Climate Impacts of the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Issue Brief
October 30, 2013

The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would pump up to 830,000 barrels per day of the world’s dirtiest oil from Canada’s Boreal forest straight through the heart of America’s breadbasket to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Building the 875-mile northern segment of Keystone XL would lead to a dramatic increase in the carbon pollution that worsens the effects of climate change. Hence, construction of the pipeline fails the all-important carbon test the president laid out in his June 2013 climate address to the nation, when he said Keystone XL’s permit would be approved only if the pipeline “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.

The fact is that Keystone XL's construction would send market signals that would reverberate across North America’s economy in ways that are dangerous to our climate. The pipeline would increase the profitability of producing tar sands, which would accelerate the pace and expand the scale of carbon-heavy tar sands development in Alberta. In fact, Keystone XL is a necessary ingredient in the oil industry’s pursuit of its aggressive plans to triple tar sands production by 2030. Production and transport of tar sands oil would expand, further exposing years of broken climate promises from Canada, a nation whose tar sands expansion plans are directly incompatible with its own stated policies of working toward carbon emission reductions. And construction of Keystone XL would undermine some of the most ambitious and hard-won U.S. climate policies. As a single, discrete decision, denial of a Presidential Permit for Keystone XL is one of the most effective ways the United States can move forward on climate.