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TC Energy scraps Keystone XL pipeline project after Biden revokes key permit (reuters.com)
310 points by pseudolus 57 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 417 comments

From How To Save a Planet, a podcast I like:

Alex Blumberg: ...and, [pipeline company] Enbridge says, stopping the pipeline won't stop the development of tar-sands oil. The oil will just travel in less safe ways, like by rail.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: But Tara says that argument is missing the entire point.

[Attorney and activist] Tara Houska: The idea is always like, you know, we're replacing old ones that are leaking. How about instead of replacing them and expanding them—which is what you're actually doing—you decommission the old one and pull it out of the ground and clean up the earth that you've contaminated?

Ayana: I like that option better.

Tara: And there's always, like, this premise of, well, it's gonna get shipped anyway. No, it's not. Like, that's the whole point. No, it's not. Your industry is on its way out. And that's the point. And we all know that. You can't sit there and say, "Oh, well, it's gonna go by rail or it's gonna go by ship anyway. No, it's not. The tar sands are on their way out. And that's the reality.


If it would be just as cheap to ship via train or boat then why make the pipeline? If it costs more to ship then it costs more to sell and less of it will be sold. That, in itself, devoid of any bigger picture market predictions, is a huge win for humanity.

Fuck underpaying for carbon emissions. There need to be some current winners made into losers if we pretend to be humans that care about the future of humanity.

You could get the safety and efficiency advantages of pipelines while still creating the same cost increase through taxes.

Blocking pipelines is not a logical way to achieve that cost increase. That would simply make oil more expensive because it's now less safe/efficient. That does not actually cause the externalities to be priced in like a tax could achieve.

Conservatives don't like change. We shouldn't let perfect be the enemy of good enough. A carbon tax is the right solution, but it isn't the one we will see in this congress. Meanwhile actually doing something actually makes a difference. Pontificating hypothetical policy is not an alternative solution.

I’m fairly annoyed that the left is shutting down nuclear plants. They obviously don’t care one whit about climate change.

Not bleeding money into nuclear plants has bipartisan support. The way to make nuclear competitive is with a carbon tax. Guess which side opposes a carbon tax.

Do you have anything that supports this? This is not supported by anything I have read thus far and I think we are all aware that Nuclear was actually cheap back in the 60's. USA nuclear costs did increase drastically, especially after three Mile Island and political pressures. Many countries managed to keep costs consistent (Japan, Canada) though. Money doesn't need to bleed into Nuclear, and you should expect to see more investment there in the near future with fusion. The issues in USA with nuclear are over half a century old so I think your comment is disingenuous. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Sure, but if they can sell conservatives on blocking the pipeline, why can't they sell conservatives on a carbon tax? If anything, I think it's more likely that the carbon tax could be seen as a bipartisan win between those options.

Because you don't need legislative approval to stop a pipeline from being built. If you're looking to make money but the executive pendulum swing will consistently block you, eventually you'll stop being able to push your behavior that people don't approve of because it isn't worth it. People lost money on Keystone XL. That's a good thing. That's the system working.

Also once you build the pipeline it's now got to be used for years to pay back the cost of building it.

Would be funnier to let them build the pipeline, and then not let them use it.

> And there's always, like, this premise of, well, it's gonna get shipped anyway. No, it's not. Like, that's the whole point. No, it's not. Your industry is on its way out. And that's the point. And we all know that. You can't sit there and say, "Oh, well, it's gonna go by rail or it's gonna go by ship anyway. No, it's not. The tar sands are on their way out. And that's the reality.

I think this is purposely confusing two different arguments.

Nobody can deny that oil use is becoming less and less attractive and that is a good thing for everyone.

But if it is "on the way out", what's the need for blocking the pipeline? The need is that actually there are still significant usages of oil remaining even though it's "on the way out".

So those significant remaining usages actually DO add validity to the argument that blocking the pipeline will cause additional demand for oil trains/tankers. Otherwise there wouldn't be a need to take any action at all.

The demand for shipping the oil via train or truck will also diminish over time as these horrible and expensive oil reserves are eventually made too expensive to extract. If you build a pipeline and put in the investment then you have standing infrastructure and sunk cost that will compel people to keep pulling out the tar sands oil, even at a loss. If they are forced to use tankers then the (higher) cost per barrel for transport is paid immediately and by the supplier instead of foisted off on some bond holders somewhere.

Pushing the transportation demand to trains/tankers is a GOOD thing, it makes everything visible and obvious and it prevents the oil company from hiding the factors that make this reserve the pile of flaming dogshit we all know it to be.

Perhaps the government should actually subsidize the pipeline to eliminate those extra sunk costs compared to tankers/trains. It would basically be like paying for carbon capture (except you're actually paying for it to just be transported more safely in the first place).

Why subsidize? Let the producer pay the freight. We want to eliminate this oil source anyway, so if there is anything we should be doing right now it is to more heavily tax oil sources like these which have such significant negative externalities.

> But if it is "on the way out", what's the need for blocking the pipeline?

It's economics. Shipping by pipeline is cheaper per gallon than shipping by rail/truck/ships. Even accounting for the huge capital costs to build the pipeline in the first place, once a pipeline is secured the marginal costs of shipping additional gallons is so much lower there would be more prices at which it would be profitable to extract tar sands oil versus if the tar sands extractors have to also account for the increased marginal costs of rail/truck/ships.

Tar sands extraction has already seen mass stoppages when the Saudis flooded the supply chain with oil and dropped the oil costs below what was profitable. (Tar sands extraction is worse for the environment than classic oil drilling and thankfully at least some [though never enough] of those externalities are at play in its costs versus oil drilling.)

Right now the price is up again and tar sands work probably is going back into place and it probably will still be shipped by rail/truck/ship. So the short term problem is the same.

But stopping a pipeline today keeps the pipeline from being a fully depreciated asset for oil sands five/ten/fifteen years from now when the supply/demand curve potentially invert and oil is super cheap again (because demand is way down). The higher marginal costs on shipping especially matter then, because potentially it stops tar sands extraction from again being profitable in far more frightening high supply/low demand periods. In that case it should mean less supply gets put onto the market, especially from high cost extraction techniques such as tar sands.

The claim about carbon cost of shipping has no numbers attached to it and is most likely completely deceptive. It doesn't account for the energy return on energy invested of tar sands being 3x-10x less than conventional oil, an EROEI of 5 versus 18-50:


We do not need this oil in particular, there's more than enough other oil, so there's no foregone conclusion that we are going to extract these tar sands.

Further, the need for stopping this particular pipeline is that we are not transitioning quickly enough, and it's a bad capital allocation that hurts our ability to make the investments we do need.

The pipeline isn't being installed to lower the carbon load of bringing the oil to market, it's only there to reduce costs, which means that there will be greater amounts of that oil brought to market, versus cheaper oil from other sources that don't require as much energy intensity. The pipeline only exists for these particular oil investors to profit, instead of other ones in other parts of the world.

of course we need it, that's why the market was creating the pipeline. pretending that a group of experts can determine what the market needs or is essential, is de facto tyranny. what I can say for sure is that we need cheaper more reliable energy, and it is clear that this pipeline would do that for our country. instead the money and jobs go elsewhere.

what is amazing about this decision is that there was no rush to the courts for an injunction, no reliant interests. the company doesn't even put up a fight. I wonder why that is?

Does 1) the market need the oil, or do 2) these particular oil producers need the pipeline in order to bring their product to market and compete with others, or do 3) these particular oil producers just want the pipeline to lower costs and increase profits?

The existence of a pipeline only proves 2 or 3, it doesn't necessitate 1.

The "logic" employed here is:

"We were told or otherwise made to believe your industry should stop doing what it's doing. Therefore, you should stop doing what you're doing." ("I know the future. You don't exist. So you might as well stop existing now.")

The irony is this person has no idea of "the reality." If the reality was that the pipeline served no purpose, had no value, it would not have gone through the lengthy process it's already been through. And if tar sands oil had no value, it wouldn't be retrieved.

But it will be. It will be retrieved and it will be transported, somehow, for the simple fact that people and industries use it. And if you choose a costlier method of transport, then people will feel those costs. Simply saying "No, it's not gonna go by rail or go by ship. Because I said so." is blind arrogance.


The oil will still be extracted. It will still be transported to the entities who use it.

People do more of things that are cheap, do less of things that are expensive.

The point of the pipeline was to lower the cost of moving oil, which would have accordingly increased oil production.

The goal of environmentalists is to make oil production as expensive as possible. Increasing the costs of transportation is part of that.

And yet y'all keep using oil.

If you don't like oil, there's an easy solution, stop buying it.

Most oil you buy indirectly. By buying groceries for example. Most non-local groceries could not be sold without oil-based transportation. In fact, if we stopped having oil-based transportation, we'd face starvation. Alternative fuel trucking and shipping is just not there yet in terms of scale.

> Alternative fuel trucking and shipping is just not there yet in terms of scale.

It would be there if we wanted to make the necessary infrastructure investment. Currently everyone's looking at amazing new battery technology to enable electric transportation, but that isn't the only way to get there. We could be electrifying the interstate highway system so that cars can get power directly from the roads, and only need batteries for short local trips.

If we had wanted to enable electric transportation, say, forty years ago that would have been the only option. It would have been expensive but we could have done it. Now, batteries are good enough that we have a choice, but I still think electrifying the highways ought to be something we're seriously thinking about doing.

