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New analyses challenge conventional thinking on Keystone XL

The debate over Keystone XL has pitted greenhouse gas concerns against notions of North American “energy security.” Yet a spate of recent analyses suggests a much more complicated picture.

“For all the noise over oil sands – which do represent a new leg of extreme energy – the Keystone Pipeline XL alone isn't going to break our addiction to foreign oil or guarantee climate disaster,” Bryan Walsh writes on Time Magazine’s blog.

The reason why, he claims, is that the contentious proposed pipeline would ship 800,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to Texas refineries – a big number, until you compare it to the 14 million barrels of oil America consumes daily.

“We'll never really beat oil sands – or just about any other form of climate-polluting fossil fuels – until we can all stop consumption at the source,” he writes.

A New York Times report concludes that Keystone XL or not, Alberta’s high-carbon crude will find some way onto energy markets.

“Even if the Obama administration rejects the Keystone plan, the pace of oil sands development in northern Alberta is unlikely to slow,” it reads.

As the Tyee's Mitchell Anderson recently reported, Kinder Morgan is considering plans to significantly scale up shipments of oil sands crude into a Burnaby, B.C., tanker terminal. And many analysts have speculated that Albertan crude could be moved vast distances by rail.

The Globe and Mail downplayed those prospects, reporting that “if the $7-billion (U.S.) project is not built, the energy sector faces the prospect of being 'landlocked in bitumen,' with no way to get mounting crude production to market.”

That wouldn’t be such a bad thing for NASA scientist James Hansen, who claims that current full-bore development of the oil sands “would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts."

University of Alberta business professor Andrew Leach, meanwhile, calls Hansen’s analysis “an extreme overestimate based on flawed assumptions.”

All this commentary coincides with a scathing new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency document, which gave the Keystone XL proposal one of its lowest green ratings.

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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