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No Keystone XL = More Northwest Oil Tankers?

A graph of the increase in oil tanker traffic coming through British Columbia's Port of Vancouver. It has tripled since 2005 and is expected to increase further.

A graph of the increase in oil tanker traffic coming through British Columbia's Port of Vancouver. It has tripled since 2005 and is expected to increase further.

The Obama administration today rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline, proposed to run from the Alberta oil sands in Canada to the Gulf Coast in Texas. President Obama blamed the decision entirely on the “arbitrary deadline” Congressional Republicans demanded for a decision.

While supporters of the pipeline are decrying the loss of potential jobs and plans to alleviate oil transportation bottlenecks, others are speculating on what the rejection will mean for the Canadian oil that would have gone through the pipeline. Will we see more of it in the Pacific Northwest?

Earthfix reporter Ashley Ahearn reported in November that there is another way for Chinese investors to get oil from the Alberta oil sands to Asia – by piping the oil across Western Canada and shipping it out of Vancouver, B.C.:

“There is already a pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver that’s been transporting oil for more than 50 years. Now, KinderMorgan - the company that owns the pipeline - is calling to increase capacity to as much as 700,000 barrels a day.

Tanker traffic coming out of Vancouver has tripled since 2005. And KinderMorgan predicts a more rapid increase in the next 5 years.

Those tankers will be making their way out of Vancouver via the Strait of Juan de Fuca.”

While increased tanker traffic poses a higher risk of oil spills into Washington waters, Ahearn reported, the state won’t be collecting oil spill preparedness taxes from the tankers because they won’t be delivering in Washington.

And if there is a spill of oil from the Alberta oil sands, the Environmental Protection Agency says it’s unclear exactly what government agencies will be cleaning up because of unknown and proprietary chemicals used to dilute the oil for piping. In one spill of oil from the oil sands, the EPA reported, officials found the toxic chemical benzene – a known carcinogen – had been released along with the spill and issued voluntary evacuation notices.

A Reuters analyst concluded today that the decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline won’t really have much effect at all – for anyone. Not even for environmentalists who opposed it:

“But even by blocking Keystone XL, the Obama administration has done nothing to prevent a huge increase in oil sands crude entering the U.S. over the next five years. Indeed, that oil will come on pipelines that are already built and permitted as noted above.

In a sense the Obama administration has tacitly accepted oil sands crude as a fact of life in the United States and has acquiesced to its gaining an increased market share.

For environmentalists celebrating the demise of Keystone XL, but there’s an excellent chance they’ll go home from the party in a vehicle fueled by oil sands crude.”

Alberta oil sands Keystone XL Pipeline

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