I like the idea of a big spend on electric vehicles. The government essentially buys your petro clunker and gives you a $20k tax credit toward an electric vehicle. Maybe shoot for 5 million vehicles a year for only $100 billion per year. Some of the money could come from a gas/CO2 tax.

Electric roadways aren’t mutually exclusive to a credit either. I think putting solar roofs over roadways might be interesting for energy use and keeping the roadway safer. On sensitive areas you might keep the roads from getting snow and ice buildup in the winter.

Another way to get more EVs faster is for EV tax credits to apply to conversions as well as new vehicles. Let's say you have a Honda Civic. Ideally, you'd be able to buy a kit from Honda or a 3rd party that has all the parts including battery boxes and hire your local mechanic to install it.

Right now, hardly anyone does conversions except well-motivated hobbyists because many of the parts have to be made from scratch and you have to do a lot of custom engineering per vehicle. Also the parts that are available tend to be expensive and produced in low volume.

I suppose that's my point. I was being a bit sarcasitic, but if we're going to use oil, we should transport it in the safest and most environmentally friendly way possible. If we don't want to use oil, pass lass preventing or limiting its use. Making oil transport be worse helps nobody.

Well, that's the strategy right? We can't cut our addiction to oil in one go, it would kill us. So we make oil more and more expensive, and in parallel we take that money and help get alternative energies to where they need to be.

So I agree that it would have made more ecological sense to say "sure, build your pipeline, but we'll take a steadily increasing cut for every gallon that goes through it, and we're going to spend it on developing solar/hydro/nuclear"

If the pipeline is still profitable, great! The net environmental impact will be positive. If not... tant pis

Which is how it was going to work, since canada has a carbon tax (i mean, it wouldnt be as it flows down the pipeline, but at the point where its used, if in canada, but its kind of the same in the end)

Just a reminder that net environmental impact is not just "how efficient the transportation is" and how much CO2 is emitted, etc etc. It's also about tail risk and what the effects may be if leaks affect local watersheds. And due to the physics of oil pipelines, leaks are basically inevitable. These need to be taken into account when assessing what oil transport is "worse."

These have very tangible effects not only on wildlife but humans who say are getting their water from a contaminated water table.

Trains leak more

Trains leak more often. Pipelines leak much larger volume, and the leaks are harder to find.

"I would like to change society"

"And yet you live in society and participate in its processes! Clearly this invalidates everything you have to say"

Well you do live in a democracy (i am assuming usa here). Participating in society's processes is the answer! There's much more effective ways to disincentivize oil than to force it to be transported in a manner that takes additional fossil fuels. (New/More) Carbon taxes would be a good start.

My criticism is not that people criticize things well failing to be paragons of virtues. My criticism is that i dont think removing pipelines will improve the situation (if anything it makes it worse). Reducing dependence on oil is the answer. That doesn't mean going cold turkey overnight, but it is the thing that should be concentrated on.

I feel like attacking the pipeline to fix climate change, is kind of like trying to fix the drug problem by attacking safe injection sites. It might feel like a victory in some sense but its not actually improving anything and is probably actually increasing harm.

We (the USA) barely live in a democracy. Between inequal Senate representation, gerrymandering in state legislatures and the House, a broken, corrupt campaign finance system, and an underfunded election system primarily built to disenfranchise voters of color, it's hard to make the argument that any government in the US represents the will of its constituents.

A majority of Americans support the right to choose [1], a path to amnesty for undocumented persons [2], restrictions on firearm purchase and ownership [3], moving off of fossil fuels and treating climate change like the threat it is [4], a wealth tax on people with a net worth of over $50m [5], the expanded voting rights in HR 1 [6], etc. etc. etc.

Sorry I know I'm overreacting, but I think a lot of people are unaware of how dire the situation really is. If we truly lived in a democracy, we'd be moving towards at least some of these things.

[1]: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/06/about-six-i...

[2]: https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000177-d4f4-dd7d-ab77-fcfd4...

[3]: https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000178-cfbd-d112-a97e-ffbde...

[4]: https://morningconsult.com/2021/04/27/paris-agreement-climat...

[5]: https://www.businessinsider.com/over-half-americans-see-weal...

[6]: https://www.filesforprogress.org/datasets/2021/4/dfp-vox-hr-...

A cute, overused reply that doesn’t quite apply here. If you want to reduce your “personal carbon footprint” you absolutely can.

I think the point generally is that you can't appreciably fix the problems we face with individual action.

Why do Americans use so much energy? Because it's cheap as a result of excluding the externality of pollution from the price.

Why do Americans generate so much waste? Because there's no reasonable way to avoid it other than to never purchase any goods that are:

- over-packaged

- packaged in non-sustainable packaging

- created/manufactured in wasteful processes

...because the externality of waste generation isn't factored into the price.

Why do Americans ship such a huge percentage of goods using fossil-fuel-fueled transportation? Because for years we didn't build rail in service of propping up the automobile industry, and because the externality of pollution from car exhaust isn't factored into the transportation price.

There are plenty of people who diligently split their trash, compost, glass, paper, plastics. There are plenty of communities that charge by the pound of unrecyclable waste. There are plenty of subsidies for installing solar panels, and energy companies giving credits for green energy generation (and other programs, like offering to provide only green energy for a premium). After years of this, we still have a huge problem. Individual action isn't the answer. It was always a smokescreen pushed on us by fossil fuel energy companies to avoid taking responsibility themselves.

That's not a remotely easy solution. It's just easy to state.

If someone can afford solar panels and an electric car (or don't need a car to get to work), more power to them, but that doesn't describe the vast majority of society.

It is my understanding that solar pannels have an ROI that is ever shorter. Hell, in many countries there are companies that arrange installation and financing, and that have good prices due to centralised purchasing.

But that is another discussion. The real point is in the first R of the hierachy of the three R's : Reduce, Re-use, Re-cycle. No need to compensate huge use of energy, if you're not using the energy in the first place.

Some of the things we do in our household to reduce energy / CO2 / oil footprint (by decreasing order of impact):

   * own a house that is well insulated
   * instead of heating it, put on a sweater
   * instead of using an A/C, close shutters during hot parts of day during hot season
   * go on holiday by train or car
   * own a tiny car, that is 10 years old (we have two boys)
   * use the car only for exceptions (I bring the boys to school in a bus, train for work)
   * no red meat, very little other meat
   * buy less stuff
   * recycle packaging / paper
   * when we buy stuff, take into account packaging (reusable bags for rice, pasta, nuts, chocolate, etc)
For the avoidance of doubt, these are not choices given by economics. We're in the top 5% earning. We simply have made a choice to limit our impact whenever we can. And honestly, I can't say that our lifestyle is suffering.

Does this eliminate our footprint? No. But we are using, by my account, 20% that of an average American household. Can everyone do all of this? No, probably not. Buying a well-insulated house is expensive. Not everyone can use public transport. But if everyone made an effort, the world would be a different place today.

I'm not arguing that people can't reduce their carbon footprint, I'm arguing against a lazy suggestion that people don't actually care because they continue to buy any oil-based products, which is essentially unavoidable in modern society.

How are your going to convince 2 billion other people to do the same thing?

It doesn't matter if only you reduce.

One person at a time. By leading by example, without being judgemental.

Big changes in society never come at once. Womens right, black rights, gay rights. Progress is made bit by bit.

And even if things don't budge, and it stays with just me. All human endeavour is pointless in the end. Each of us has to define what is important to him or her.


Nearly everyone can do something to reduce their footprint.

We need to encourage more small changes and avoid bashing people for not doing a complete lifestyle redesign straight away.

Just to keep it concrete, there’s huge benefit to reducing meat consumption - and you can still capture a lot of that benefit without going 100% vegan.

Oil pipelines do one thing - transport oil. Not water, not milk, not corn syrup. Just oil.

Rail can transport anything. Containers, tankers, even rocket booster segments.

Yes, we're absolutely taking a short term hit, but investing in general purpose infrastructure that can be adapted for new technology and demands is a good thing. The continental rail network started off with coal powered steam trains, then diesel, now diesel-electric and even some pure electric locomotives. Maybe this century it will evolve past fossil fuels as well.

So yes, cancel the pipeline, but in its place invest in the safety and reliability of rail networks.

What about safety and natural disasters from rail and cost?

Let alone the cost of employing all the union railway workers, maintenance crews, technicians, etc and the footprint of the trains themselves operating.

There's a reason pipelines exist, and that is in their simplicity of transporting the product efficiently. Sure they can't transport anything else, but I don't think too many rocket boosters would be traveling to remote areas in Canada.

> Let alone the cost of employing all the union railway workers, maintenance crews, technicians, etc

Nitpicking to make a point: Employing people and paying them well is not just an expense; it has some enormous benefits.

In the context of a discussion about what method of delivering oil is more efficient, wasting resources on employing people for unnecessary tasks does not have enormous benefits. From a society point of view, if the goal is to deliver oil, then it is a societal loss to do it inefficiently just to pay more people.

If the goal is to pay people, then just pay people, no need to do it in a roundabout way of forcing an inefficiency into the system.

> wasting resources on employing people for unnecessary tasks does not have enormous benefits

Agreed, but that assumes perfect knowledge by business owners of what is most efficient.

