“Our opponents are trying to make this debate about GHGs,” he said, referring to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that are emitted as oil is produced and refined. “So let’s look at Canada’s contribution to global GHGs.”
Pourbaix called Canada a leader on climate change and noted that Alberta was the first jurisdiction in North America to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The province also has imposed a carbon tax, an action the Obama administration has said it will not propose.
Oil carried by Keystone will displace heavy crude from Venezuela, Nigeria and other countries that also contributes to global warming, Pourbaix said. “You could shut down oil sands production tomorrow and it would have absolutely no measurable impact on climate change,” he said.
Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said Pourbaix’s comments appeared to be based on “some rather rosy assumptions” about oil sands production. First, the calculation does not take into account the energy cost of refining and transporting the oil from tar sands, not does it account for a huge reserve that could make the Alberta tar sands a key contributor to global warming in the future, he said.
By approving the Keystone XL pipeline and other projects, the U.S. would be encouraging increased development of the heavily-polluting tar sands oil, Mann said.
“We may be insuring that a much larger amount (of the oil reserves) will be economically viable,” he said.
Obama calls climate change a serious threat and has urged Congress to combat it. In his State of the Union address last week, Obama said he will use executive authority to cut greenhouse gas pollution if Congress fails to act.
Obama has twice thwarted the Keystone XL pipeline because of concerns over its route through sensitive land in Nebraska, but has not indicated how he will decide on the pipeline since Nebraska’s governor approved a new route last month. The State Department has authority over the project because it crosses an international border, but both sides on the issue expect Obama to make the final decision.
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