MIT Professor: Approving Keystone Could Reduce Carbon Emissions

Construction of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline / AP

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Approving the Keystone XL pipeline will likely reduce U.S. carbon emissions, according to a professor of energy economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Oil imported from Canada via the pipeline would displace more expensive U.S. imports, according to MIT’s Chris Knittel. The displaced imports would likely have come from Venezuela. That country’s heavy crude oil is generally more carbon-intensive than the crude from Canadian oil sands.

For one thing, Knittel argues, even if Keystone XL isn’t built, a tar sands pipeline of some sort is bound to be built—there’s just too much money ($32 million a day [the original version had a typo and read "billion"]) to be made from building one to think that it won’t happen.

Whatever pipeline is built, it won’t actually increase oil production much, he says, because it will have only a tiny impact on the world oil market. It may lower prices a little, but not enough to increase demand. And if oil demand isn’t going to go up, neither are greenhouse gas emissions.

Actually, he says, if we build Keystone XL, greenhouse gas emissions will, if anything, go down. Any oil that come from it will displace the most expensive oil on the market right now, and that would likely be heavy crude oil from Venezuela that actually results in more carbon dioxide emissions than tar sands oil.

Knittel’s findings mirror those of energy research firm IHS CERA, which noted in a recent report that "well-to-wheels" emissions from Canadian crude are lower than oil from other U.S. importers, and that approving the Keystone pipeline would have a negligible effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

President Obama has stated that he will not approve the pipeline if it increases U.S. emissions.

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