I think business owners often lean much too far toward seeing labor as a commodity and an expense, to be minimized. Another approach is to see humans as the most powerful parts of the organization, and to invest in and empower them.

I'm speaking in the abstract; of course it's not always the case that more investment in labor is better. But there is a history of it: For example (and this is more a legend than something I have details on), back in the 1980s American auto companies had long treated workers as commodities. Toyota was far more successful by empowering them; famously, any worker could stop the assembly line.

Labor isn't ecologically inefficient. People are alive regardless of if they work.

Then lets pay everyone well to dig holes in their backyard and fill them in.

Employing people is great gain only if they do something productive. If you can employ less people that is greater gain because those others can do something else useful.

Labor time is a expiring and renewing natural resource. It's OK to use some of it.

Great points, this and the other comment.

Paying people well is very negative for the environment.

A poorly paid person will have a smaller car, smaller house, use less electricity and gas, and throw away far less trash.

In fact, wealth is very strongly correlated to environmental impact. Sure, rich people might be buying electric cars and recyclable coffee cups, but it nowhere near offsets the bigger house with A/C...

Good. Anything that makes oil more expensive is good for the planet and everyone who lives on it.

Burning oil for non productive reasons will make it more expensive, but it wont save the planet.

But what if the product they’re transporting will kill us all?

No that’s transported by rail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_flask

Used nuclear material is not capable of killing everyone in an accident, nowhere close. More people have died drilling for and refining oil than have died in nuclear accidents, and that’s before we consider the existential risk that global warming poses.

And how many people have died in the strip mining of uranium?

Probably not as many as you think.

Studies from a New Mexico mine ending in the 1970s estimated an extra 62.4 deaths per 100,000 miners. That’s a lot, but it doesn’t even hold a candle to coal mining in the same era. In 1970 the coal mining fatality rate in the US was 960 per 100,000 (1,388 fatalities for 144,480 miners).

Secondly, most uranium is leeched from the ground, not strip mined. This is far safer for the worker, although it does pose other safety considerations for the community.

Third, we can change these things. Coal mining has gone from ~900 per 100,000 workers to ~24 per 100,000 workers. Workplace health and safety standards are a choice we can make as a society. If we can make coal mining safer, there’s no reason we can’t make uranium mining safer.

Is that true per joule?


The estimate is that nuclear kills 0.04 people per TWh produced. This includes mining, refining, and the construction and operation of nuclear power plants. Natural gas kills about 4 people per TWh produced, making it far more lethal than nuclear all considered.

Fascinating in a grim way, rooftop solar is actually more lethal than nuclear, at 0.44 per TWh. Quite literally more people have died falling off roofs installing solar panels than died at Chernobyl. With rooftop being such a minuscule percentage of global production, expect that number to change.

By and far the most lethal is coal. The world average is 161 per TWh. But that average is hiding a lot of nastiness, because the true range is between 15 (US) and 278 (China). Quite literally millions of people die each year due to pollution, most of them because of coal.

This is a classic case of how people don’t calculate risk correctly. Nuclear accidents are scary, rare things and so people focus in on them. But in trying to get rid of nuclear we’ve ended up shifting primarily to coal and natural gas, energy sources that kill multiple orders of magnitude more people than nuclear does. But because these people die one at a time in hospitals, we end up missing the scale of the tragedy as a society.

All numbers valid from 2008.

Rail is very, very safe. In some areas taking the train is safer than walking.

Now to be fair, oil pipelines are usually safer still. But the solution here is obvious; stop using oil.

> But the solution here is obvious; stop using oil.

Sure, but will we see rail transportation of oil blocked in a similar manner? Otherwise we might just be making our current uses of oil less safe and efficient for nothing.

I think this needs to be achieved some other way, like through carbon taxes, not by blocking pipelines.

> But the solution here is obvious; stop using oil

> Sure, but will we see rail transportation of oil blocked in a similar manner? Otherwise we might just be making our current uses of oil less safe and efficient for nothing.

No, we won’t see our rail transit of oil blocked because it should not exist. The oil should be left in the ground.

I don't understand what you are proposing here. In terms of actions that we take to curb the use of oil, I am saying those actions should not unfairly discriminate against pipelines vs less safe transports like trains. If we take steps to block pipelines, we should take steps to block oil trains too.

Obviously if we could just snap our fingers and eliminate all dependence on oil, that would be fine since it would eliminate pipelines and oil trains together. But in lieu of that, we need to make choices about how to maximize the efficiency and safety of the oil we do use. Pipelines in some cases might actually be a good way to do that.

It's not possible to both maximize the safety and efficacy of using oil while externalizing the long term economic and environmental impact of using oil. The proposed efficiency and safety are entirety predicated on the externalized impact of pollution, climate change, and oil sand fracking.

What's the problem with keeping the more effective technology (pipelines) and instead using taxes to disincentivize the externalities? Wouldn't that be better for everyone?

The problem is induced demand. By making oil cheaper, you encourage its continued and increased consumption.

I am not saying we should make oil cheaper. That is the point of the taxes. We should be raising the price through taxes, not by blocking the state of the art technologies.

efficacy sure, but we can maximize safety while also negating environmental impact through heavy taxation directed to alternative energy projects

> But in lieu of that, we need to make choices about how to maximize the efficiency and safety of the oil we do use. Pipelines in some cases might actually be a good way to do that.

Pipelines make oil cheaper and safer, which is the exact opposite of what we need as a species. This both delays transition to cleaner technologies, and it causes even more consumption among those who already use it. People’s consumption of oil is primarily limited by their financial ability; making oil cheaper usually results in them spending the same amount to consume more.

If I had my druthers, I’d fight any expansion of oil exploration, drilling, and transit tooth and nail. At this point drilling for more of it is like continually ordering pizza and swearing that the diet starts tomorrow.

It would not delay transition to cleaner technologies if you take action to price in the externalities through taxes. Then, we could have both safe and efficient oil, and it wouldn't increase consumption. That is the best outcome for everyone.

Blocking new technologies is a bad solution because it only achieves the second part, limiting increases in consumption. It doesn't allow us to take advantage of safety/efficiency improvements, unlike with carbon taxes where we could have both.

That’s true, but extremely unlikely politically.

As it stands today, using local action and control to make new oil infrastructure painful and expensive to build is the best way for activists to raise the cost of oil and trim its consumption. This comes with obvious tradeoffs, rail transit is less safe, but it’s an available avenue given that the legislature is hopelessly corrupt and unwilling to do anything to curb oil consumption directly.

> stop using oil

If you want to go back to a pre-industrial society, sure.

Stop using oil, yeah sure. This will just transfer consumption from the most ethical and environmentally sound jurisdiction in the world to the worst.

Ask the town in Quebec that had many people burned alive from a oil train derailment how safe it is.

The Lac-Mégantic rail disaster occurred in the town of Lac-Mégantic, in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec, Canada, at approximately 01:15 EDT,[1][2] on July 6, 2013, when an unattended 73-car freight train carrying Bakken Formation crude oil rolled down a 1.2% grade from Nantes and derailed downtown, resulting in the fire and explosion of multiple tank cars. Forty-seven people were killed.[3] More than 30 buildings in the town's centre, roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed,[2][4] and all but three of the thirty-nine remaining downtown buildings had to be demolished due to petroleum contamination of the townsite.[5] Initial newspaper reports described a 1-kilometre (0.6 mi) blast radius.[6] ~ Wikipedia

1. Consumption is not moveable like that; you’re describing a process more akin to how manufacturing moves.

The world’s poorest people won’t suddenly be able to afford all this oil infrastructure if the richer nations stop consuming it. Especially if doing so reduces economies of scale.

2. From a global warming perspective, there is no such thing as an ethical jurisdiction to emit carbon from. Carbon is carbon, and it affects us all whether or not it comes with other forms of pollution.

I should have worded that better. I meant production, if you read it carefully I think it still implies that but I should have been more clear.

By ethical I mean human rights abuse, treatment of women and minorities. Why would you reward Saudi Arabia, Iran and so on and punish a place like Western Canada?

The issue is that there is a fixed supply of oil, and every drop that we pull out brings our species closer to extinction. I’d rather not reward Saudi, but I’d much more prefer to halt production of oil ASAP.

What are you basing this off of? Climate models that can't pass back testing with historical data when they are started 5,10,20,30 years ago. Sea level rise the last 150 years has been between 1-3mm a year and rising since the end of the last ice age (24k years). Food production continues to rise, the planet is greener. Extreme weather events are not increasing. The winters in North America have slightly warmed the past 30 years. Less area burned every year. Humans will adapt just fine. I'll source all this later if you really want?

Much of the opposition to pipelines is their propensity to fail. There are many, many pipelines in various states of neglect and failure. With no plans or resources to fix them. We don't even monitor most of them.

We should be decommissioning pipelines, not building new ones.

Does building railroads through areas have the same/better environmental/socioeconomic impact as a pipeline?

In terms of oil transport alone it's worse. Oil is spilled at a significantly higher rate when transported by rail.

> Oil is spilled at a significantly higher rate when transported by rail.

That doesn't seem to be correct. Maybe you mean spill incidence is higher when transported by rail? Table 9: https://imgur.com/a/3uIKVZc -- this makes it very clear that total volume spilled and volume spilled per incident is far greater from pipelines.

