessimism aside, I could not make sense of this comment. The tar sand oil is all that’s keeping oil prices from doubling? Oil reserves won’t one day deplete? I have calculated that global temps have dropped by 0.0000002°C?

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      • By Optimist on April 24, 2014 at 2:19 pm

        OK, I exaggerated. Surely you get my point though. Tar sands will have a minimal impact on global warming, as RR calculated: http://www.energytrendsinsider.com/2013/11/11/oil-sands-and-the-environment-part-i/
        More than once, in fact: “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!” – http://www.energytrendsinsider.com/2012/07/26/the-facts-about-canadas-oil-sands-and-climate-change/

        Meanwhile taking that supply off the market will surely hurt.

        As for the question of running out of oil: You must be aware that The Atlantic discussed the very topic: What If We Never Run Out of Oil? – http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/05/what-if-we-never-run-out-of-oil/309294/

        Can’t say I was particularly impressed.

        The reason we will never run out of oil is economics. Eight presidents have spoken passionately about energy independence, each touting his own hairbrained solution(1). But energy independence makes no sense when you can import at $10/bbl. At $100/bbl, the dynamic is very different. There is a real incentive to figure out how to use the tar sands. Fracking pays of handsomely. Suddenly oil that was previously unrecoverable is recovered. That pattern will no doubt repeat itself: at some point even the oil scale of UT, WY and CO may be developed profitably. It might take $1000+/bbl to make it happen, but at some price the incentive is large enough, and somebody figures it out.

        So the side effects of $100/bbl is both (more) energy independence and more oil money staying in the country. Did $100/bbl hurt or help the US economy overall? It certainly helped ND and TX.

        Let me add that I’m not predicting that oil scale will ever be profitable, or even hoping that it ever comes to that. Rather oil scale is the reason we’ll never run out. It’s there and it can be recovered. If the price is right. May it never come to that.

        The reason it may never come to that is that at some price an alternative becomes competitive, if only Uncle Sam stays out of it, and does not try to tilt the market to much in favor of his preferred alcohol (Hick!). Same dynamic as for oil scale: eventually rising price meets new technology that reduces the cost of production to the profitable range.
        (1) http://www.energytrendsinsider.com/2010/06/19/the-cost-of-energy-independence/

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  5. By Adrian Foley on November 22, 2014 at 7:38 am

    The king will look foolish in ten years when he curtailed energy production while the sun spots take their periodic time off and the earth cools.
    He should be asking why CO2 production continues to expand but temperatures stopped increasing (which they have done many times before industrialization) and are now declining.

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