“More Canadian-produced Crown Royal is shipped to Texas than anywhere else,” explained Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer speaking to the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT just before spring break. Tall, distinguished, with a shock of gray-hair, Doer added, “I think it would be easier to get whiskey in a pipeline to Texas than oil.”
The quip was aimed at the elephant in the room, the controversial Keystone-XL Pipeline, which is intended to ferry oil from the tar sands of central Canada to refineries near Houston. Environmental groups have launched attacks on the pipeline and their loud opposition grabbed the attention of the Democrats, including President Obama, who has delayed giving the project his approval for almost five years.
Demonstrating Canada’s awareness of and involvement with key environmental issues, Doer reminded the audience of the Montreal Protocol, signed in Canada, which brought together the entire world to bar production of ozone-depleting gases found in bug spray, hair conditioner and spray paint, as well as a number of industrial applications, in the late ’80s. The ban is one of the best examples of how we can save the world if we try. Today, the hole in the ozone layer is nearly sealed. Doer pointed out that a little known side effect of the landmark agreement is that it been more effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions than the Kyoto Protocol.
One of the main objections lobbed at the pipeline is the potential for spills in environmentally sensitive areas. But a recent State Department report showed that shifts in the planned location of the pipeline from the Sand Hills region of Nebraska minimizes those risks. Doer also noted that alternative shipping methods such as rail, truck, and barge, are riskier and produce more atmospheric emissions than pipeline.
When environmentalists took up the pipeline as a cause, they wanted the oil to stay buried in the sands of Canada, and figured blocking the pipeline would block the oil production. Doer made it clear that’s not happening. “If you stop the pipeline, you still don’t stop the flow. We’ve won the lottery ticket for energy independence. We just can’t cash it in yet.”
Canada is not going to wait for the US to be their 7-11. They are already looking at options to transport the oil to the west coast of Canada and then across the Pacific. Doer said, “We aren’t just going to stand around like Oliver Twist, “Please sir, may I have a pipeline?” We are selling it! This is a world economic resource.”
As much as I believe avoiding fossil fuels is a critical goal, it’s not going to happen by blocking this pipeline. The resource is too valuable, and it’s already factored into economic expectations in both Canada and the US.
Rather than focus on keeping the oil in the ground, a better strategy is to keep the greenhouse gases carried by the pipeline out of the atmosphere where we know they cause damage. This can be done. We can impose regulations requiring that the carbon that flows through the pipe as oil is captured and safely stored underground.
It’s already happening at the start of the pipeline in Canada where Shell’s Quest storage project is underway. This carbon sequestration project will bury 1 million tons of carbon dioxide each year in deep geological formations where it will remain for thousands of years or longer. Still, a million tons of carbon is just a fraction of what’s going to run through the pipe.
More–much more–carbon could be captured at the pipe’s tail end. In fact, Texans have been injecting carbon underground for decades and the geology near the Texas refineries is ideal for this type of carbon capture and storage. Even better, offshore leases on these ideal rock formations funnel straight into the Texas Permanent School Fund.
Imagine if Canada’s oil lottery ticket paid to educate Texas children about how we saved the world from climate change.