Energy & Technology

Approaches to Structuring a High Ambient Temperature Exemption

Approaches to Structuring a High Ambient Temperature Exemption 

March 2016

By Steve Seidel, Jennifer Huang, and Stephen O. Andersen

Download the Brief (PDF)

As parties to the Montreal Protocol consider an amendment to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), one critical concern is whether suitable alternatives for air-conditioning applications are available and adequately demonstrated for cooling capacity and energy efficiency under conditions of high ambient temperatures. Given the critical importance of these applications, one option being considered by parties is to provide a time-limited exemption for those uses in countries that could be adversely impacted by high ambient temperatures. This paper looks at a number of options for how such an exemption might be structured.

Jennifer Huang
Stephen O. Andersen
Stephen Seidel

How the US can meet its climate pledge

The following was published in March 2016 on the EcoWomen blog. View the original post here.

I let out a cheer when Leonardo DiCaprio mentioned climate change during his Oscars acceptance speech. But concern about climate extends far beyond the red carpet.

Religious leaders, military officials, mayors, governors, business executives, and leaders of the world’s nations are all speaking about the need to address the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten our environment and economies.

Last December, world leaders reached a landmark climate agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21) that commits all countries to contribute their best efforts and establishes a system to hold them accountable. COP 21’s Paris Agreement also sent a signal to the world to ramp up investment in a clean energy and clean transportation future.

The U.S. committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 level by 2025. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan was touted as a key policy tool to help reach that goal. However, with the recent surprise stay of the rule by U.S. Supreme Court, can the U.S. still meet its climate pledge? Simply put, yes.

Decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions

Source: International Energy Agency

For the second year in a row, the global economy grew and global carbon dioxide emissions did not.

Preliminary data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (from burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, industry, space heating and so on) remained unchanged from the previous two years at around 32.1 billion metric tons. Meanwhile, economic growth increased by more than 3 percent for the second consecutive year.

A couple years of data doesn’t necessarily translate into a trend. And continued ambition in the decades ahead - like we saw with the landmark Paris Agreement in December 2015 - will be required before we can announce that we have truly turned the corner on reducing CO2 emissions.

But the IEA noted that 90 percent of new electric generation in 2015 came from renewables. Yes, 90 percent. And this apparent decoupling – after decades of energy-related CO2 emissions moving in lockstep with economic growth -- is a positive sign that low-carbon policies may finally be gaining traction in many parts of the world.

The change is due to policies and market forces affecting two factors – energy intensity and fuel mix – both in China and in the developed economies.

How the US can meet its climate pledge

The following was published in March 2016 on the EcoWomen blog. View the original post here.

By Manjyot Bhan, Policy Fellow, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

I let out a cheer when Leonardo DiCaprio mentioned climate change during his Oscars acceptance speech. But concern about climate extends far beyond the red carpet.

Religious leaders, military officials, mayors, governors, business executives, and leaders of the world’s nations are all speaking about the need to address the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten our environment and economies.

Last December, world leaders reached a landmark climate agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21) that commits all countries to contribute their best efforts and establishes a system to hold them accountable. COP 21’s Paris Agreement also sent a signal to the world to ramp up investment in a clean energy and clean transportation future.

The U.S. committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 level by 2025. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan was touted as a key policy tool to help reach that goal. However, with the recent surprise stay of the rule by U.S. Supreme Court, can the U.S. still meet its climate pledge? Simply put, yes.

Under the Clean Power Plan, the EPA sets unique emissions goals for each state and encouraged states to craft their own solutions. It is projected that the rule will reduce power sector carbon emissions at least 32 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030.

Last month’s stay does not challenge “whether” EPA can regulate—the court has already ruled that it can—but rather “how” it can regulate. And the stay is not stopping many states and power companies from continuing to plan for a low-carbon future.

Some of the key ingredients that led to success at COP 21—national leadership and a strong showing by “sub-national actors,” including states, cities and businesses—will also be fundamental to U.S. success in meeting its climate goals.

recent event in Washington—held by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and New America—outlined the gap between existing policy trajectories and the U.S. goal. A secondary outcome of the meeting also explored how federal, state, and local policies and actions can leverage technology to close the gap.