FWIW this table is from a paper that is trying to argue that pipelines are safer. But they quantify safety with the metric "how many people get hurt." In making that argument they make statements like: "The majority of incidents occur on road and rail." << duh, people are usually not around when pipelines spill. Also driving is hazardous.

Also rail cars and vehicles are monitored, whereas long pipelines are not so easily monitored; some spills may not even be detected for a long time. Related physics explaining a little bit of why long pipelines are hard to build: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msxMRwQyXI8

No opinion on rail vs. pipeline transport, but I'll note that these two statements are not in disagreement:

> Oil is spilled at a significantly higher rate when transported by rail.

> total volume spilled and volume spilled per incident is far greater from pipelines.

The oil pipelines can spill more per incident, or spill more total volume in aggregate, yet still spill at a lower _rate_ if they transport a yet-larger volume of oil compared to trains.

I've noticed this on arguments for/against the Keystone pipeline: the exact same underlying numbers can be framed in terms of rates or amounts, depending on the motivation of the speaker.

In addition to more oil being spilled, rail lines transit through populated places while pipelines are routed away from them.

There's a rail line running right through the central business district of my town, and it's the primary route between Alberta and the Pacific ocean. I sure wish all that oil was travelling through a pipeline instead of my town.

Why can't the rail be rerouted?

because rail is used for things other than oil (the whole reason people in this thread say transporting oil by rail is better), and those things require it to be near populated places.

if you build a dedicated oil railway that doesn't go anywhere populated and just goes from the oilfield to the refinery, then you've reinvented a pipeline, but worse.

That doesn't mean the impact is as large

Yes and no.

If you’re only going to use oil, it’s worse. But rail is much more flexible than a pipeline, and it can easily move food, people, garbage, and other various products that a society needs.

I'd say rail is worse, there is the safety issue, but also pollution (diesel exhaust emissions + carbon footprint), and noise pollution.. would much rather a pipeline going through my neighborhood than a railroad.

When the pipeline is working perfectly that may be true, but if it is spilling upstream of you and polluting your groundwater with hydrocarbons and you don't know until it's started to cause health issues because monitoring a long pipeline is hard...you might feel differently then.

The long tail risk is just higher when it comes to a pipeline.

That’s not true pipelines can transport oil, ammonium nitrate, be laid with internet fiber, and a variety of other chemicals.

It's true in spirit, if not the letter. Oil pipelines are useless for other things until they're cleaned and repurposed which isn't a cheap process.

Getting the pipeline route established is a pretty significant upfront cost. Easements, land purchases, agreements with all the various stakeholders are expensive. Even not reusing the existing oil pipeline, being able to repupose the corridor and corridor access points to lay a natural gas pipe or some other linear infrastructure is a pretty big deal.

Rail is also a linear infrastructure which can be used to put fiber in the ground cheaply.

Is there really demand for laying fiber between Hardisty Canada and Nebraska?

r/conservative and r/conspiracy are popular.

Assuming you happen to have one of those products that need to move in the exact same place as oil once did, sure. But a lot of these pipelines go between wells and refineries or docks, a path useless for anything but oil.

> The continental rail network started off with coal powered steam trains, then diesel, now diesel-electric and even some pure electric locomotives.

The actual evolution process was wood-powered steam trains, then coal-powered steam, then electric, then diesel-electric.

Yes, in the US, several railroads electrified then deelectrified, because it turns out that (for freight at least) diesel-electrics get you most of the useful benefits of electric locomotives without all of the problems of having to string up electric catenary and worry about provisioning traction power stations for your 1000s of miles of mainline track.

There can be a substantial cost saving switching from diesel to electric fully.

India for example has been investing in this convertion last 2-3 years and are expecting 4-5 billion dollars savings every year by going full electric in the next 2 - 3 years.

The networks are very different , single public owner/lots of private owners , frieght/passenger ratios are different, Density is different etc,however there can be cost savings

Yes in India gets coal super cheap and they use a ton of it to make their electric. All these electric cars are just coal cars, all these electric trains are just coal trains

They are also building quite a bit of solar power. The obvious difference between actual coal trains and electric trains (even running on coal electricity), is that you don't need to change a thing in the trains themselves to reduce the emissions of the system. Certainly it would be nicer if India already generated their electricity carbon neutrally, but moving from coal powered electric trains to PV powered electric trains is so much easier than from diesel trains.

Sure, but most of Europe use electric and we generate a lot of our electricity from nuclear and hydro. By switching to electric India can change to other sources of electricity in the future.

Ah yes, I love Factorio.

underated comment.

It is in parallel to solar investments in station and on top of trains and along the tracks as well. My understanding is that they plan to go fully green.

Given the variations in solar generation and no mention of storage I am assuming it is equivalent green power to offset rather than actual used.

That was before we got this good at making batteries — and we're still getting better.

Keystone proposed to transported one thing - Canadian Oil to Canadian tankers. Outside of running the pipeline in the states, it would not impact US oil prices - outside of extra capacity which is heavily regulated to control price.

Isn't oil one of the most fungible commodities?

It’s arguably one of the least. Oil is not one thing, it’s a blend of hundreds or thousands of different compounds. There is a world of difference between light sweet crude and oil sands, and those are different from sour oil.

Some types of oil must be diluted with other types of oil can consume it, such as tar sands oil.

Being generic comes at a cost of doing everything less well. Sometimes that's the right trade off, but i'm not sure that's the right trade off here, especially when it comes to safety and envornment.

> I'm not sure that's the right trade off here, especially when it comes to safety and environment.

Can you give some reasons why you think that?

My understanding is that transporting oil by rail takes more energy (so more carbon), and if things go wrong, they go much worse than if things go wrong in a pipeline.

I think pipelines make sense as long as we are continuing to use oil. This particular pipeline project was pretty stupid though, and kenny's support of it was either gross incompetence or an indirect way to defraud tax payers.

Hydrogen would be a viable alternate use for the pipelines in the long term. There are some promising projects going on in Alberta for producing hydrogen in less carbon intensive ways.


Hydrogen is even smaller than helium, which is used for leak testing vacuum systems.

I hypothesize that a hydrogen leak is less destructive than an oil leak, but that's still a problem.

Making a pipe leak tight to hydrogen versus leak tight to oil is not even playing in the same ballpark. Hydrogen leaks through practically everything, oil is viscous.

Plus hydrogen burns much more easily and the flame is transparent.

Atomic radius of helium is smaller than hydrogen 31 vs 53 pm. Hydrogen gas is also typically in the form H2, which is much larger. At the same time ofc oil pipelines will still be too leaky.

Favoring a shotgun approach towards GHG emissions downstream is there a better approach towards building an infrastructure distributing hydrogen?

That question isn't intended as rhetorical

It seems it's hard to transport pressurized hydrogen in pipelines as hydrogen embrittles steel. Gas utilities are trying to implement this to lower the carbon footprint of their gas (when hydrogen comes from renewable sources).


> Rail can transport anything. Containers, tankers, even rocket booster segments.

While I get the idea and oppose oil infrastructure made possible by the greenhouse gas subsidy (i.e., that the gasses are dumped on the public), rail can't efficiently transport electricity. It's not infrastructure for low-carbon or zero-carbon energy (with some possible future exceptions).

What does that have to do with anything? Do you suggest you can transport electricity in oil pipelines?

Rail can transport electricity reasonably efficiently in the form of aluminium.

Find a place with abundant electricity. Ship aluminium ore there by rail. Smelt the stuff there with the cheap electricity. Ship the resulting aluminium back.

The end result is more energy efficient than using a power line to move the electricity to the aluminium ore.

Trains need tracks but airplanes don't. Airplanes can also transport water, milk, corn syrup, and oil.

Forget about trains and build more planes.

Have you ever bought milk in a town where it comes in by airplane?

The economics of shipping oil by plane vs train, tanker or pipeline are laughably poor.

Trains are pretty laughable compared to pipes https://www.wsj.com/articles/BL-263B-3126

If paywalled maybe you can still see https://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-FR879_expert_G_...

Why not just use catapults and cut out the middleman? Landing could be difficult but I'm willing to offer a discount on really big nets.

Rail networks can be easily sabotaged, and therefore suck.

That's why the US for the most part uses trucks not trains.

Interestingly, the max-flow min-cut theorem was apparently developed as a way to find the best way to sabotage railroads (i.e.: how to cause to cause the most harm with the fewest "cuts" = sabotage).

> That's why the US for the most part uses trucks not trains

Nope. The interstate highway system followed the railroad system. It also followed world war 2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System

Rail infra investment stopped after ww2 and never restarted. All of these railroad engine power train tech improvements may have happened, but the rails on ground infrastructure peaked in the 1950's .

Interstate highways also made most of the US accessable to heavy aircraft in case an emergency airport needed to be assembled on short notice. It's a network of runways. Interestingly, the German Autobahn has a lot more curves, but it's debatable if that is to make them harder to bomb or to keep drivers awake.

Also many US cities had full fledged local rail systems that were paved over to make way for roads and cars.

Were interstate highways designed to be used as emergency airstrips in case of war?

No, they were not.


I never heard of the 1-in-5 thing. The runway concept was something my dad used to talk about.

> Rail networks can be easily sabotaged, and therefore suck.

> That's why the US for the most part uses trucks not trains.

