National Geographic Society Newsroom

Emissions from Keystone XL Pipeline Could Be Much Larger than Predicted

Editor’s Note: While Tim Profeta is on vacation, Jeremy Tarr, policy associate in the Climate and Energy Program at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, will author The Climate Post. Tim will post again August 28. A new economic study in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada...

Editor’s Note: While Tim Profeta is on vacation, Jeremy Tarr, policy associate in the Climate and Energy Program at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, will author The Climate Post. Tim will post again August 28.

A new economic study in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Nebraska, linking existing pipelines to carry oil to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, could produce four times more greenhouse gases than the U.S. State Department calculated in January. In its final environmental review, the State Department predicted the pipeline would create between 1 million and 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually—compared with 100 to 110 million metric tons yearly according to the Nature Climate Change study. The State Department’s estimate did not take into account that oil from the pipeline is likely to decrease prices and increase consumption.

“There is no indication that the State Department took the market implication into consideration,” said lead author Peter Erickson of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

“Our simple model shows that, to the extent that Keystone XL leads to greater oil sands production, the pipeline’s effect on oil prices could substantially increase its total GHG impact,” said the study, which noted that for every barrel of increased crude oil production in the Canadian tar sands, global oil consumption could rise by 0.6 barrels.

The analysis supports earlier warnings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the State Department study failed to account for the market increase.

Studies Paint Grim Climate Change Picture

A 26-page draft United Nations report finds that cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 to 70 percent from 2010 levels would be needed by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

“Deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to limit warming to 2 degrees C … remain possible, yet will entail substantial technological, economic, institutional, and behavioral changes,” said the draft report, which sums up the three Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports published over the last year. The report is intended to serve as a guide for the nearly 200 governments slated to hash out a deal to combat climate change at U.N. Conference of the Parties (COP) talks in Paris in 2015.

Even if negotiators reach a deal in Paris, it may not be enough to limit temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. That’s according to a new study from MIT.

“Based on our expectations for the architecture of a COP-21 agreement, and our predictions about the national contributions likely to come forth under it, our analysis concludes that these international efforts will indeed bend the curve of global emissions. However, our results also show that these efforts will not put the globe on a path consistent with commonly stated long-term climate goals,” the study says.

Regulating Emissions from Power Plants Stirs Debate

dozen states have filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Proposed in June, the plan would control carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

Led by West Virginia, a major coal producer, the lawsuit accuses the EPA of overstepping its authority under the Clean Air Act. The plaintiffs—which also include Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina and Wyoming—assert that a 2011 agreement with environmental groups and states, as well as subsequent regulations, are illegal because power plants are regulated under a different part of the Clean Air Act.

“We will use many different tactics to fight this rule,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. “It is an overreach and is harmful to the economy of the entire country and in particular to Wyoming. We need affordable energy and a clean environment. We can have both, but this is not how we get there. This rule goes too far.”

Legal experts interviewed by ClimateWire say this lawsuit and others is unlikely to touch the rule, at least in the near term (subscription).

Our researchers at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions explain the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in detail in a recent webinar. The presentation describes the four “building blocks” used by the EPA to determine each state’s unique emissions goal and provides an example calculation of state emissions goals.

China to Ban Coal Use in Polluted Capital

Coal use made up a quarter of Beijing’s energy consumption in 2012 and 22 percent of the fine particles of pollution in the air. Beijing’s Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau announced a plan this week to ban the use of coal in certain areas by 2020.

The city will prioritize the use of electricity and natural gas, rather than coal, for heating and phase out coal sales and plants in the districts of Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai and Shijingshan.

Quartz isn’t convinced that Beijing’s move away from coal generation is for the best. Because China does not have enough natural gas to meet its energy needs, it may rely on synthetic natural gas, which is natural gas developed from coal. Although this form of energy creates a fraction of the traditional pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants, Quartz estimates that it releases up to 82 percent more carbon dioxide than coal-fired generation and requires huge amounts of water.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo Tim Profeta
Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.