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Fact-Checking the Sunday Shows: Jan. 4
Congress is nearing a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, and lawmakers made their cases for—and against—it Sunday. Will its environmental impact really be minimal?
By Jon Greenberg and Aaron Sharockman
A new year means a new Congress and, with Republicans holding majorities in both the House and Senate, a new set of priorities in Washington.
The Sunday shows discussed the road ahead, including Congress’s plan to vote on approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. On Fox News Sunday, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), made the case for the pipeline, saying it creates jobs and does not harm the environment.
Obama’s “own administration has now done five environmental impact statements, all of which have said it would have a minimum impact on the environment,” Thune told host Chris Wallace.
That claim rates Half True.
The five statements are “really draft and finalized versions of the same analysis,” said James Coleman, a law and business professor at Calgary University. They were all conducted by the U.S. State Department, which has jurisdiction because the project crosses the border between Canada and the United States.
On the key issue of greenhouse gas emissions, the State Department’s final word was that the project was “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands” in Canada. In short, one way or the other, companies in Canada would continue to extract oil sands—meaning the rate of pollution was unlikely to grow.
But the administration has not spoken with a single voice. The Environmental Protection Agency tagged the State Department’s draft from April 2013 with the label “Environmental objections—insufficient information.”
The EPA said, among other things, that the pipeline might have a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions than the State Department concluded. The focus here was on how fast oil would come out of the Canadian fields. Pulling oil from the tar sands is costly, even more so when you tack transportation costs on top.
The EPA felt that the State Department had not looked carefully enough at the impact of the pipeline if oil prices fell. When oil prices fall, the lower shipping costs that come with the pipeline matter a whole lot more for keeping the enterprise viable.
The State Department found that with high oil prices, the tar sands would be mined for oil, pipeline or no.
Coleman told PunditFact that finding is now in question.
“The State Department’s analysis was predicated on its assumption that West Texas Intermediate would not fall under $75 per barrel, and it is now under $55. At that level, State said things could change,” Coleman said.
The State Department concluded that with prices between $65 and $75 per barrel, “higher transportation costs could have a substantial impact on oil sands production levels, possibly in excess of the capacity of the proposed Project.” But with the pipeline, transportation costs drop and production would be higher. That would affect greenhouse gas emissions.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Barrasso (R-WY), also discussed Keystone. While Klobuchar sounded supportive of the project, she also suggested that the benefits of the pipeline are being overstated by its most ardent supporters.
“We’re now the No. 1 producer of oil in the world. We’ve surpassed Saudi Arabia,” Klobuchar said.
That claims rates True. The United States has produced more oil than Saudi Arabia since the third quarter of 2012 and passed Russia in 2011, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The Energy Information Administration expects American production to continue to grow in 2015, despite recent lower crude oil prices.
Total oil production figures include crude oil, natural gas liquids, and other liquid energy products.
On top of oil, the United States produces significantly more natural gas than Saudi Arabia. According to the Energy Information Administration, United States energy production is about evenly split between petroleum and natural gas. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, primarily produces petroleum.
There is at least one piece of context to keep in mind when looking at the United States’ oil production compared to Saudi Arabia, noted Leonardo Maugeri, an associate at Harvard University’s Geopolitics of Energy project. Saudi Arabia has a higher capacity than the United States to produce oil, but it chooses not to use it all—so as not to inundate the global oil market.
“In other words, if Saudi Arabia produced at full capacity—as the U.S. does—its production would be higher than the U.S.,” Maugeri said.
Lauren Carroll contributed to this report. Read the full fact-checks at PunditFact.com.