An analysis by the Rhodium Group found that even without the Clean Power Plan, the recently extended federal tax credits for solar and wind energy will help significantly. Existing federal policies on fuel economy standards for vehicles and energy efficiency also support the U.S. goals, as well policies in the works to regulate hydrofluorocarbons and methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

States and cities made a strong showing of support for the Paris Agreement, and they have emerged as leaders in promoting energy efficiency and clean energy.

Additionally, many states are continuing to work toward implementing aspects of the Clean Power Plan. And even those not doing public planning are discussing ways states and the power sector can collaborate to cut carbon emissions cost-effectively. Last month, a bipartisan group of 17 governors announced they will jointly pursue energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electric and alternatively fueled vehicles. The Clean Power Plan stay can be looked at as giving states more time to innovate.

More than 150 companies have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge committing to steps such as cutting emissions, reducing water usage and using more renewable energy across their supply chains. One hundred companies have signed the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA, which calls the entire business community to transition to a low-carbon future.

Following the court’s stay, many power companies came out in support of the rule or reaffirmed plans to work toward clean energy and energy-efficiency.

2015 UNEP report suggests that beyond each countries’ individual commitments, actions by sub-national actors across the globe can result in net additional contributions of 0.75 to 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. While it is hard to accurately quantify the specific contributions of U.S. states, cities, and businesses in reducing emissions, they have the potential to accelerate the pace at which the U.S. meets its climate goals.


Webinar: EValuateNY

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
1:30-2:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 25, 2016, 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Gain insights into the policies and factors that move the electric vehicle (EV) market in New York state with a free information tool developed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), with support from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and Atlas Public Policy.
To help the EV market grow past its initial base of early adopters, it needs support from public policies, investments, and educational and marketing initiatives. Government agencies, businesses, and automakers have undertaken a wide variety of supportive actions, but tracking the effectiveness of the initiatives required gathering complex information from many different sources.
EValuateNY is a tool that eases the process of tracking initiatives and comparing their effects. EValuateNY is designed to provide easy access to comprehensive data from the EV market that lets government agencies, businesses, or researchers identify which factors affect the EV market in New York State, using databases and visualizations to create comparisons. This information can be used to glean market insights and develop guidance on ideas for further research. EValuateNY is a publicly available tool designed for Microsoft Excel and Power BI, allowing use by anyone with a basic knowledge of Microsoft programs.
This webinar will introduce EValuateNY and will review the tool’s uses. Adam Ruder from NYSERDA will host the session, with presentations by C2ES’ Dan Welch and Atlas’s Nick Nigro.

Bob Perciasepe's statement on C2ES ranking among top think tanks

Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

January 28, 2016
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is honored to be recognized once again as one of the world’s leading think tanks.
We learned today that we ranked fifth among environment policy think tanks in the 2015 University of Pennsylvania’s Global Go To Think Tank Index, based on a worldwide survey of more than 4,600 scholars, public and private donors, policymakers, and journalists from 143 countries.
C2ES’s consistently high ranking is a tribute to our unique ability to bring together diverse stakeholders – business leaders, city and state officials, federal policymakers, and international climate negotiators – to achieve practical, commonsense solutions to our climate and energy challenges.
I congratulate and thank our outstanding staff, partners, and supporters who have helped C2ES achieve and maintain our success through the years.

Contact Laura Rehrmann at

About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the challenges of energy and climate change. Learn more at

Rate-Based Compliance Under the Clean Power Plan

Rate-Based Compliance Under the Clean Power Plan

January 2016

Download the Fact Sheet (PDF)

The Clean Power Plan gives states the option to comply via either a rate-based or a mass-based approach. Ten states currently operate mass-based greenhouse gas reduction programs, and many more participate in mass-based programs to reduce other pollutants (e.g., sulfur dioxide) that are administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Paris climate talks: This could be the start of something big

As negotiators in Paris put the finishing touches on a new global climate accord, it’s worth reflecting on how much the summit has already accomplished.

