Opponents’ Keystone XL greenhouse gas emissions claims refuted by leading climate scientist.
Recently, Oil Change International, along with assistance from several Keystone XL opposition groups, wrote a document on climate change, with unsubstantiated claims that linked the Keystone XL Pipeline to major climate impacts if the pipeline is approved by the U.S. State Department and President Barack Obama.
We asked leading climate scientist Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger some questions related to the bold, unsubstantiated claims made by professional activists.
With more than 20 years of experience in climate research and public outreach, including 10 years with the Virginia State Climatology Office and 15 years as the Research Coordinator for New Hope Environmental Services, Inc., Knappenberger is an experienced and respected authority on climate science.
He has published numerous papers in the major atmospheric science journals on global warming, hurricanes, precipitation changes, weather and mortality, and Greenland ice melt, among many other areas, and is a presenter at climate conferences worldwide. He was also the administrator and a major contributor to World Climate Report, the original (and longest-running) blog on Earth on climate change.
Knappenberger also holds an M.S. and B.A. degrees in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia.
Following are Knappenberger’s responses to some of the key claims, made by Oil Change International, which are widely shared and quoted by Keystone XL opponents as fact:
Question: Now that most of the concern over the local environmental impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline has been successfully addressed, pipeline opponents have turned to global climate change as their primary rallying point. Are these concerns justified?
Knappenberger: In short, no. I have calculated the impact on the global average temperature from the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the use of the oil carried by the Keystone XL Pipeline (operating at full capacity) to produce energy lies somewhere between 0.00001°C and 0.0001°C per year (see here and here for details of my calculations). In other words, if Keystone XL Pipeline ran at full capacity between now and the end of this century, the total amount of global warming produced from its oil would be about five hundredths of a degree Celsius (give or take a few hundredths of a degree). This amount is completely insignificant when it comes to global climate change. Protestations over the climate impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline are much ado about nothing.
Question: But what about claims from a recent report from Oil Change International that the Keystone XL Pipeline will produce about 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year — an amount equivalent to the emissions from 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants? These numbers sound large and potentially worrisome?
Knappenberger: Well, certainly they are meant to appear that way. But carbon dioxide emissions are not the end game of the pipeline protesters, preventing climate change is. However, they never present climate change numbers, because, as I have showed (additional details here), the climate change impact of the pipeline is infinitesimally small. This is why organizations like Oil Change International trumpet emissions numbers — because they sound large. But when placed in the proper context, even though the emissions numbers sound large, they, too, turn out to be tiny. For example, while the oil carried by the pipeline may result in 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year (assuming that it does not displace the production of oil from any other sources), the total global emissions of carbon dioxide are currently about 32,500 million metric tons per year (and growing). From this fuller perspective, carbon dioxide emissions from the use of Keystone XL oil amount only to about one-half of one percent of the global total. And even this small percentage will decline over time as the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions continue to climb. In other words, the carbon dioxide emissions produced from Keystone XL oil are only a (shrinking) drop in the bucket of global carbon dioxide emissions. One should be careful not to be taken in by scary sounding comparisons to the number of cars or the number of power plants.
Question: But what should we make of definitive-sounding statements such as this one from the Oil Change International report? “There is a climate impact from burning 830,000 barrels per day of any crude that cannot be ignored. This is a matter of physics, and not subject to debate.”
Knappenberger: You should ask them to quantify what that climate impact really is. If the impact “cannot be ignored” then it should appear prominently in their report. In fact, it doesn’t appear at all. Why? Because, as I have shown, the impact is on the order of a few hundredths of a degree per year — an amount, which, in and of itself, has no appreciable climate impact. In fact, it can safely be ignored — there should be no debate about that!