Years of public scrutiny have demonstrated of dangers of proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline


Today I will testify before the U.S. House Energy & Commerce’s subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. My written testimony is available here.  Watch the hearing live at 10:15 EST.

During my testimony, I will make the following statement:


"Chairman Terry, Ranking Member Schakowsky and members of the subcommittee, thank you for today’s opportunity to testify on the economic and environmental issues associated with the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. My name is Anthony Swift. I am a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). NRDC is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting public health and the environment.

When TransCanada first proposed to build the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the controversial project generated public outcry for good reason. The proposed pipeline would have transported 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude - the dirtiest, most carbon intensive crude in the world – across America’s farms, communities and through some of the nation’s most sensitive water resources.

The intervening years of public scrutiny and environmental review have only bolstered the argument that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the nation’s interest and should be rejected.

In the period since TransCanada filed its initial application, we’ve learned through tragic experience of the dangers of tar sands spills. In spills in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas, we’ve seen communities destroyed and learned that tar sands is far more difficult to contain and clean than conventional crude.

We watched as TransCanada put two new pipelines – Keystone I and Bison – into service. Both had special safety conditions. And yet – in its first year Keystone I spilled 14 times and had to be shut down by regulators, while the Bison pipeline exploded. 

We’ve learned that Keystone XL’s supporters have dramatically exaggerated the benefits of this project.

We were told that Keystone XL was critical to U.S. energy security. We now know that over half of the tar sands from Keystone XL will be exported after the reach the Gulf. Rather than a pipeline to the United States, Keystone XL is an export pipeline through it.

While supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline continue to pitch the project as a national jobs creator, the reality is quite different. The State Department’s review indicates that the construction of Keystone XL has a job creation potential on par with building a shopping mall, and will support far fewer jobs after it’s built – employing just 50 permanent workers in both the United States and Canada.  That’s simply not the national jobs plan that its boosters claim.

At the same time, we’ve watched clean energy become one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States – creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. In fact, just in the second quarter of this year, 58 new projects in clean energy and clean transportation were announced which will create over 38,000 new jobs.

We’ve long known that tar sands is incredibly carbon intensive to produce. Not only are the well to tank emissions from gasoline produced from tar sands 82% higher than that from conventional crude, we now know that a barrel of tar sands produces greater quantities of carbon intensive by-products like petroleum coke.

Just the energy required to move thick tar sands at high pressures through Keystone XL will generate annual carbon emissions equivalent to 600,000 cars. Replacing conventional crude at the Gulf with tar sands from Keystone XL would generate annual emissions equivalent to those of over 5 million vehicles. To put that in perspective, Americans would have to drive 60 billion fewer miles every year to make up for the increased carbon emissions from Keystone XL. 

We’ve also learned that Keystone XL is the linchpin for the tar sands industry’s expansion plans. Goldman Sachs, Standard & Poor’s, and other market observers have noted that the current pace of tar sands expansion cannot continue if Keystone XL is rejected. The efforts of its supporters to secure its approval underline its importance to the tar sands industry’s expansion plans.

 In the unlikely scenario that every other proposed tar sands transportation project moved ahead, the tar sands industry still would not have sufficient transport capacity to meet its expansion plans without Keystone XL. There is no credible way to divorce Keystone XL with tar sands expansion and the carbon pollution associated with it.

We just finished - last year - the hottest year on record across the continental United States. We spent $140 billion to cover crop losses, saw wildfires that burned 9.3 million acres of our forests and fields, and witnessed storms like Hurricane Sandy, which left 130 Americans dead, did more than $80 billion of damage. Climate related spending cost the average American taxpayer $1,100 last year.

Our choice is clear: we will begin, on our watch, to reduce the dangerous carbon pollution that is driving global climate change - or our children will inherit climate chaos tomorrow.

Years of public scrutiny have given us a myriad of reasons to reject this tar sands project. Keystone XL is not in the nation’s interest.

NRDC thanks you for the opportunity to present its views and I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have."