Do you mean, that's why the U.S. built infrastructure around interstate highways and not rail? Why did European countries and other places conclude differently?

Is there anything you can recommend reading about it? The more scholarly the better.

I'm completely ignorant on the topic, are pipelines not easily sabotaged?

Pipelines can transport oil continuously and quickly but they leak all the time.

The fastest, most effective way to transition from fossil fuels is to limit their supply. Any parent knows you can read all you want about how to raise a child before it's born, but the real learning starts at birth. Within seconds you learn more than before when it was abstract.

Likewise, to learn to live without fossil fuels, shutting down supply will lead us to face the actual problems we have to solve, not theoretical. Obviously, don't shut everything all at once, and protect the helpless, hospitals, and necessary things.

Among the rest of us, no one will be injured. Entrepreneurs will innovate. Inconveniences will lead to learning and life improvement.

Decisions are trade offs. The cost of resources will become more scarce here. Which means the poor will pay more for their fuel prices. If you believe that no one will be injured, you are looking at level one impacts. Any decision needs to be looked at as a trade off.

Russia, China, India, and Iran must be so happy with the ways we shoot ourselves in the arm. Fracking moved us closer to getting away from the Middle East, but the pipeline cancellation, the fracking fights, and the anti-nuke efforts is forcing us to get closer to them.

Pipeline spills affect drinking water and ecology for US citizens. Fracking has externalities that again, can directly hurt our populace and ecosystems we live adjacent to. Nuclear is just hard to do right, and I for one am glad we are careful with where/when we deploy it.

I disagree with this framing that "we shoot ourselves in the arm." As a US citizen I think a better way to think of it is that we insist on proceeding with caution when it comes to diversifying our energy supply, and while in the short term we do have a dependence on foreign fossil fuels, there are certainly many efforts being made to reduce that. And many of these efforts don't involve looking for more non-renewable oil.

If you think of our energy supply as a long-running software service that can't go down, replacing foreign oil with fracking+local pipelines is like replacing old short term dependencies on new short-term dependencies that we pay maintenance cost on. Negative externalities must be factored into those cost decisions. Similarly nuclear is like building a very complex internal service that, if done right, will pay huge dividends, but if done wrong, can be quite catastrophic and expensive.

> As a US citizen I think a better way to think of it is that we insist on proceeding with caution

As others have pointed out, this isn't going to stop the oil from being pumped, as it is still economical (though less so, and dirtier) to move by train.

The keystone pipeline project has been thoroughly studied. All we have done is make sure that the Canadian oil field externalities are now even higher.

It is not at all unfair to call it foolishness rather than caution.

Caution in the case of Keystone XL is about potential spills, not the actual pumping of the oil. It's okay that oil is being pumped there, if the economic engine so demands. It's good that it's being transported by rail, because it's less likely to create an (additional) environmental catastrophe.

You might say it's dirtier to move the oil by train, I'd say it's responsible and a price worth paying to protect sensitive ecologies from inevitable pipeline leaks. You say externalities are higher, I say your worst case summed externalities are lower.

Surely the many efforts being made to reduce dependence on foreign fossil fuels all fall into the bucket of nuclear, fracking and small amounts of windmills/solar, but those can't make up the difference any time soon due to intermittency alone. So you seem to be saying you're against all the ways of reducing dependence on foreign fuels but are sure that dependency will be reduced.

> So you seem to be saying you're against all the ways of reducing dependence on foreign fuels but are sure that dependency will be reduced.

First of all, if foreign fossil fuels are a dependence, and we are striving to remove that dependence, it is worth considering what our new dependence will be on. Is it going to be on local fossil fuels, extracted at great cost to our own quality of life? I'd hope not. The global economy is already interconnected as hell, we don't need to be in such a rush that we make a bad decision rewiring our supply chains. We should implement a superior replacement first, and we're definitely in the R&D phase of that.

Secondly, I'm certainly not against all ways of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and I resent that you present it as a binary. Fracking and nuclear are cool technologies, but it's pretty damn important to scrutinize how and when they're being deployed. Slow is good in this case. I'm very against using "oh no we're dependent on foreign fossil fuels" as a rallying cry to avoid environmental due diligence and to ignore all the negative environmental externalities that occur from the realities of dirty energy. Like, building a long oil pipeline is not externality free. The physics of such an endeavor make it so that spills are basically unavoidable, and often difficult to find before damage is done to the long term health of ecosystems and humans.

In terms of "how will we remove our dirty energy dependence" at large, I think it's fair that nobody has a real answer yet. The problem is not "the US depends on dirty foreign fossil fuels" -- the problem is that "everyone depends on dirty fossil fuels." Most countries understand at some level that they need to fix this.

My money is on a combination of fixing the issues that prevent renewables (including wind/solar/geothermal) from making up the better part of our energy budget (and sure intermittency/storage is part of that story, though if you're that aware you must know that tons of innovation is happening in this space too right), and renewable fuels (hydrogen, ethanol, etc).

For just rearranging the US energy dependence graph there are potential solutions to be had that are cleaner than fracking like leaning harder on natural gas which is relatively plentiful here. It seems likely that we could do more nuclear, but when you get into the weeds of suitable nuclear sites the story isn't as optimistic as you might naively think. And again, nuclear is not as clean as folks might imagine.

In general I think it's dangerous to look at the picture and be like "okay looks like X, Y, and Z are the only solutions" ignoring the timescale over which you have to solve the problem, the metric by which you measure the gravity of the problem, the total cost of potential solutions including all enumerable externalities, and potential / ongoing technological advancements.

The most effective way to transition from fossil fuels is to make an alternative more economical.

For example, there is the “methanol economy”, in which solar or nuclear energy is used to create syngas from water and CO2. The syngas is then transformed into methanol or other higher energy density fuels. When they are burned, you get the CO2 and water back - it’s a closed cycle, like a battery in an electric car. But, it is practical for air transport propulsion.

But is the supply actually being limited? Won't a similar amount of fuel be transported via rail or trucks? What is the carbon footprint of transporting X kg of fuel over pipeline vs rail?

It seems to me that the main outcome is that the same amount of fuel is transported with a costlier (environmentally, and financial) vehicle.

I don't see how we can ever get off oil practically and environmentally friendly without more nuclear energy generation capacity in the US and globally.






Transportation is 14% which is not insignificant. But EV transport still requires charging from the powerplant, materials, mining, disposal. I am hopeful we will overcome them but we will exchange pollution problems for new different pollution problems.

Nuclear energy is far too expensive and far too slow to build, it will not contribute much to our energy future. Our build rate for nuclear is tiny, less than 1GW/year, and there is little hope of scaling nuclear production capacity to something 100GW/year or more, which is what we would need if nuclear is going to contribute in a significant way to a climate solution.

In contrast, we are scaling solar, wind, and storage production at a huge rate, and the increases in production capacity are huge each year.

It's been a few months since I've don the napkin math, but at the current rate of production increases, extrapolated to 2035, we will just barely be able to replace all fossil fuel energy with renewable electricity. Electrification of many primary fossil fuel uses, such as heat and transportation, will require 1/3 to 1/4 as much energy (see the amount of rejected energy in the top right here [1]). But at the same time, the developing world will be greatly increasing their use of energy services, and renewables will be the easiest way to do that. So even though developed countries' total energy use will go down as we electrify, developing countries' use will go up.

[1] https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/content/assets/images/energy/us/...

The progress we have made is great but there are still plenty of places that it may not be viable due to lack of sunshine, good weather, considerable wind.

Energy production with out long-term, long-duration energy storage doesn't solve our current problems.

Q. Has longer-duration energy storage been solved with out my awareness?

Though there are several nations that may not have enough wind and sun for their needs, these are a tiny tiny percentage of total energy needs of the globe. These nations will find ways to import energy, just as they currently do, either through electrical grids of through chemical storage of electricity as electrically-derived ammonia or methane or methanol or kerosene. Or maybe they pay somebody to do direct air capture, or through carbon capture and sequestration.

There are several ways to provide energy during the worst sun and wind lulls, and though we will likely use all of the below to some extent, we won't know the full mix until the next 10-15 years of tech development show which is the cheapest mix of techniques.

1) overprovisioning solar and wind generation to provide more during the lulls, at the cost of providing extra most of the time

2) flow batteries, such as vanadium redox, are having ever increasing pilots. There are also long-duration startups with extremely experienced teams that are taking bets on completely novel chemistries that will give us more shots on goal.

3) As we decarbonize industry, we will end up with massive amounts of energy stored in chemicals. Industrial policy is creating massive electrolyzer capacity for hydrogen, which doesn't store super well, but which will be the base for transformation into other chemicals that can be used for fuels such as ammonia (primary use is fertilizer but might end up being used for ocean shipping too). Current fossil fuel tech for creating and breaking hydrogen chains may make synthetic kerosene economical, which would allow us to keep the current airline fleet flying without modification.

4) Demand response. Currently the electrical grid has very little price information, which will not be economically efficient as we switch to nearly all primary generation having zero marginal cost, and times of great excess of electricity supply. As we build time-based prices into electricity, we will find that demand for many large energy users is quite flexible, and we will discover the true demand elasticity. This will make the entire economy more efficient than our current utility pricing schemes (at least US utility pricing, I'm not as familiar with the rest of the world.)

