Hansen urges Obama to abandon Keystone XL pipeline

By John Parnell 

NASA’s climate science chief James Hansen has urged President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Writing in the LA Times, Hansen said approving the plan to build a pipeline from the Canadian tar sands to refineries on the US gulf coast, would deliver a “crushing blow” to the climate.

“Researchers now say that the Alberta tar sands contain 360 to 510 billion tons of carbon – more than double that of all oil burned in human history,” he wrote.

“The President stands at a fork in the road: Rejecting the pipeline will show the world we are serious and determined to be on the right side of history. Approving it will signal we are too entrenched with business-as-usual to do what’s right by the people, planet and future generations..

“All of President Obama’s achievements will fade if he doesn’t act swiftly and decisively on climate change. Rejecting Keystone is the first step.”

Hansen announced his imminent retirement from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies this week. He said he could not contribute to legal action against the US government if he was working for one of its agencies.

James Hansen has urged President Obama to block Keystone XL as a first step to a positive legacy on climate change (Source: Flickr/Chesapeakeclimate/Josh Lopez)

The State Department will issue its recommendation to President Obama later this year with no decision expected until late summer 2013.

Canada is looking for tar sands oil buyers with a number of plans underway to access the refineries and ports required to export it.

“Only with a substantial increase in pipelines to the coasts, and with access to markets overseas, can the tar sands industry meet its eye-popping production targets — a full tripling of output in coming decades — along with the crushing blow that would deliver to our climate,” said Hansen.

Tar sands oil is more energy intensive to extract than conventional sources, and generates higher emissions when used.

The Keystone XL pipeline proposes to transport unrefined bitumen-like oil at high pressures making it different to most pipelines that transport lighter crude oil.

Two small spills of thick tar sands oil in the US this week have demonstrated the additional damage it can do. It subsequently emerged that Exxon-Mobil does not pay the 8¢ per barrel contribution to the US spill defence fund for tar sands products as they are not technically classified as oil.

A tars sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo river was the largest onshore spillage in US history. It received little attention as it coincided with the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Backers of the pipeline say it will create jobs during construction and by the extra capacity it will create at US refineries.

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