If President Obama was looking for any additional reasons to veto the senate’s recent vote in favor of Keystone XL, the EPA just handed him what could be the defining argument against building the controversial pipeline. In a letter to the State Department, the EPA explains in detail how a staggering 1.37 billion metric tons of additional greenhouse gases will be released if Keystone XL goes ahead.


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The EPA’s letter is one of eight that has been submitted to the U.S. State Department as part of its investigation into whether or not Keystone XL would serve ‘national interests.’ Obama has stated clearly that he will not approve Keystone XL if it is not in national interests, and specifically stipulated in 2013 that “our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

The letter is exceptionally clear on this matter, and this is how the EPA breaks down the numbers on expected emissions from Keystone XL:

“The Final SEIS states that lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from development and use of oil sands crude is about 17% greater than emissions from average crude oil refined in the United States on a wells-to-wheels basis.

The Final SEIS also finds that the incremental greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction, transport, refining and use of the 830,000 barrels per day of oils sands crude that could be transported by the proposed Project at full capacity would result in an additional 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTC02-e) per year compared to the reference crudes. To put that in perspective, 27.4 MMTC0 2-e per year is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 5.7 million passenger vehicles or 7.8 coal fired power plants. Over the 50-year lifetime of the pipeline, this could translate into releasing as much as 1.37 billion more tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

This aggressively contradicts the State Department’s previous findings that Keystone XL “would have no significant impact on the environment” The argument at that time was that oil sands crude would be extracted regardless of whether or not the pipeline is built—the crude would simply shipped by rail at greater cost.

The EPA, however, believes that if oil prices remain low (between $65-$75 per barrel) then “construction of the pipeline is projected to change the economics of oil sands development and result in increased oil sands production, and the accompanying greenhouse gases over what would otherwise occur.”

Responding to the EPA’s letter, the NRDC’s Canada project director Danielle Droitsch, said in a statement “There should be no more doubt that President Obama must reject the proposed pipeline once and for all.” Bill McKibben, of 350.org, who has been exceptionally vocal in the campaign against Keystone XL, added to this sentiment, telling media “[The EPA’s] knife-sharp comments make clear that despite the State Department’s relentless spin, Keystone is a climate disaster by any realistic assessment. The president’s got every nail he needs to finally close the coffin on this boondoggle.”

+ Read the EPA’s letter in full [PDF]

Via Bloomberg

Lead image via Shutterstock, other images via Howl Collective and Shannon Patrick on Flickr