We don't need to know everything right now, because the energy world will be unbelievably different within 10 years. After nearly a century of almost no change, the energy world is undergoing a tech revolution which will catch nearly all the old giants off guard. Which is why so many fossil fuel majors are having to write down so many assets, and have not read the writing on the wall that even their financiers have now seen. Utilities (again, at least in the US), are significantly less sophisticated than even the fossil fuel majors, and have no idea of the huge changes they will see in the coming decades.

Thank you for your excellent response. You seem very knowledgeable on the energy sector and it's dynamics.

I agree with most of what you have written. I have to disagree on nuclear though.

I think nuclear is no different than the other avenues to clean energy and will also go through the same new tech development to reduce costs, risks, and management overhead. At least that's what I hope!

Oil is all going to get transported by rail or truck. BNSF stock going up should please Buffet.

I don't know about your second sentence, but your first sentence is absolutely correct.

I am an Albertan who lives in Calgary, where TC Energy is headquartered. I am by no means a shill for Big Oil and am thankful that I do not work in that industry.

Having said that, I do not think that blocking the supply side of the equation helps as much as certain parties believe that it does. As long as the demand for oil exists, the suppliers will find a way.

This also has side effects that some parties do not consider: Railroads have finite capacity, and when more of that capacity is absorbed by oil shipments, there is less capacity for the transportation of other goods, like grain.

Demand is partly driven by how cheap oil is.

There is demand for energy. Cheap oil is a great source. If oil gets more expensive because it now has to be shipped with more risk in smaller quantities via rail/truck, then renewables can compete even better.

I don't think there's any realistic policy option to reduce energy demand as a whole, but if we can reduce demand for certain types of energy we might have a shot.

Oil is fungible and the market is global. Making it less efficient to transport oil in North America just reduces the profit margin for North Amereican oil companies.

I'm all for reducing oil company profits, but I think it would be better to do that through carbon taxes than by forcing operational inefficiencies.

I agree with a carbon tax, but I also think we don't need to go out of our way to support north american oil companies. If that oil gets pumped out its going to get burned as well.

Oil is fungible, but like any commodity it still obey's supply and demand.

allowing a pipeline to be built isn't really "going out of our way". if it were being subsidized, that would be a problem.

but in general, i think it's better to allow a local oil industry, and properly tax and regulate it, than it is to allow all those profits to go offshore to less-regulated, less taxed foreign operations. people aren't going to stop using oil just because they can't get the locally-produced stuff.

The keystone XL received investment and loan guarantees from government.

Beyond that there's a lot of goverment effort that's needs to happen to "allow" it to be built. Securing right of ways or emininent domain on land it passes through.

It seems like the executive branch of the US government has the power to impair the oil industry in North America, but not to implement a carbon tax. It seems to me like it will help a little on the margin, but not nearly as much as carbon pricing would.

No doubt this is true, but it sure would be nice if we could instead tax the oil and raise revenue for the public good, rather than deliver profits to private railroad companies.

this is only kind of true. WHile rail IS more expensive you can't compare a barrel in a pipeline with a barrel on a train. Pipelines need to carry diluted oil products to make them flow and then sometimes return that back to the source, so there's extra flow. Pipelines use far LESS energy to transport which is kind of ironic; and they are way, way safer.

I don't see this as an environmental move based on the political signalling it buys and other moves made by the US administration. If we agree that we want to reduce demand for certain types of energy than the first thing we should do is promote FF from Canada that are relatively clean, highly regulated and produced by a trusted democracy over the ones that will be used to fill this void from 3rd-world dictators with no environmental controls.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says:

>Tar sands extraction emits up to three times more global warming pollution than does producing the same quantity of conventional crude. It also depletes and pollutes freshwater resources and creates giant ponds of toxic waste. Refining the sticky black substance produces piles of petroleum coke, a hazardous by-product. “This isn’t your grandfather’s typical oil,” [senior policy analyst for NRDC’s Canada project] says. “It’s nasty stuff.”


This is unrelated to the claim that transport by pipeline is less environmentally harmful than transport by train or truck.

I was responding to the parent's last sentence:

>If we agree that we want to reduce demand for certain types of energy than the first thing we should do is promote FF from Canada that are relatively clean, highly regulated and produced by a trusted democracy over the ones that will be used to fill this void from 3rd-world dictators with no environmental controls.

I was pointing out that tar-sands oil probably does not meet the "relatively clean" criteria.

If they can't transport as much by train or truck (due to capacity/expense) then thats a gain for the environment.

If a big fat permanent pipeline makes it more cost effective to extract and sell even more tar-sand oil, then thats a loss for the environment.

Seems related? Making Canadian crude less competitive means less tar sands oil extraction.

Biden lifted sanctions on Russia to allow an undersea pipeline,


I don't think demand reduction was an objective with Keystone.

The first sentence in the linked article says it’s a gas pipeline, which is very different than an oil pipeline.

A high price of oil makes it profitable to sell oil.

A market-based acceleration in renewables energy use requires well funded energy companies to pivot. High priced oil doesn't get them to do that. Low priced oil doesn't either, but a sharp drop in oil prices can.

Some other incentive is still necessary.

> A high price of oil makes it profitable to sell oil.

Only if your costs are below the high price. Blocking this pipeline raises their costs to transport the oil, eating into profits.

It doesn't cause a shift into renewables. The providers along that pipeline might simply be fucked. The regional and global rate just stays more attractive to the more vertically integrated players.

You know there's more to the equation than that.

Disagree on the supply-side angle: If we cut our dependence on oil for power and transport but the supply stays high, it’ll lead to a drop in prices. People will be incentivized to find new profitable uses for this cheap oil, which will then cause oil usage to go back up again. If we cut supply while cutting demand, that’s less likely.

Of course in the end, the real solution is a carbon tax that factors the bad externalities of oil into its price (which would likely make it unprofitable for a lot of purposes regardless of the free market price). However, that seems unlikely in the near future due to one party denying that the problem even exists. In light of that, I could see a (grim) argument that really rough solutions like denying pipeline permits are the best we’ve got on hand at the moment.

Isn't the point of the pipeline to send the oil to Gulf Coast refineries? There's not that many direct uses for dirty Bakken crude, which also happens to be particularly dangerous to ship by train.

The alternative methods of transport will be more expensive, which will lead to a decrease in demand.

Yeah, I’ll just not drive to work...

This has never been true for consumers. The only “demand” it impacts are companies, who then move their jobs to China where they can use coal powered plants.

There is no world where this artificial increase in prices is good.

Green energy is improving, nuclear is improving. It’s improving because it has to compete with alternatives, like oil. Green energy is not cheap or widespread enough today for consumers or industry. So it’s only the people of the country that lose.

This has always been true of consumers.

- Let's buy a smaller/more efficient car instead of the bigger/less efficient one

- Let's move closer to work

- Let's carpool

- Let's not buy our teenager a car just yet

Etc, etc. Cost of ownership effects all sorts of choices, always has, always will.

I was wondering, just for the effect, if i could translate this list into the world of computers

-Buy smaller/more efficient computers instead of the bigger/less efficient one

-let's move closer to work

-let's share computers

-let's not buy our teenagers a computer just yet

Feels strange to read. But ok, who knows, maybe compu, umm, smartphones fall out of favour some day as well.

> -Buy smaller/more efficient computers instead of the bigger/less efficient one

I've run laptop cpu based desktops instead of desktop cpus (chromebox, nuc, lots of similar products with less known branding). It probably makes a difference, especially it you have a dedicated GPU in the desktop. Max power is certainly reduced, usually idle power too, for raw compute tasks there's a balance because the tasks will take longer and maybe end up using similar power. For games and stuff, you'll get way less fps (or lower settings, or realistically both), but use less power if you play the same amount of time.

> -let's move closer to work

I dunno how much power difference this makes.

> -let's share computers

I've done this, one at a time limits max power consumption, but may lead to higher utilization. Multiple monitors and keyboard/mice is an option too, but more fiddly. Maybe a little power savings vs two desktops, but it worked better with two gpus, so maybe not.

> -let's not buy our teenagers a computer just yet

This is kind of like the sharing one earlier.

We do that stuff.

> -Buy smaller/more efficient computers instead of the bigger/less efficient one

Smaller process size and better power management makes your mobile device have better battery life. 80 Plus, energy star, performance-per-watt benchmarks.

> -let's move closer to work

Hughesnet and dial-up are not good WFH options.

> -let's share computers

Cloud, client/server.

> -let's not buy our teenagers a computer just yet

Cancelled Instagram-for-kids?

From a consumer perspective

- Cheaper phones, they're just slower

- Lower resolution videos and images, less data, less cpu cost.

- Single shared desktop instead of everyone having a laptop

- Literally the same


From a business/software eng perspective

- Less compute, let things take longer.

- More efficient programming languages. Simplify problems (e.g. use aggregate statistics instead of working on the whole data set).

- Timesharing on servers

- Pen and paper for people who don't really need one? Don't buy the delivery driver a computer, just tell them where to go? This one is hard to make a business analogy out of.

If you work with information, there is no fundamental reason to live close to "work". It is much more efficient to live where you want to live as there is no need to travel - you are already there.

Yep. Americans used to drive enormous boat sized cars, then suddenly a lot of people liked these small Japanese cars.

I wonder why that happened????

That’s my point, you should always try to do what benefits your people (as a leader). Idk what this is, it’s just disproportionately negatively impacting the poor and middle class.