One event or agreement by itself can’t completely reverse the climate problem. But like other important moments in history, such as the drive to land on the moon in 1969, Paris can inspire innovations across society.The U.S. space program would not have been possible without technologies that still benefit us today like scratch-resistant lenses, computer microchips, smoke detectors and solar panels. Nearly half a century later, many businesses, cities, states and nations are taking new, bold steps to reduce emissions and move toward a clean energy economy.

Whether it’s paving the way for rapid, wide-scale development of renewables, investing in energy efficiency technology and lower carbon electricity, or building resilience to climate impacts, a huge wave of innovation has already been unleashed.

Consider just some of the announcements made before and during the Paris talks:

  • Leaders of 20 countries announced they’ll seek to double investment in clean energy research and development over five years. Backing up this effort, called Mission Innovation, are more than two dozen investors led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates who have pledged to fund early-stage clean energy technology coming out of Mission Innovation.
  • India and France announced an international solar alliance to dramatically increase the reach of solar energy to more than 100 countries in the tropics.

Fleet operators could save money with natural gas vehicles

Press Release
November 12, 2015
Contact: Marty Niland,, 703-516-0600

Fleet operators could save money with natural gas vehicles

WASHINGTON – Public and private fleet operators could save money by switching to natural gas vehicles using the business model that energy service companies (ESCOs) apply to energy efficiency projects, according to a guide released today by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

Although switching to natural gas vehicles (NGVs) can lower costs, many fleet managers have not converted their fleets. Strategic Planning to Enable ESCOs to Accelerate NGV Fleet Deployment: A Guide for Businesses and Policymakers helps investors and state and local policymakers make decisions about deploying natural gas vehicles in public and private fleets, which are among the most initially promising areas.

The findings are part of a two-year initiative, in partnership with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program, to develop innovative finance mechanisms aimed at accelerating the deployment of alternative fuel vehicles and fueling infrastructure.

The guide analyzes the cost-saving potential for switching tractor-trailer truck, school bus, and light-duty vehicle fleets. Among the key findings:

  • Incorporating natural gas vehicles into fleets can significantly reduce petroleum use and harmful emissions, especially with tractor-trailer fleets.
  • The major factors affecting the financial performance of natural gas vehicle fleets are the fleet’s vehicle technology and vehicle usage patterns.
  • Natural gas vehicle projects for tractor-trailer fleets result in net cost savings under nearly every fleet size and travel scenario considered in the guide’s analysis.
  • Using natural gas to fuel school bus fleets also results in net cost savings for fleets whose vehicles travel about 20,000 miles per year.
  • An energy service provider can help with the transition to natural gas by familiarizing fleet managers with new technology, identifying a project’s greatest savings potential, reducing financial risk, and helping maximize financial payoff.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas is a net cost-saver for fleets in many cases. But even the most cost-conscious fleet manager can hesitate to switch to a new technology, especially in a time of low oil prices,” said Nick Nigro, a C2ES senior advisor and lead author of the report. “The fleet market can learn a lot from ESCOs and how they’ve deployed energy efficiency technologies by offering valuable services and training in exchange for a share of the cost savings.”

“Many of NASEO’s members, the 56 State and Territory Energy Offices, are eager for solutions and strategies supporting the use of domestic and clean transportation fuels,” added David Terry, Executive Director of NASEO. “The Strategic Planning Guide is an important addition to states’ toolboxes in their efforts to reduce reliance on imported oil, improve air quality, and stimulate economic growth.”

Read the report.

Learn more about the initiative.

About C2ES

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address our climate and energy challenges. Learn more at



Keystone XL Pipeline

Keystone XL Pipeline

What is Keystone?

Where does the Keystone XL proposal stand?

Why does TransCanada want to build Keystone XL?

How much does the U.S. rely on oil from Canada?

What are the Canadian oil sands?

What are the greenhouse gas implications of developing the oil sands?

What other environmental concerns does Keystone XL raise?

What are the long-term solutions?

TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline has emerged as a symbolic flashpoint in the complex debate over energy, the environment, and the economy.  Pipeline advocates argue that the project will create tens of thousands of jobs and – by increasing the flow of Canadian oil into the United States – will lower gasoline prices and strengthen energy security.  Pipeline opponents counter that any such benefits will be minimal and far outweighed by the project’s environmental consequences, including an increase in climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

While each argument has some merit, the reality is less black-and-white than either suggests: 

  • If rising demand for oil continues to drive development of the Canadian oil sands, the oil is likely to reach global markets with or without Keystone.
  • Increased imports from Canada would reduce U.S. reliance on oil from more volatile regions such as the Mideast.  But because oil is a global commodity, prices are largely a function of global supply and demand, and the U.S. would still be vulnerable to price shocks as a result of geopolitical instability and other factors affecting global oil price.
  • Most of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the tailpipes of vehicles powered by gasoline produced from the oil sands.  But because the process of extracting oil from the oil sands is so energy-intensive, its total carbon footprint is larger than that of most “conventional” oil.  More can and should be done to reduce the carbon emissions generated on the production side.  But in terms of impact on the climate, the overall level of oil consumption is far more critical than the relative carbon profiles of different supplies.

Whether or not Keystone is built is likely to have only marginal implications for the price of gasoline or the pace of global warming.  The most effective response to both challenges is to reduce demand for oil and over time end our reliance on it. 

Here is a more detailed look at the issues behind the Keystone debate:

Figure 1. North America Pipelines

Source: Theodora. 2008.
Key: Crude oil pipelines (Green), Natural gas pipelines (Red), and Refined petroleum products (Blue).

Figure 2. Keystone Expansion Map

Source: TransCanada (2011)

What is Keystone? An extensive network of pipelines carries crude oil, natural gas and refined petroleum products across North America (Figure 1).  One piece of that network is the 2,150-mile Keystone pipeline system operated by TransCanada (solid orange line in Figure 2), which has the capacity to deliver 730,000 barrels per day (b/d) of Canadian crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Wood River and Patoka, Illinois; Steele City, Nebraska; and Cushing, Oklahoma.

Keystone XL (dashed line in Figure 2) is a proposed expansion of the existing Keystone system, and is one of a number of projects being proposed to transport greater volumes of Canadian oil sands crude to world market. It would transport Canadian oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast for refining or export. The planned expansion consists of a northern and southern segment:

  • The approximately 1,200-mile northern segment would travel from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska via the Canadian Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the U.S. states of Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
  • The 532-mile southern segment, referred to as the Gulf Coast Pipeline and Houston Lateral Project (or Cushing Marketlink or Southern Keystone) would run from Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX and Houston, TX.

Keystone is not the only oil pipeline from the Canadian oil sands. The Alberta Clipper, a 1,000 mile crude oil pipeline operated by Enbridge between Hardisty, Alberta and Superior, WI, went into service in 2010 with an initial capacity of 450,000 b/d and will have an ultimate capacity of up to 800,000 b/d.
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Where does the Keystone XL proposal stand? On March 24, 2017, the Trump administration announced it would grant TransCanada a permit to build the pipeline, reversing a 2015 decision by the Obama administration. One of Turmp's first acts as president was to order a 60-day review of the project, and the administration relied on existing research and envioronmental studies to reach its final decision.

In November 2015, President Obama denied TransCanada a permit to build the pipeline, stating that it would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to the U.S. economy. The move came after TransCanada had requested that the State Department put its application on hold while issues regarding the pipeline's route in the state of Nebraska were resolved.

On January 31, 2014, the U.S. State Department issued its final environmental impact statement on the northern segment of the pipeline. In April 2014, the State Department announced it was delaying its review, citing a Nebraska court challenge over a law allowing the governor to authorize the pipeline’s route. In January 2015, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled the law was constitutional, clearing the way for the pipeline. The State Department has asked eight federal agencies (Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency) “to provide their views on the national interest with regard to the Keystone XL Pipeline permit application” by February 2, 2015. There is no explicit timeline for the permit process beyond the February 2 date. At the same time, a newly elected Republican majority in the Senate attempted to approve the pipeline via legislation; however, the measure was vetoed by the President in late February.

