President Obama has delayed approving the Keystone XL pipeline for almost 7 years, indicating that he would only approve the pipeline if it did “not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”[1] The President’s assertion is suspect, considering there are other sources of oil that the President doesn’t seem to have problems with that emit more carbon dioxide when produced than Canadian oil sands.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry Canadian oil sands and crude oil from North Dakota to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. But environmentalists are against it, arguing that the greenhouse gas emissions from producing oil sands are greater than those from producing conventional crude oil, exasperating global warming. The U.S. State Department has conducted several studies that have indicated there would be no substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions from Canadian oil sands because they would be developed even without the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama extended the State Department’s review process by asking other federal agencies to provide comments on the pipeline. While the agency review was completed earlier this year, the permitting process has no deadline, and President Obama has not made a decision regarding Keystone XL.

A study of various oil types has found that Canadian oil sands is not the most greenhouse gas intensive oil. The most greenhouse gas intensive oil is Brass crude blend from Nigeria, where the uncontrolled release of methane (a greenhouse gas) during the oil extraction process generates greenhouse gas emissions that are much higher than Canadian oil sands. Further, Canadian oil sands is not the most greenhouse gas intensive oil type in North America. The most greenhouse gas intensive oil in North America is produced outside Los Angeles, in the Placerita oil field. According to a report from the California Air Resources Board , there are 9 oil fields in California that are more greenhouse gas intensive than Canadian oil sands.[2]

The California Air Resources Board calculates the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during production of the resources that refiners use in the state. Because about 80 percent of the emissions attributable to a barrel of oil occur during the combustion of refined fuel in a vehicle, the production of oil contributes only a small portion to total greenhouse emissions from vehicle use. It is irrelevant to the greenhouse gases emitted during combustion whether the fuel is made from light or heavy oil, or if the crude oil is produced by conventional or unconventional methods—the emissions are the same.

Below are examples of California oil and Alberta oil sands’ carbon intensities in grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per megajoule from a table supplied by the California Clean Air Board: [3]

California crudes       Carbon Intensity      

Arroyo Grande                     27.81
Coalinga                               25.36
Kern Front                           25.06
Placerita                               31.66

Canadian crudes       Carbon Intensity      

Suncor Synthetic                 24.49
Albian Heavy Synthetic     21.02
Cold Lake                            18.74

Source: and

Keystone XL

The delays in permitting the pipeline total nearly 7 years and are costing TransCanada, the company that proposes to build Keystone, $8 billion—a continuously escalating figure due to the delays.  The pipeline would carry an estimated 830,000 barrels a day of crude to refineries located along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Most would be from Canada, but the pipeline would also accommodate oil from the Bakken formation in and around North Dakota. At an oil price of $50 per barrel, the oil shipped would gross over $41 million dollars a day or about $15 billion per year.

The U.S. State Department concluded that Keystone XL would have a negligible impact on carbon emissions, also noting that the pipeline would not impact the surrounding water, vegetation, wildlife or air quality. Further, the pipeline would help the environment, because moving oil by pipeline produces 42 percent fewer emissions than transporting oil by rail, which is how the oil is being transported in lieu of the new pipeline.[4] Since 2008, the use of rail to ship oil has increased by a factor of 50, adding $5 to $10 per barrel in additional cost and greater environmental and safety risks.[5] TransCanada plans to build Keystone XL according to rigorous safety standards, including 59 new safety rules federal regulators added to TransCanada’s proposal.[1]

According to the State Department, the construction of Keystone will create 3,000 to 4,000 local jobs, which translates into about $100 million in earnings for American workers. TransCanada will also pay millions of dollars in local property taxes. The company has already paid $18 million in property taxes for the first Keystone pipeline.

The pipeline is also good for our energy security. Rather than import oil from Mexico and Venezuela to supply the heavy oil that our Gulf Coast refineries need, Canadian oil sands can be used instead. The United States gets over a third of its foreign oil from our friendly northern neighbor, providing secure oil supplies.

Further, Canada is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions; it has set new targets to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to 70 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.[6]


Environmentalists want to ensure that the Keystone XL from Alberta, Canada never gets built, because they believe that oil sands is a greenhouse gas intensive oil, and they increasingly admit they want to sequester all sources of organic energy in the ground and never use them.[7] But, researchers have shown that there is more greenhouse gas-intensive crude here in the United States in California, and that Nigeria has the most greenhouse gas-intensive crude in the world due to the flaring of methane emissions released. Further, Canada has set new emission targets, cutting its greenhouse gas emissions substantially from 2005 levels.

Whether the Keystone XL pipeline is built or not, Canadian oil sands will still be shipped to the United States and refined by our Gulf Coast refineries that are tuned to use heavy oil. The oil sands will be shipped to the Gulf Coast refineries by rail, costing Americans $5 to $10 a barrel more than pipeline transport. Canada’s secure supply of oil should be encouragement enough for President Obama to grant Keystone approval despite its other advantages, including safety and lower transport emissions.

[1] The first Keystone Pipeline has been operating safely for seven years, has safely transported more than 610 million barrels of oil and created 9,000 jobs.

[1] U.S. News, EPA: Keystone XL Will Impact Global Warming, February 3, 2015,

[2] I politics, How clean is our ‘dirty’ oil? You’d be surprised., July 18, 2014,

[3] Beacon, California–One place Alberta oil sands crude isn’t ‘dirty’, December 4, 2014, and California Air Resources Board, Calculation of 2014 Crude Average CI Value, June 16, 2015,

[4] Washington Times, Criticism of Keystone proving baseless, embarrassing, June 9, 2015,

[5] Economic 21, Eleven Reforms to Extend America’s Energy Advantage, July 9, 2015,

[6] Yahoo News, New CO2 rules should aid Keystone XL approval, June 30, 2015,–finance.html

[7] Alternet, We Can Save Ourselves, but Only If We Learn to Work with Nature, July, 6, 2015,

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