At the same time, this forces jobs over seas and Biden lets Russia build a pipeline to Europe limiting the USAs ability to sell and compete. Literally none of this is helping the environment or the citizens he leads.

I'm just addressing this part "This has never been true for consumers. The only “demand” it impacts are companies", it's wrong, it does impact demand from consumers, substantially.

Whether impacting consumer demand is a net positive for the population (due to climate change) or net negative for the population (because it's preventing useful stuff) isn't something I really want to weigh in on on the internet, I don't hold strong enough or well supported enough opinions.

I, a consumer, chose to live in a place where I could get to work without a car (and not having to drive was an explicit part of my decision-making). Consumers make this kind of choice all the time. That not every consumer can choose not to drive doesn't mean the idea of trying to influence consumer behavior is unreasonable.

This has never been true for consumers.

Well thats just not true. People make decisions about what to drive and how to drive it and how far to drive it based on the price of gas.

Why not tax the pipeline to simulate that cost increase? Isn't that the best of all worlds?

In an idea world, probably, but unfortunately taxes are politically toxic in the US, to the extent that imposing a new tax whose costs will ultimately be born by consumers is impolitic in a way that creating new consumer costs whose revenue accrues to private actors isn't. Voters aren't rational, and elected officials can't do a lot about that.

Also, revoking the permit can be done entirely by executive action, where a new tax would require cooperation from Congress, which the administration would never get.

This was actually the argument of the governments of Canada, to build it, but add a carbon tax.

Canada now has a federal carbon tax, BC has a carbon tax and Alberta did have one, but the previous government was thrown out in favour of a deeply conservative one (that is now woefully unpopular so the pro-carbon tax party is probably coming back).

You can see one possible issue with the case of the Albertan government changing. Easy to add/remove taxes, hard to add/remove pipelines. There's also even some question of whether the carbon tax will be effective. It arguably hasn't done that much in BC. This is probably because for political reasons it has been set low. A previous conservative government "froze" the tax at low rates. Scientists note the tax needs to be literally $100s more per ton of CO2 to be effective.

In my experience the carbon tax has seemed like a good idea, but has seemed in practice more of a political tool to generate the public acceptance of pipelines. The actual CO2 impact of the pipeline is absolutely in zero way mitigated by the carbon tax.

that pipeline that now will never exist was substantially owned by the Canadian and ALbertan government. If it was built we would see a very efficient transfer of profit directly to new initiatives. Now we're no further ahead AND we own a pipe-less pipeline project.

Unfortunately that demand is sticky. In North America, we have built our entire societies around plentiful fossil fuels. We cannot just turn that ship around on a dime.

Except I doubt everyone is going to walk to work, eat only locally grown produce in the winter (hope you like potatoes), feed the world without fertilizer and replace plastics with ... what, smug self-satisfaction?

The track system of course has finite capacity, but how close to that finite capacity are they running, and how much of that capacity is the new oil demand?

If new new oil demand makes the capacity go from 9% to 12% that is one thing, and quite another going from 68% to 98%...

I think it is a case of popular politics but poor policy. It appears like Canada has decided that they do not want to be in resource extraction for environmental purposes, but in their bid to be socially responsible, they are for the most part ignoring the potential political and social fallout of such a policy. Sure, it will make oil and gas operations more untenable in Canada, but ultimately that probably wont matter much since other producers that already dictate the price through cartels will quickly fill demand to their own benefit.

Whether or not people want to think about it, Canada exports a lot of natural resources, and if they want to stop, which is fine, they better have a real plan for transitioning those industries, and have an idea of what they will do in lieu of a that huge chunk of their exports going away. Its really easy to say something like "just transition away from oil" but history has shown that it is very difficult to do, especially for a province beholden to federal policy.

These costs are massive but are largely being ignored, or just offloaded as only Alberta's problem. They are running the risk of hollowing out a huge portion of the economy without any real plan which has pretty severe consequences as seen in places like the rust belt, which will end up sowing the seeds of populist resentment amongst communities that will feel used and abandoned, especially in places that already feel largely ignored by federal politics like western Canada.

> It appears like Canada has decided that they do not want to be in resource extraction for environmental purposes

Do you have a moment to talk about Calgary? Canada is the fourth largest producer of crude oil in the world. Not bad for a county half the population of California over the same area as the USA.

They might talk a good talk, but they aren’t going to stop oil production until they run out. Same as anyone else.

The more fossil fuel infrastructure we build out, the harder it will be to make the transition to clean energy. Adding costs to fossil fuels is not a bad thing.

Absolutely. We should be exploring ways to financially disadvantage refineries and fueling stations as well. Have to find every weak point in fossil infra to exploit towards a failure mode. This drives the cost up, making electrified options (that don’t emit carbon) more competitive sooner.

>> This drives the cost up, making electrified options (that don’t emit carbon) more competitive sooner.

Interesting take on "competitive". I guess we could encourage renewables or capture externalities, but why do that when we can rig the entire system "for fairness"?

If there were a carbon tax and similar mechanisms, I wouldn’t need to advocate for tilting the playing field, as the market would solve this naturally. Unfortunately, a carbon tax (“capture externalities” in your comment) is untenable in the US and fossil fuels continue to receive hundreds of billions of dollars a year in subsidies.

It’s a climate emergency with all of the urgency of afternoon tea. You must destroy demand for the root cause of the situation, as soon as possible (hence my comment).



Must be nice to be so rich that you can choose to pay more for things.

I don’t have a solution for the species constantly borrowing from the future. The bill comes due eventually. If you think being poor sucks now, wait for water shortages and crop failures. I get it, everyone wants the benefits without the costs. But there are costs.

Obligatory “we should have carbon taxes and cap and trade to help make the transition fair and equitable”. I’m aware the wealthy are culpable for higher per capita CO2 emissions, and as such they should bear a greater burden in this regard. Life ain’t fair unfortunately.

Could always make the carbon tax revenue neutral. Then it mostly becomes a subsidy for the poor who aren't jumping on planes 10x/year.

Imagine if we seized property and gave it to a private company to build wind farms. I'm sure the response would be worse than what happened here.

Your comment is interesting given that some of the strongest voices against the Keystone XL pipeline are the indigenous tribes whose lands and water would be jeopardized by it.

Why do we have to do the 'g[i]ve it to a private company' part?

Unsure why we did that with keystone xl.

Because of corruption.

Who is downvoting you? Why? Your comment is perfectly on point IMO.

Not sure why you're getting downvoted. Energy is a money game.

Adding costs due to adding inefficiency in the supply chain is definitely a bad thing, since you could easily achieve the exact same outcome with a tax instead.

This is true, but if new taxes are politically untenable (which, in the current US political environment, they definitely are), the choice isn't between inefficiency and a tax, it's between inefficiency and the status quo. Politics is the art of the possible.

Wouldn't the pipeline operators have willingly agreed to a levy or tax of some sort if the alternative is complete shutdown?

Probably, but even if they did, it's probably not within the power of the executive to create such a mechanism.

If that's the case, you have a good point.

Sure, but you should also just not give permits when the project is dangerous (which was what multiple agencies and courts had suggested in this case but one of the last three administrations was trying to overrule them)

You're right for some oil but there isn't enough rail infrastructure to enable Canadian crude growth without pipelines. Discounting WCS crude diffs to WTI will price out most long term production growth without offsetting higher crude flat price. Demand for oil isn't perfectly inelastic, so higher flat price enables more fuel switching (e.g. electric).

> Oil is all going to get transported by rail or truck.

... which is more expensive than transporting by pipeline, thus increasing the cost of oil, cutting the development of marginally-viable oil exploration projects, and hastening the point at which it is uncompetitive with renewables and killed. This is working exactly as intended.

You could also stretch and call it an indictment of externalizing oil production costs. I'm aware that building and running a refinery is an extremely expensive operation, to the point where it isn't economical to either mobilize a refinery, or base them at the site of extraction.

That said, running a refinery also has local costs that are usually externalized, in terms of local pollution and populace movement. Canada itself though has a fairly large amount of space, but perhaps a surfeit of people. Why doesn't TC energy (or other Canada producers) build a refinery somewhere in Canada and transport to there?

Alternatively, it could just encourage fracking and refining closer to the delivery point. Smaller economies of scale would be offset by lower transport cost. At the same time, pollution would likely increase.

The only real lever the government has is increasing fuel taxes, but that would result in roots from people who are barely making it before massive increases in transportation costs.

So market forces dont get applied in this case and if its more expensive by rail or truck, people will just buy it anyway? How curious.

As long as the final price to the customer is at/under the current market price. Producers will make less profit.

Or... maybe the market will react to higher oil prices and choose other fuels? Might be wanting to hodl TSLA and not rail stocks.

Oil != gas for your car. It's fuel for millions of homes, transportation of all those goods you buy and out of market food, plastic products, fertilizer that has allowed us to feed millions, etc. Your electric car is a very small part of that.

>It's fuel for millions of homes

3% of oil goes towards residential uses.

> transportation of all those goods you buy

16% of oil goes to diesel for transportation

>plastic products, fertilizer that has allowed us to feed millions,

1.5% of oil goes to all petrochemicals combined


The vast plurality of oil goes to making gasoline which is used in motor vehicles.

