Keystone Big Lie Number Whatever: Tar Sands Will Get Developed Anyway

Wisconsin Overpass Light Brigade: Block Keystone XL
The Wisconsin Overpass Light Brigade recently joined a week of action against the Keystone XL pipeline.

One of the recurring arguments you find for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is that, whether or not Keystone XL is built, the tar sands will get developed and will find a way to market anyway.   This argument has a corollary – that this pipeline in itself isn’t really significant.  There are thousands of pipelines in America; this is just one more.  Pipeline promoters and the industry-affiliated authors of the State Department’s Supplemental EIS agree that this pipeline is just not that big of a deal.  Environmentalists have for some inexplicable reason picked the wrong fight.

Interesting argument on the surface.  When you think about it a little more deeply, however, it doesn’t pass the smell test.  It is one of the Keystone Big Lies.

If Keystone XL isn’t that big of a deal, why was it caught up in 4 years of studies that still aren’t done?

If it is not that big of a deal, why has Canadian PM Steven Harper become the chief lobbyist for the pipeline? You’d think he’d have better things to do than focus on this supposedly non-consequential infrastructure project.

If it’s not that big of a deal, why is the Alberta government wringing its hands that revenues are down from the tar sands, precipitating a budget crisis?  According to the Canadian Broadcast Company,, “Alberta Premier Alison Redford blames the province’s fiscal crisis on the so-called bitumen bubble — the difference between what Alberta can get for its heavy oil and what the world is willing to pay for Texas crude.”  According to, Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner says

falling revenues for Alberta’s oil are at the root of the province’s financial difficulties. The price that Alberta gets for its oilsands bitumen has been well below the North American benchmark for oil, West Texas Intermediate. That has knocked $6 billion off what the province had hoped to take in.

And, if it’s not that big of a deal, why does the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, writing in their report “About Canada’s Oil Sands” bemoan the fact that “Current lack of pipeline market access costs the Canadian economy approximately $40 million/day.”  That’s $14 billion a year!  Not exactly chump change.

Here the facts: Current exports of tar sands from Canada to the US are about 1.3 million barrels per day.  The tar sands industry and the Canadian government hopes to ramp that up to 5.0 million barrels per day by 2030, only 17 years from now.  That is a 400% increase.  Keystone XL is designed to carry 830,000 barrels per day.  So, Keystone XL will itself allow tar sands imports to increase by 60% over current levels, on the way to the 400% increase that tar sands boosters envision.  Keystone XL accounts for about one-quarter of the additional capacity Canada seeks.  With Keystone, tar sands producers will be about 40% of the way to their 2030 goal.  Without it, they face the prospects of crossing First Nations’ land in Canada, reversing Enbridge Line 9, and pursuing other less direct pipeline pathways to the Gulf.

So, when pipeline proponents crow that Keystone isn’t a big deal and won’t have much bearing on whether the tar sands will get developed anyway, just remember, Keystone allows a 60% increase in exports on the way to the 400% increase that Canada envisions within the next 20 years.

Another way to think about how big of an impact Keystone XL would have is this: At 380,000 barrels a day for 365 days a year and at 42 gallons per barrel, if the pipeline ran for 40 years, it would have shipped 233 billion gallons of fuel.

The Keystone Supplemental EIS can be found at:

Comments can be sent to:

Photo via Overpass Light Brigade / Tar Sands Blockade.

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