Will Obama Approve Keystone XL? Tracking the Latest Speculation

Like many of you, we were pleased to hear President Obama make such a strong statement in his inaugural address about the need to address climate change. However, as I wrote the following day, for the action needed to seriously address the issue, the public must create political pressure -- and space -- for the President and Congress to act.

Some of that much needed political pressure and space evaporated yesterday, when Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman changed course and gave the Keystone XL pipeline -- which would transport oil from the tar sands of Canada down to Texas by expanding the existing pipeline -- his approval. Here's a roundup of news from around the web this week explaining what's at stake with the project.

The Guardian summarizes the implications:

The approval now leaves the fate of a project seen as a litmus test of the administration's environmental credentials entirely in Obama's hands...It also removes any breathing space the president might have had to put together a plan to make good on the stirring promises on climate in his inaugural address...

The move now puts Obama under immediate pressure to render his decision on the pipeline. With Nebraska on board, there is only one major hurdle remaining for the Keystone XL project. The State Department must review and approve the nearly 1,800-mile route because its crosses an international border.

Writing at Climate Progress, Joe Romm is optimistic that John Kerry, presumed to be the next Secretary of State, will oppose the project:

Recall Kerry’s Senate speech this summer slamming the U.S. political discussion as a “conspiracy of silence … a story of disgraceful denial, back-pedaling, and delay that has brought us perilously close to a climate change catastrophe...It is a conspiracy that has not just stalled, but demonized any constructive effort to put America in a position to lead the world on this issue…Climate change is one of two or three of the most serious threats our country now faces, if not the most serious, and the silence that has enveloped a once robust debate is staggering for its irresponsibility…I hope we confront the conspiracy of silence head-on and allow complacence to yield to common sense, and narrow interests to bend to the common good. Future generations are counting on us."

Does that sound like a person who is going to start his term as Secretary approving the expansion of one of the dirtiest sources of fossil fuels in the world?

In Washington Post's Wonkblog, Brad Plumer highlights 14 major fossil fuel projects that have the potential to blow past the carbon budget we must stick to in order to avoid severe warming:

In theory, the climate implications could be quite significant. The International Energy Agency estimates that the world can only burn about a third of its proven oil, gas, and coal reserves to have a good chance of keeping global warming below the 2°C threshold. And according to Ecofys, these 14 projects alone have the potential to burn through 30 percent of those reserves by 2030 — making those climate goals extremely difficult to reach...

Many climate scientists have argued that the world needs to stick to a strict carbon budget to keep future warming below 2°C — the National Research Council estimates that we can only emit another 500 gigatons of carbon total. (The world emitted about 32 gigatons in 2011 alone.) Every new fossil-fuel project that comes online has the potential to chew through more of that budget.

One fossil fuel project already leaving its mark -- visible from space, even -- is the oil and gas boom taking place in North Dakota. Mike wrote about the danger of gas flaring earlier this week:

A lot of this light is caused by natural gas flaring. Indeed, not all gas is captured for whatever reasons, and since this terribly wasteful practice of just burning the extra gas is legal there, around 1/3 of all gas extracted is flared.

The NRDC has the numbers on flaring, and they are scary:

"There's no regard whatsoever for the climate impacts (the equivalent of 2.5 million cars, according to World Bank estimates) or the fact that, hey, maybe if we’re going to take that much fossil fuel out of the ground, we ought to at least find a way to use all of it. The Times says more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way every day. With that much fuel, you could heat half a million homes."

For additional reading, Grist has a good post on How to make gasoline from tar sands, in six simple steps. They also have a poll up if you'd like to vote on whether you think Obama will or will not approve the pipeline.

A decision from the State Department on Keystone XL isn't expected until March or later, but we'll be keeping an eye on the latest to see which way the political winds are pointing.

If you're interested in getting involved, 350.org is planning a major protest on February 17th. Details at the link.

UPDATE: John Kerry made a strong statement during his confirmation hearing today:

I would respectfully say to you that climate change is not something to be feared in response to — the steps to respond to — it’s to be feared if we don’t. 3,500 communities in our nation last year broke records for heat … and we had a derailment because of it. We had record fires. We had record levels of damage from sandy, $70 billion. If we can’t see the downside of spending that money and risking lives for all the changes that are taking place, to agriculture, to our communities, the ocean and so forth, we are ignoring what science is telling us. I will be a passionate advocate on this not based on ideology but based on facts and science, and I hope to sit with all of you and convince you that this $6 trillion market is worth millions of American jobs and we better go after it.

Watch:

Tags: Barack Obama | Carbon Emissions | Fracking | Global Climate Change | Tar Sands

Best of TreeHugger