Debunking 8 discredited talking points pushed by Keystone XL proponents in Senate debate

As the Senate debates the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, proponents of the Keystone XL tar pipeline are pushing discredited talking points. The move would skip over the essential executive permitting process of determining whether the project is in the national interest in the first place. During the first half of the Senate debate this morning, Senator Pat Robertson, Senator Manchin, Senator Thune and Senator Landrieu pushed eight talking that unsupported by the facts.

Let’s update these talking points with the facts.

1. Tarsands expansion isn’t inevitable. Senator Roberts suggested that the tar sands industry doesn’t need Keystone XL - this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says that pipelines are the largest factor in determining tar sands expansion.  The tar sands industry has been highlighting the importance of Keystone XL for tar sands expansion for years.

2. Rail isn’t a viable substitute for tar sands. Heavy Canadian crude shipments to the Gulf by rail have remained under 50,000 bpd, or about 6% of Keystone XL’s capacity.  Both the rail companies and tar sands producers that pioneered tar sands by rail to the Gulf – and responsible for much of that volume – are on the verge of insolvency because of high transportation costs. That’s why companies are cancelling carbon intensive tar sands projects rather than shifting to rail.

3. TransCanada and its allies have been responsible for the many delays in the Keystone XL review process. A review of the record shows this clearly – by claiming only a route through the sensitive Sand Hills was possible, by trying to force the President to decide before the project had a route, and then by lobbying for an unconstitutional shortcut around Nebraska’s routing law, TransCanada has delayed the review process for Keystone XL. And contrary to Senator Landrieu’s statement – there have been two environmental reviews, not five.

4. Keystone XL is a tar sands export pipeline through the United States, not to it. Contrary to Senator Manchin’s statement, the State Department’s 2013 Draft SEIS forecasts that over half of the refined product from Keystone XL would be exported internationally. State Department, Draft SEIS, March 2013, 1.14.15. The route to energy security is to diversify our supply – by getting more of our power from the wind and sun – and curtail our demand for oil and other dirty fossil fuels, by investing in efficiency so we can do more with less waste.

5. Total Jobs from Keystone XL: 35. Contrary to Senator Landrieu’s utterly unsupported statement on Keystone XL’s job creation potential, the company that seeks to build the pipeline - TransCanada - told the U.S. State Department the pipeline would create 35 permanent jobs. (Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement: Executive Summary: pg. 20). That's about half as many workers as it takes to run a McDonald's

There will be temporary jobs for 1,950 construction workers for the two years it takes to dig the ditch and drop the pipe. Then they’ll be gone. Meanwhile, clean energy companies have announced more than 18,000 actual new jobs in the last quarter alone. Little wonder President Obama said Friday:

“If my Republican friends really want to focus on what’s good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy. I’m happy to have that conversation.”

6. North Dakota’s producers don’t need Keystone XL. The U.S. oil industry now says that Keystone XL isn’t useful for them. Contrary to Senator Thune’s statement that North Dakota’s producers need pipelines, those same producers turned down two major pipelines while existing pipelines are being underutilized. That’s why  Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources said Keystone XL and tar sands aren’t needed:

"If we have an oil oversupply looking at us, do we need more Canadian oil here? Probably not."                                                                                   

7. Keystone XL would substantially increase carbon emissions. Both Senator Landrieu and Thune tried to minimize the significant carbon emission from Keystone XL by pushing the “tar sands development is inevitable” argument. The truth of the matter is that the State Department calculated that the incremental carbon pollution from the tar sands pipeline would be as much as putting up to 5.7 million additional cars on the road – about as many as are in the state of Pennsylvania. And there can be no question that Keystone XL will enable additional tar sands expansion and associate climate emissions – a lack of pipelines is why the tar sands industry has cancelled three major tar sands projects this year alone. 

Those cancelations came before the recent drop in oil prices. Increasing production costs and falling oil prices have made cheap pipeline access a make it or break it proposition for new tar sands projects. According to a report released by the Canadian Energy Research Institute this summer, new tar sands projects require prices between $85-$110 a barrel to break even. In this environment, Keystone XL would provide an economic lifeline for many carbon intensive tar sands expansion projects, locking in the production of some of the world’s most carbon intensive oil for decades to come.

8. Private property rights and Nebraska landowners are not protected. Passing Keystone XL without a route in Nebraska significantly undermines the ability of the state’s landowners to weigh into the project. Just talk to Nebraska rancher Randy Thompson. The citizens of Nebraska and South Dakota deserve an opportunity to weigh in on the pipeline’s route in a public process without Congress intervening on the project. 

About the Authors

Anthony Swift

Director, Canada Project, International program

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