Here is a headline that is a big fat fib:
- InsideClimate News – John H. Cushman Jr.: How to Deconstruct the Difficult Math of Keystone XL's Carbon Footprint ; This is misleading because it implies it will lead to the answer. However, not to worry, that's ok. It is a story about the math itself, not the automatically fuzzy answer that one gets from that math. And the story may be as good as it is going to get in terms of explaining a pipeline's footprint – which is its point.
This yarn is for anybody deeply interested in the geochemical stakes and consequences of a decision pro or con at the White House on whether to finish a near-straight shot hose of heavy crude oil from the Athabasca tar sands of Alberta right into the vast complex of refineries along the Gulf Coast. Recently the State Department concluded that not enough extra Canadian bituminous stuff is going to turn into exhaust to make much difference either way. A lot will find its way to market anyway. And so on. Other reporters covering this issue and wondering about such things particularly ought to read what Cushman came up with.
This may be the deepest dive by a reporter to try to sort out the numbers on such estimates as this. But it hardly is a full deconstruction, not even of the math. Cushman declares that the bottom-line potential contribution of this particular conduit for Canadian crud – not a typo – is unknowable due to the cascades of uncertainties at many levels of any effort to tot it up. But we don't get much explicit description of any of these steps, or perhaps a diagram showing the explosion of uncertainty if one goes through a few examples of such calculation and the alternative scenarios under which they are performed. That would be edifying, assuming it is reducible to English comprehensible by the general public. However, Cushman covers a lot of ground gracefully when, after describing one example of how hard it is to compare apples to apples and not to oranges when doing meta-analyses, remarks that "the analysts broke the diverse conclusions down study by study. And what they were left with was a basket of footprint estimates as diverse as anything you can order from Harry and David."
Hot in the news currently and in this story is, as most tracker readers know, a US State Department study. It concludes that the Keystone project can have little impact on global climate. The reason, as Cushman distills it, is that whether or not and no matter how Canada's gooey stuff reaches US refineries, it will get to market somehow; Ergo "the carbon in the oil would find its way to the atmosphere one way or another as well." Yes, perhaps, if one is resigned to other markets remaining easily open for the Athabascan crude. Perhaps he deliberately wanted to stay on numbers, and not get into pontification, but Cushman might at least have mentioned that if the growing global market for oil of any sort is to be slowed and eventually drastically shrunken, it has to start somewhere. If the US is too defeatist in the climate wars to act, who will? Politics up north could change. Perhaps the conservative government of PM Stephen Harper gets replaced by a liberal one with a greener agenda. It could happen. And such a new crew might have an easier time at policy re-do if the US is not mainlining Alberta's oil fast as it can.
Cushman is not the only person to try to go beyond the shallow end of the Keystone X carbon swamp. Here is another, even longer. It has one swell bar graph showing the carbon emissions associated with obtaining, refining, and using various sorts of crude oil. It alone is evident that separating out the impact of one pipeling is not a job for the faint-hearted. Your head will be spinning by the time you read this through…if you do.
- The Energy Collective – Jesse Jenkins: Will the Keystone XL Pipeline Significantly Increase Carbon Emissions? The Numbers Behind the KSL Debate ;
The energy collective is a forum for opinion, not strictly journalism. Among the forum's backers are such energy giants as Siemens (lots of renewables there) and Royal Dutch Shell (lots of fossil fuel). At a glance, it appears reasonably responsible in representing diverse views. Here is its 'about us' explainer.