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ES&T editorial calls Keystone XL a “pipeline to nowhere”

Editor-in Chief of the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology Dr. Jerald Schnoor, also a professor in the departments of civil & environmental engineering and occupational & environmental health at the University of Iowa, has written an editorial for the journal in which he calls the Keystone XL pipeline a “pipeline to nowhere”.

Use of coal, oil, and natural gas has to stop (in that order). But “dirty” oil, emanating from oil sands (a.k.a., tar sands) with a significantly higher carbon footprint than conventional oil, deserves a place at the front of the line. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would enable development of oil sands from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S., but this dog will not hunt. It is a pipeline to nowhere—a dead end in our economic future.

—Jerald Schnoor

Schnoor adduces five points against the building of the pipeline:

  1. We do not really need the oil. “Energy efficiency is actually the key(stone) we should be focusing on.
  2. Keystone XL would add to global greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. It is a slippery (and oily) slope.
  4. Let Canadians decide (about pipelines in Canada for carrying the oil).
  5. When do we start to stop? If not now, when?

It has been a good run, this fossil fuel age. But from the invention of steam power in the 1700s when industrial society first started to burn huge quantities of coal, the future was preordained. One cannot burn all the fossil fuels that required 300 million years to form in just a few centuries and not expect to pay consequences. The fossil fuel age has massively disrupted the balance of oxidation and reduction on earth. Thus, elemental cycles yield more oxidized products like acid rain (nitric acid, sulfuric acid) and carbon dioxide as a result.

—Jerald Schnoor



JS did not get it.

Higher continued profits for (existing) Texas refineries and Big Oil is at stake, not USA's Oil or energy independence.

With the XL Pipelines, lower cost Heavy Oil from Alberta will be refined in Texas and exported, at a higher price and generate higher profits.

B.C. could do the same and export the finish products to Asia but new Trans-Mountain pipelines and large refineries would be required. Some $24+B of Chinese investment is required.

Alternatively, existing pipelines to the East Coast could be modified and used to transport 1,000,000+ barrels/day from Alberta to existing refineries in Eastern Canada and North East States. This is the lowest cost alternative but not enough to raise Tar Sands production from 2.5M to 5.5M barrels/day.

The three pipelines may be required to move an extra 3+M barrels/day.


JS does not get it.

Higher production at (existing) Texas refineries will reduce the USA's Oil and energy independence.

Oil sands, tar sands, fracking, private drilling and well production has reduced green house gasses and controlled oil imports and prices.

With the XL Pipelines, lower cost Oil from Alberta will be refined in Texas and sold at a lower price (more supply means lower cost) and we all win.

The Obama administration gets it and is approving an oil and gas lease sale of more than 21 million acres in the GOM.


Burning more Oil, Coal, NG, SG, biomass, Corn based Ethanol, bio-fuels etc will not decrease GHG and will continue to increase it.


But we ARE producing more oil and burning more NG.

And US CO2 emissions IS at the lowest level in 20 years
and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

It demonstrates that "ultimately people follow their wallets" on global warming.

"There's a very clear lesson here.
If you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources," said Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado.

Wind supplied less than 3 percent of the nation's electricity in 2011 according to EIA data, and solar power was far less.

Estimates for this year suggest that coal will account for about 37 percent of the nation's electricity, natural gas 30 percent, and nuclear about 19 percent.

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