Four days before President Obama promised, during his second inauguration address, to combat climate change, officials at the US State Department received a new report by scientists which details how a particular byproduct of the Keystone XL pipeline — “Petroleum Coke” — renders the project even more dangerous to the climate than previously estimated.
The report by Oil Change International (OCI), a research and advocacy organization based in Washington DC, states that previous warnings about the climate impacts of the Keystone Pipeline were in fact under-estimating the pipeline’s greenhouse-gas effects by “failing to account for a byproduct of the process that is a major source of climate change causing carbon emissions: petroleum coke – known as petcoke.”
The report was delivered to State Department officials upon release on January 17, according to Bloomberg News, four days before President Obama said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations” in his January 21 inauguration speech.
Petroleum coke is a byproduct of the heavy, bitumen form of oil known as “Tar Sands” — which is the type of oil to be transported by the Keystone Pipeline — coming from the huge “Tar Sands” fields in Alberta, Canada.
The report suggests that refining the tar sands into gasoline may “speed global warming more than previously estimated,” according to Bloomberg News.
Comparing the process with that of coal (considered one of the main sources of industrial greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to climate change), the report said “petcoke is like coal, but dirtier. A ton of petcoke yields on average 53.6 percent more CO2 than a ton of coal.” (Further, read this on the relationship between Keystone and industrial coal.)
The State Department is expected to issue a final environmental review shortly; President Obama will then make a final decision.
Late last week, a group of leading scientists issued a public letter to President Obama, urging him to reject the pipeline, calling the project “counter to both national and planetary interests.”
At the same time, a group of Republican Governors also wrote to the President, saying they consider the pipeline “fundamentally important to the future prosperity of the United States and Canada.” (The letter, curiously, is signed under the letterhead of the Premiere of Saskatchewan.)
Meanwhile, Greenpeace Canada today issued a report on the world’s largest carbon-emission industrial projects — and ranked Canada’s Tar Sands as the “fifth largest climate threat in the world.”
Don Lieber's writing and research has been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, E-The Environmental Magazine and others. He contributes regularly to PlanetSave.com.