Politics Blog

Report: Combo of Northwest fossil fuel projects would be like 5 Keystone XL pipelines

If every coal, oil and gas shipping project planned for the Pacific Northwest was approved and brought online at full capacity, they could carry more carbon each year than five Keystone XL pipelines, according to a report released today by the Sightline Institute.

Sightline is a Seattle-based think tank that focuses on environmental issues research.

The Sept. 9 report by Sightline Policy Director Eric de Place details the possible impacts from several coal terminals, oil-by-rail facilities, and oil and natural gas pipelines proposed for Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. You can download the report at the top of this Sightline web page.

Included in the list of projects are the two rail facilities that have already been approved for BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 refineries in Whatcom County. BP’s facility has received crude oil shipments at its terminal since December 2013, and Phillips 66 plans to bring its facility online by the end of the year.

Also included in the report is Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would be the largest coal export facility on the West Coast.

By de Place’s math, the facilities would be able to move enough fuel to release 822 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year once it is burned by consumers.

That makes the Northwest “ground zero in the climate fight,” de Place said, according to a Sept. 9 Sightline news release.

From the report:

“For context, consider the Keystone XL pipeline—designed to carry oil from northern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico—which has earned an international reputation as a first-order climate catastrophe. When burned, the fuel carried by Keystone XL would emit 149 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, about as much as is produced by every activity in Oregon and Washington combined.”

In the report, de Place explains the method used to get to 822 million metric tons, and concedes that the large estimate of CO2 production is likely not realistic, as some projects will probably not be built.

“Although the total carbon capacity of these projects is enormous by any standard, the estimates in this memo both overstate and understate the potential scale of impacts from fossil fuel infrastructure under consideration in the Northwest. Notably, some of the projects are in competition with one another and may be mutually exclusive. Or they face physical constraints, such as vessel traffic limitations in the Salish Sea or rail capacity for coal transport in the US.”

On the other hand, the report continues, the methodology didn’t take other refined petroleum product plans into account.

“What’s more, Sightline’s carbon figures do not include any of the sizeable “upstream” emissions associated with fossil fuels. A tally of the emissions from extracting, mining, refining, processing, handling, and transporting the fuels would yield a far larger carbon footprint.”