TransCanada first applied for a permit in 2008. In November 2011, the State Department delayed a decision pending further environmental review. The delay stemmed from the State of Nebraska's decision to seek an alternative route for the pipeline that would avoid the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sand Hills. Congress then enacted legislation forcing a quicker decision. In January 2012, citing inadequate time to assess the pipeline’s environmental impact, President Obama denied the permit, but left the door open for an alternative route for the contentious northern portion of the pipeline.

TransCanada submitted a new application proposing alternative routes for the northern portion in April 2012, aiming for an in-service date of 2015. On January 22, 2013, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman submitted a letter to the State Department announcing his approval of the route reviewed in the Final Evaluation Report of the Keystone Nebraska Reroute by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ). On March 1, 2013, the State Department issued a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the project. 

Construction on the southern portion of the pipeline, which did not cross the US-Canada border and so was not subject to State Department review, began in August 2012 and the renamed Gulf Coast Pipeline went in to service in early 2014. The project will have the initial capacity to transport 700,000 b/d to the Gulf Coast, and can be expanded to transport 830,000 b/d.

Why does TransCanada want to build Keystone XL? The impetus for this pipeline’s construction is to transport a greater volume of Canadian oil sands crude to world markets. Currently, infrastructure for transporting this crude to international ports is inadequate. Increased supply, both  from the Canadian oil sands and U.S. oil production in North Dakota (Bakken formation), is currently bottlenecked in Cushing, OK. Additional pipeline capacity, including the reversal of the Seaway pipeline [1] and the construction of the southern portion of Keystone, is likely to reduce this bottleneck. Oil sands producers are also attempting to secure permits to build the Northern Gateway and TransMountain pipelines, which would provide an outlet to world markets via the coast of British Columbia. Furthermore in August 2013, TransCanada announced its intention to construct the Energy East pipeline to deliver 1.1 million barrels per day of oil sands crude to refineries and ports in Eastern Canada (Quebec and New Brunswick). At the same time, crude shipments by rail are underway and expected to transport more than 500,000 barrels per day by the end of 2014.

The long-term supply impact of adding Keystone XL to the North American crude oil transport system depends on a number of factors, including global supply and demand over time and whether other pipelines are built to carry Canadian oil sands out of Alberta. In the short run, a rise in deliveries of heavy Canadian oil sands crude to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries is likely to fill a supply gap being created by declining imports from traditional heavy crude suppliers, notably Mexico and Venezuela; a gap that would otherwise be filled by increases from other foreign suppliers, notably from the Middle East. Therefore, it is likely in the near-term that Canadian oil sands would be refined and consumed in the United States. In the long term, with changing market conditions, Keystone XL could help facilitate exports of crude or refined product from the Gulf Coast.
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How much does the U.S. rely on oil from Canada?  Canada is the largest supplier of U.S. oil imports. In 2011, Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia were the top three suppliers of U.S. oil imports. Canada supplied nearly 24 percent of U.S. oil imports, while Mexico and Saudi Arabia each accounted for around 10.5 percent. In 2010, Alberta oil sands supplied 15 percent of U.S. oil imports. In 2011, total oil supplied by Persian Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq) averaged 1.8 million b/d, compared to total Canadian imports of 2.7 million b/d.

Total U.S. oil imports peaked in 2005 and 2006 at an average of around 13.7 million b/d. In 2011, U.S. oil imports averaged around 11.36 million b/d.  The decline was due in part to a sluggish economic recovery and increasing domestic supply. Imports from OPEC countries are down around 19 percent over the same period (2005 to 2011), and total imports from Canada have increased by 24 percent.

The Energy Information Agency (EIA) predicts that U.S. oil consumption will grow very slowly over the next 25 years, because of policies that that boost the fuel efficiency of cars and increase the use of renewable fuels like ethanol.
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What are the Canadian oil sands? Canada has one of the largest proven oil reserves in the world. About 97% of Canadian oil reserves are contained in Albertan oil sands.

