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EEIA: Killing Keystone XL creates an environmental disaster

Published by , Senior Editor
World Pipelines,

Toby Mack, President of the Energy, Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance (EEIA) makes a statement about the cancellation of Keystone XL.

“With his Executive Order revoking the Keystone XL Pipeline project's border-crossing permit, President Biden said he was acting in the name of fighting climate change. Instead his decision will add at least 1.5 million tons of CO2 per year to the atmosphere - the equivalent of emissions from 490 000 automobiles.

“Not completing the project will force major quantities of Canadian crude oil onto the rails between Hardisty, Alberta and the US Gulf Coast refining complex, with the added CO2 resulting from extensive diesel locomotive exhaust emissions.”

Announcing EEIA's just-published analysis measuring that increase, EEIA's President Toby Mack concluded that it "strips away any pretence that the decision to kill Keystone XL was made to help address climate change. President Biden killed Keystone XL, along with the tens of thousands of construction and supply chain jobs it would have supported, for political reasons and without any basis in facts and science."

The following analysis details how those new CO2 emissions add up.

The distance from Hardisty to the US Gulf Coast oil refining complex is about 2200 miles.

The US Department of Transportation limits railroad tank car capacity to 186 000 lb, or 93 t, which equals 620 bbls of crude oil (crude oil weighs 300 lb per 42 gal. barrel). The Association of American Railroads (AAR) data report that the actual average tonnage of crude transported per carload in 2019 was 92.9 t.1

AAR also reports that 1 gal. of diesel fuel is needed to haul 1 t of cargo 472 miles.1 Hauling one ton of crude oil 2200 miles burns 4.66 gal. of diesel fuel. Moving one rail car that distance with 93 t of crude oil on board burns 433 gal.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that burning 1 gal. of diesel fuel emits 22.44 lb of CO2.2 Therefore burning 433 gal. of diesel emits 9716 lb, or 4.86 t, of CO2.

Keystone XL would have had the capacity to transport up to 800 000 bpd of crude oil. While it's not known what its actual operating rate would have been, conservatively assume for illustrative purposes that it would operate at half its capacity, or an average of 400 000 bpd.3

Replacing that much pipeline capacity with rail shipments would require 645 carloads of 620 bpd each, or over six fully-loaded 100+ car ‘unit trains’. At 4.86 t of CO2 emitted per carload, that amounts to 3135 tpd of CO2 emitted. For a full 365 day year, that's 235 425 carloads of crude at 433 gal. of diesel per carload, requiring 101 939 025 gal. of diesel fuel. At 22.44 lb of CO2 emitted per gallon burned, southbound trips emit 1 143 766 tpy of CO2.

There's more. After a crude train unloads its cargo on the Gulf Coast, it must return empty to Hardisty to pick up the next load. It is estimated that the empty return trip would burn about one-third as much fuel as a loaded train going south. That's an additional 33 979 675 gallons per year, adding up to 135 918 700 total round-trip gallons of diesel fuel consumed per year, emitting 1 525 000 t of CO2.

Keystone XL would have been built to operate entirely on renewable energy. At 400 000 bpd it would have avoided diesel locomotive emissions of approximately 1.52 million tpy of CO2. If the pipeline were operated at full capacity, that number doubles to about 3 million t of CO2 going into our atmosphere annually.

To make a popular comparison to auto emissions, the average car in the US burns 316 gal. of gasoline per year, emitting 3.1 t of CO2. That means Keystone XL at 400 000 bpd would have resulted in reducing CO2 emissions an amount equivalent to taking 490 000 cars off the road.4

1 Association of American Railroads: Railroad Facts 2020 Edition.
2 US Environmental Protection Agency: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle: 19.6 lb of CO2 per gallon gasoline; 22.44 lb of CO2 per gallon diesel.
3 In 2019, about 675 000 bpd of crude oil travelled by railroad in the US, including both US and Canadian-originated shipments. (AAR and Canada Energy Regulator).
4 US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (2019): US Passenger Car Vehicle Miles Travelled: 2.254 trillion; average MPG: 25; cars registered: 285 million; miles per car: 7900; gallons of gas consumed per car in one year: 316.



For more news and technical articles from the oil and gas pipeline industry, read the latest issue of World Pipelines magazine.

World Pipelines’ January 2021 issue

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