Sure, and to the extent that the feedstocks for all of those processes become more expensive, it makes cleaner alternatives more competitive in sectors where they exist, and in sectors where they don't, creates stronger incentives to develop new ones. It's not like this one pipeline will mean suddenly there's no more fertilizer, but any slight increases in cost will help incentivize change at the margins.

You... can't heat homes with electricity?

You missed the point. The upthread poster made a gag about BNSF as a way of arguing that this was somehow a corrupt gift to the transportation industry (which... yeah, whatever).

I quipped about Tesla to indicate that, no, the market adapts along every available axis and renewable power is if anything more likely to benefit than some rail outfit that just happens to be owned by Warren Buffett.

How does that work?

I mean, putting aside the political & scientific issues around clean energy etc.

How does the government get to revoke a permit after significant work and money was already spent based on getting the permit in the first place? Does the government pay compensation? Does the company have to file a lawsuit?

The text of the permit included a clause that said it could be revoked solely at the discretion of the president. So all it takes is the president deciding to revoke it.

I'm kind of fascinated that people see such a breezy permit as an important factor in the decision to build something or not. Of course they need the permit to construct the border facility, but they aren't going to make the investment decision just based on the existence of the permit.

Government gonna govern. Unless there are specific appeal clauses in the relevant permission processes, most governments can (and will) do what they want on this sort of issue. You can interpret it as a prevarication over the private individual/company, or as a reaffirmation of society's right to change its mind.

This sort of scenario is precisely why private interests lobby so hard to add arbitration rules to international free-trade agreements, btw; they want to protect their investments against changes in political winds, by moving judgements on compensation to a dodgy world of ad-hoc pseudo-legal structures.

Look at the history of this permit: Obama's administration being against it; agencies and courts during Trump's administration being against it, but being fought; Biden's administration being against it. There was never certainty here and this company was gambling, hoping there is another administration today.

There is no mention in the article about the previous permit being revoked by the court for being illegal.

Could you supply some specifics/citations for the previous permit being revoked for being illegal?

It doesn't say it is illegal rather that the analysis wasn't as thorough as necessary.

>In Thursday's ruling, Morris wrote that the State Department's analysis of potential environmental effects fell short of a "hard look" on the effects of current oil prices on the viability of Keystone, cumulative effects of greenhouse gas emissions, cultural resources and potential oil spills.

> It doesn't say it is illegal

Yes it does.

> rather that the analysis wasn't as thorough as necessary.

It was revoked because it was illegally issued (in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and thr Administrative Procedure Act) because the analysis was not sufficient to meet the legal requirements for issuing it.


Section 6 doesn't say any of that. (b) talks about an exhaustive review, but it just says it would be bad for the climate and economy.

The text is the same in the Federal Register. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/01/25/2021-01...

The previous permit was revoked by a court due to NEPA issues.

Then-President Trump subsequently issued a permit himself using his presidential power: this one didn't require a NEPA environmental review because neither NEPA nor the APA apply to actions by the President. The whole thing is a little wonky because both the older and newer ones are "presidential" permits, but since the State Department had actually issued the prior one, the APA and NEPA applied.

The permit President Biden revoked was Trump's replacement one.

So was the permit Trump issued illegal? Or was it just "crass" and not what people are used to?

(I'm not supporting it, I'm curious as to how much of the process is really specified in law an how much of it relies on norms.)

His permit wasn't illegal, just not through the usual processes. It's very on-brand for him in a variety of ways.

This permit system arises from a series of executive orders that normally delegate authority to the State Department. By hooking in the State Department, the NEPA environmental review requirements (which apply to Federal agencies) get triggered.

While the Obama administration likely purposely slow-rolled many of these permits (including Keystone XL's) before ultimately denying them, the Trump administration as a matter of policy fast-tracked them for approval and also invited new applications where things had been previously denied. Keystone XL was one of these re-applications.

Trump's State Department did an environmental review, mostly relying on earlier work, and quickly issued the permit. The administration later lost in court with the court saying the review was insufficient. They probably could have done another one and just reissued it that way: courts saying "do more NEPA," agencies taking a long time to come to the same conclusion, and the result simply being delayed is not uncommon in these kinds of reviews.

But environmental impact statements take a long time, and instead of doing that they just had the President personally issue the permit and thereby sidestep the requirement to do the review at all.

> So was the permit Trump issued illegal?

Legal doesn't mean "criminal or not criminal", it is about adhering to legal processes. Even if these rules are set by executive-derived departments, they have to be followed or a court may block actions (via injunction) or otherwise the organization will not progress in pursuit of something like a permit request. Norms are a testament to historic quagmires (both legal and process-wise) that the organizations have experienced and try to avoid.

In the case of Trump's order, it was legal in the sense that it circumvented those rules altogether as it was outside most of the legal machinations. An order for the permit and was enacted directly by the executive head. This does not preclude a challenge in the judicial arenas (which is what happened). You can sue about anything in the US, even if the POTUS ordered it, and it gets a hearing if there's the slightest political support.

The economics of Canadian oil sands production are just not that marginal for production to be affected by this. Suncor figures that their fully loaded breakeven oil price is $35 WTI [1](WTI is currently trading in the $60s).

All that has happened here is more oil getting shipped by rail with a higher carbon footprint.

[1] https://www.suncor.com/-/media/project/suncor/files/investor...

Does anyone know what the cost of transporting oil by rail, pipeline, or truck is in terms of dollars per barrel? Seems like it would make it easier to understand whether it affects the viability of oil production.

A lot of comments here saying that this will increase the cost of oil so make oil extraction more profitable. But I wonder, this won't increase demand, because it's increasing cost. So it's a net-win, right? Tar-Sand oil is so environmentally unfriendly that the alternative is better, afaik. But this ignores falling costs for renewables. Since the price of renewables is falling drastically, this should bolster energy creation via renewables (since it becomes more competitive) and therefore also driving the cost further down. So this could also accelerate the progress of switching to renewables.

I think the better way would be to build the pipeline without subsidies at all and increase taxes on it. So we won't see a cheaper price and have a better mode of transport, but that's probably not politically feasible, so this is the next best option.

I think the comments declaring "oil will find a way" are completely wrong. This is not about eliminating oil and I think most supporters of the scrap will know this.

Oil will move and oil will get purchased, so this is a net negative for the environment as the alternative means of transport emit more.

The existence of the pipeline very well could induce demand equivalent or greater than what will be wasted transporting it by other means.

But it won’t. The impact on price is negligible because of the size of the market.

But trains and trucks will definitely be used. And will use more carbon.

It’s pretty similar arithmetic that this will result in more carbon released.

Comically, the way to stop production is to lower the price of oil so extraction no longer makes sense from these locations. If anything a higher price for oil means more extraction because it becomes more profitable. And more oil transported using dirtier means.

Making the movement of oil more expensive makes oil more expensive, meaning oil will be purchased less, and alternative forms of energy will be purchased more, no?

Sure but moving by rail emits more greenhouse gas _now_ as opposed to less now later maybe more. Plus there are way more rail accidents like this one from 2013 killing 47 people and destroying a town: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lac-M%C3%A9gantic_rail_disas...

Changes in price aren’t the only issue with oil pipelines - there are also reliability issues (despite repeated promises from pipeline companies, pipelines leak) and issues around treaty lands.

Oil spills from trucks and trains are much more detectable, meaning residents don’t need to worry about them secretly contaminating water supplies. Pipeline spills are harder to detect, so you don’t necessarily know until oil has already seeped into the ground.

There are a lot of good reasons to stop oil pipeline projects.

Do you have sources to support your idea is more than just conjecture? I just finished an engineering risk management course and transporting oil by rail was unambiguously riskier.

Oil use depends on the cost of oil. As such while less efficient than a carbon tax this is a small net benefit to the environment.

Oil doesn't really have an alternative right now for many of its applications. Plus, at the beginning of the pandemic gas was dirt cheap, yet no one needed it. However, this discussion was about transportation of oil, and the idea is that pipelines are more efficient than rail or trucks (if that even makes sense), so it's a pity the decision to halt the project is more political than even environmental.

Increasing the price only needs to reduce usage in any areas to see a net benefit.

As to transportation options, boats and trains are extremely efficient to the point where pipelines don’t make that big of an environmental difference.

According to [1] the cost in 2018 was $5/barrel via pipeline, vs $10-$15/barrel by train. Also, for Alberta boats are not an option since it's a landlocked province. Also, Alberta's oil sands are the world's largest oil reserves after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, so a pipeline would be very economical once it starts running.

Also, quote from [2]: While long-haul oil and gas pipelines are also more economical and environmentally friendly than other modes of transport like rail or trucking (pipelines create 61 to 77% less greenhouse gas emissions than rail when moving crude over long distances, says one recent study), they also have a safe delivery rate of greater than 99.999%.

This is quoted from Enbridge's website, which is a pipeline company, which may be a bit biased, however I doubt they are lying.

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2018/10/11/which-is-...

[2] https://www.enbridge.com/Your-questions/User-submitted/Why-a...

As you guessed the source is biased. The question isn’t if pipelines are more efficient in use, the question is if the construction of pipelines + operation of pipelines over their lifespan is a significant net environmental savings. And that’s both much closer and largely irrelevant vs the environmental cost of the oil shipped via the pipelines.

As to being lower cost, again the lower cost isn’t a savings for the environment it’s a savings for the oil company.

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