Oil sands are a mix of naturally occurring bitumen, sticky oil and abrasive sand; each sand grain is coated by a layer of water and a layer of heavy oil. [2]  According to the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, (2007) oil sands deposits total 173 billion barrels of proven reserves.  About 26 billion barrels are under active development.[3] Technologies for oil sands production are steadily improving, decreasing greenhouse gas intensity and cost of extraction while increasing the volume of recoverable reserves.

Table 1. Top 20 Countries’ Crude Oil Reserves (Billion Barrels)


Saudi Arabia*
























United Arab Emirates*
























United States
































World Total



*OPEC Country
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Statistics

Currently, about half of the oil sands production is from surfacing mining, and half is extracted in place, or in-situ.  Ultimately, about 80 percent of the proven oil sands reserves are expected to be produced in-situ. Surface-mined oil sands production is similar to traditional mineral mining; shovel-excavated sands are transported to processing facilities by very large trucks. Crushed sand fragments are added to swirling water (continuously recycled), and the slurry is agitated and piped to an extraction facility, where the oil can be skimmed from the top of the flow.

Figure 3. Surface Mining and In-Situ Production

Source:Nexen Incorporated 2012.

Surface mining is used for shallower reservoirs – those less than 75 meters below the surface; however, 80 percent of the oil sand reserves are deeper and not economically recoverable with surface mining; they require in-situ extraction. There are two main in-situ extraction techniques referred to as steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) and cyclic steam stimulation, in which steam, solvents and/or hot air is injected directly into the oil sands in order to get the material to flow into collection pipes. For both processes, extracted bitumen is then upgraded into a lighter (lower viscosity) and sweeter (lower sulfur content) crude oil and later refined into gasoline or diesel fuels.

The Great Canadian Oil Sands (GCOS) project began operations in 1967, with rapid growth occurring over the 1990 – 2006 period. Oil sands production is projected to grow from 1.5 million b/d in 2010 to 3.7 million b/d in 2021. Overall, total Canadian oil production is expected to grow from 2.8 million b/d in 2010 to 4.7 million b/d in 2025.


Figure 4. Canadian Oil Sands and Conventional Production

Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (2011)

The U.S. Midwest is currently the primary export market for western Canadian crude oil supplies due to its geographic proximity and established pipeline infrastructure. Growing supplies of crude oil from western Canada could find a market on the U.S. Gulf Coast or world markets once they reach Canada’s West Coast, including California and Asia.
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What are the greenhouse gas implications of developing the oil sands?  The draft SEIS issued by the State Department in March 2013 concluded that the Albertan oil sands will continue to be developed whether or not the Keystone pipeline is built and, therefore, that allowing the pipeline would not lead to a net increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. However, the International Energy Agency in its World Energy Outlook 2013 concluded that current expansion plans for the oil sands are contingent on the development of major new pipelines.

The production of oil sands crude is more energy-intensive, and therefore more greenhouse gas-intensive, than most conventional crudes. Due to the nature of the deposit, additional processes are required to extract the oil, remove the sand and get the oil to flow in a pipeline. Each of these processes, including the use of power shovels and trucks, operation of intermediate facilities, and so forth, requires energy.  In addition, in-situ production (because it requires steam generation) is more energy-intensive than surface mining.

Several analyses of the well-to-wheels life-cycle emissions of transportation fuels produced from various crudes (emissions from both the production and the combustion of the oil) conclude that Canadian oil sands are among the most carbon-intensive. The State Department’s draft SEIS found that oil from the Canadian oil sands is 17 percent more carbon-intensive than the average oil consumed in the United States.  (A report from the Congressional Research Service put the figure at 14 percent to 20 percent.) It is estimated that the U.S. greenhouse gas footprint would increase by 3 million to 21 million metric tons per year, or around 0.04 percent to 0.3 percent of the 2010 levels, if Keystone is built.

This relatively small increase in projected U.S. emissions reflects the fact that the majority of greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil result from its combustion in vehicles.  Well-to-pump emissions, also known as non-combustion emissions, account for 20 to 30 percent of total life-cycle emissions, while fuel combustion accounts for 70 to 80 percent of total life-cycle emissions (Figure 5).  Combustion emissions do not vary with the origin of the crude oil.  Although oil sands-derived crudes are more energy-intensive than the average oil consumed in the United States, there are several types of crudes that are also higher than the U.S. average. Other carbon-intensive crude oils are produced, imported, or refined in the United States, including Venezuelan heavy, California heavy, and Nigerian.

