If it is ever built, the Keystone XL Pipeline will exist for one reason: To move Canadian tar sands oil from remote Alberta to refineries in Texas.
For the U.S., controversy over the tar sands is about Keystone XL Pipeline construction jobs, local environmental problems with the pipeline, carbon emissions and the political stability brought by burning North American crude oil, which means importing less of it from overseas.
For Canada, the story of the tar sands’ future hinges on the great economic pressure the country is feeling to bring its vast reserves of crude oil to market.
With more than 10 percent of the world’s proven crude oil reserves, Canada is behind only Venezuela and Saudi Arabia among the world’s nations with the most recoverable crude. Canada ranks fifth behind China, the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia for greatest oil production. That ranking may be bolstered in the future because the Alberta government is planning to expand oil production to about 3.7 million barrels per day by 2021, a roughly 2 million barrel-per-day increase over today’s production.
The challenge for Canada, though, is getting that oil to world markets. Today, the pipeline capacity doesn’t exist to ship all the crude oil Alberta wants to produce to the refineries in Texas along the Gulf of Mexico or Canadian coastal ports, which would open up markets in Asia and Europe, if Keystone XL is not constructed…
…But the long term might bring about a philosophical change in society’s approach to the tar sands, said David Archer, a University of Chicago climate scientist and professor focusing on the global carbon cycle, climate change and aqueous chemistry.
“I think it’s only a matter of time before people see fossil fuel consumption as an ethical issue,” he said. “You deal with ethical issues over and above the economic implications of that. People will decide that it’s wrong and they’ll vote against it.”
That kind of environmental opposition to oil sands development is likely to take decades, however, Archer said.
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