The proposed Keystone XL pipeline to connect Canadian oil sands with US refineries and ports could have a substantially larger impact on greenhouse gas emissions than previously assumed, suggests a study published online this week in Nature Climate Change. As well as being broadly relevant to the climate policy research community, these findings could help to inform the debate over whether the pipeline should be built.
The Keystone XL pipeline project has attracted much controversy, including criticism from environmentalists. US President Barack Obama has said that he would only approve the pipeline if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.
Using an economic model, Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus quantified the project’s potential impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Their analysis points to a gap in existing environmental and economic assessments. They show that the pipeline’s construction could lower global oil prices, increasing consumption and quadrupling the total greenhouse gas impact of the project. They note that similar models could also be applied to assess the impact of emissions from numerous other pending investments in fossil fuel extraction and supply infrastructure.