Figure 5. Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Source: IHS CERA, “Oil Sands, Greenhouse Gases, and U.S. Oil Supply.” (2010)

While the emissions intensity of oil sands are higher than the U.S. average, steps are being taken to mitigate their greenhouse gas intensity. According to the U.S. State Department, oil sands mining projects have reduced greenhouse gas emissions intensity by an average of 29 percent between 1990 and 2008. Additionally, carbon dioxide emissions from oil sands production can be lowered through technological processes such as VAPEX.  VAPEX captures carbon emissions from power plants and industrial sources as an injectant for in-situ production while simultaneously sequestering carbon. In 2008, the Alberta government announced a $2 billion fund to support a combination of sequestration projects in power plants and oil sands extraction and upgrading facilities. Two large projects have received funding: Alberta Carbon Trunk Line and Shell Quest. These projects are expected to reduce Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2.8 million tonnes annually (15.8 million tonnes at full capacity) beginning in 2015.

In the future, the difference in carbon intensity between the Canadian oil sands and other crudes is expected to narrow.  Emissions from surface-mining oil sands are expected to remain relatively stable over time, while advances in in-situ production are expected to lower its emissions.  At the same time, tertiary recovery of other crudes is expected to become more energy-intensive.
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What other environmental concerns does Keystone XL raise?  Additional environmental concerns arise from the siting of the pipeline in the United States and at the source of the oil sands production in Canada.

The proposed path of the northern branch of the Keystone XL would cross the Ogallala Aquifer.  This aquifer is a significant source of drinking and irrigation water from South Dakota to Texas. Some groups are concerned that a potential oil spill could result in the fouling of this water source.

In Canada, there are a host of environmental issues, ranging from land disturbance, leveling of the Boreal forest, air pollution, water usage and fouling, interference with migratory animals, and the altering of ecosystems.

Figure 6. Surface Mine and a Tailings (Waste Water) Pond in Fort McMurray, Alberta

Source:Center for Climate and Energy Solutions 2009.
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What are the long-term solutions? Solutions are available to address issues associated with oil demand, oil sands production, and Keystone XL pipeline construction. Operators have a responsibility to ensure the highest levels of pipeline safety. Ongoing investments and improvements in maintenance and monitoring are imperative, and systems should be in place to minimize accidents over the life of these long-term assets.

Additional steps should be taken to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are the direct result of Canadian oil sands production. Techniques like VAPEX and carbon capture and storage, as well as advancements in reducing the energy intensity of in-situ mining, should be promoted and encouraged.

In the long term, the most effective way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the oil sands is to dramatically reduce our oil consumption. This can be achieved through technological advances, including development of alternative transportation technologies like plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and crude oil substitutions like lower-emitting biofuels for transportation and industry consumers. Crude oil demand can be further reduced through policy initiatives, including increased fuel efficiency Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, renewable fuel standards, and internalizing the external cost by adding a carbon price to crude oil, such as a carbon tax.  The current fuel economy standard for a manufacturer’s light duty fleet is 27.3 mpg. This will increase to approximately 50 mpg by 2025. Our 2011 report titled Reducing Greenhouse Emissions from U.S. Transportation identifies cost-effective solutions that will significantly reduce transportation's impact on our climate.
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[1] The Seaway pipeline is a 50/50 joint venture between Enterprise Products Partners, the operator, and Enbridge. It runs from Cushing, OK to Freeport, TX, just to the south of Houston.  It was initially intended to deliver crude from south to north, but work to complete its reversal was completed in May 2012.  Its initial capacity is 150,000 b/d, and this is expected to reach 400,000 b/d by early 2013.  This is expected to relieve the glut of oil in Cushing.

[2] Energy Resources Conservation Board, “Oil Sands.”

[3] Energy Resources Conservation Board ST98–2011 Alberta's Energy Reserves 2010 and Supply/Demand Outlook 2011–2020 (ERCB, 2011). 


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