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US State Department Issues Permit for Alberta Clipper Pipeline for Oil Sands Crude Delivery to US

The Alberta Clipper pipeline (red). Click to enlarge.

The US State Department has issued a Presidential Permit to Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership to enable construction of the Alberta Clipper pipeline for the transport of crude oil from the Canadian oil sands to US refineries. (Earlier post.)

The 1,000-mile/1,607-km pipeline will run from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, to Superior, Wisconsin. Construction in the United States will consist of two components that would have independent utility: the Alberta Clipper Pipeline itself and the Southern Lights Diluent Pipeline. The 36-inch Alberta Clipper Pipeline will carry up to 450,000 barrels of oil sands crude per day—with ultimate capacity of up to 800,000 bpd available—from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Canada to refineries in the US.

In the US, the Alberta Clipper Pipeline will extend 326 miles from the US-Canadian border near Neche, North Dakota across northern Minnesota to an Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. The Southern Lights Diluent Project will consist of a new 20-inch pipeline extending 191 miles from Superior, Wisconsin to an Enbridge terminal in Clearbrook, Minnesota. In the US, these pipelines will be constructed at approximately the same time in the same right-of-way, and this right-of way would almost entirely be located along an existing Enbridge pipeline right-of-way.

Because the Alberta Clipper Project requires a crossing of the US-Canadian border, a Presidential Permit is required from the State Department for the project to proceed. Environmental groups had been urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reject the permit based on the greenhouse gas and other environmental tolls taken by oil sands production.

The RFA “They Said What?” Campaign
In early August, the Renewable Fuels Association launched a “They Said What?” campaign targeting the application of indirect impacts such as international indirect land use change only to the calculation of the carbon footprint of biofuels.
The campaign has been combining short quotes from organizations such as the EPA and CARB with pictures illustrating the opposite conclusion. The first piece, for example, quoted the CARB proposed regulation for the LCFS saying no other significant indirect effects other than biofuel land use change had been identified, next to a picture of oil wells burning in Iraq in 1991.
This week, the RFA happened to issue two pieces, each touching on the impact of oil sands production.
America’s farmers and ethanol producers have been blamed for changes in how land is used all across the globe. Petroleum exploration and exploitation, by comparison, has gotten a free pass. No greater evidence of this can be found than in the tar sands of Canada,” the RFA wrote in the first piece, accompanied by a before and after shot of an oil sands development.
The second piece of the week, issued the same day that State awarded the permit for the Alberta Clipper, cited the EPA notice of proposed rulemaking (“our preliminary analysis suggests land use impacts of petroleum production for the fuels used in the US in 2005 would not have an appreciable impact…”).
The RFA then stated that “Tar sands excavation involves significant direct land use change and disruption. The ability of biofuels to displace the need for tar sands is not recognized in most biofuels analyses,” following it up with another picture:

In a statement issued on the granting of the permit, the State Department said that it had found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States “will advance a number of strategic interests of the United States.”

These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources in a time of considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries and regions; shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer.

...The National Interest Determination took many factors into account, including greenhouse gas emissions. The administration believes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are best addressed through each country’s robust domestic policies and a strong international agreement.

...The United States will continue to reduce reliance on oil through conservation and energy efficiency measures, such as the recently increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, as well as through the pursuit of comprehensive climate legislation and an ambitious global agreement on climate change to include substantial emission reductions for both the United States and Canada.

—US State Department

The Department said that it environmentally reviewed the project in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires public disclosure of potential environmental impacts, identification of potential mitigation measures, and consideration of alternatives to avoid or minimize potential significant impacts.

The public scoping period formally concluded on 10 September 2007. The written and verbal comments received during the scoping process were used to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was published 5 December 2008. Public comments on the DEIS were accepted until 30 January 2009. In December 2008 and January 2009, public comment meetings were held at 8 locations along the pipeline route to receive public comments on the DEIS. The written and verbal comments received during this process were used to prepare the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The FEIS was submitted to the EPA on 5 June 2009.


  • US Dept. of State Alberta Clipper Project website (including EIS)



Good news for continued crude oil supply for the Great Lakes area and central-western Canada economy.

Henry Gibson

The wastage of natural gas and other generators of CO2 in the production and transportation of crude oil can make it more CO2 producing than the production of crude from tarsands.

Canada has about 2O nuclear reactors in operation which lowers Canada's CO2 releases compared to burning coal or natural gas. More reactors can compensate for the CO2 that is released, and in fact a company has gone ahead with the siting of reactors to supply CO2 free heat for the processing of tar sands.

The US ships CO2 in a pipe into Canada to pump into oil wells for better oil recovery, and it works quite well. If they accept our CO2 we should accept their crude and we do. ..HG..


Yes, Canada will eventually (for long term - 20+ years) need many more large nuclear power plants, specially in Ontario, Alberta, Sask., the Maritimes etc. In the short to mid-terms (2 to 20 years), Canada could fully develop its huge hydro and wind pententials. Those two power sources can work very well together if you use wind for base loads and hydro for peak loads and whenever wind power is low or insuffisant. Water not used can accumulate in the reservoirs, they are huge batteries. Of course, the current e-power networks or grids should be better integrated (east-west) to share power across many time zones.

Using surplus CO2 from USA to increase oil recovery in Alberta-Sask., is a win-win solution. Will the CO2 stay captive for extended periods?


In a few years when California becomes energy independent using solar power they won't need to import our power so we can use it ourselves. And in 5-10 years when the market for passenger vehicles switches 90% over to EV's with 20 km a day of free range using solar panels incorporated into the bodywork, the demand for crude will drop dramatically. New nukes or coal plants are not necessary. New wind farms and existing hydro should suffice, it's not like demand for electricity will increase during peak hours (maybe at night from EV charging), our manufacturing industry has already been shipped overseas so what else is there to draw power?


At the rate California is going, they'll be a hunter-gather society before they're energy independent. If passing laws and spending money was all it took, California would have been clean and green twenty years ago.


I think Mark's vision for the future of CA is unrealistic.

I think Matthew's future of CA might be unlikely.

Gathering - yes.

Hunting - no. It requires that Californians accept some of the imperfect aspects of the real world.


We should not be supporting this.

-At least 90% of the fresh water used in processing the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing.

-Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes.

-The toxic tailing ponds are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world, spanning 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.

-Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces 3 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.

Report here:



Would the In Situ method reduce some of the huge mess created and can the chemicals from the tailing bonds be recouperated?


"Would the In Situ method reduce some of the huge mess created and can the chemicals from the tailing bonds be recouperated?"

That depends - how much do you want to pay for a gallon of gas?

Mick the Economist

Good question ai vin. If we had to pay the full costs of production this fuel would be an economic non-starter.


Nobody wants to include the environmental cost. If we could figure it out and we included it, the current production cost (about $40/barrel) could be substantially higher.

How much higher is still an unanswered question. Would it be 40%, 60%, 80% or 100% more? Nobody seems to know.

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