Energy: Consider the Global Impacts of Oil Pipelines

By June 24, 2014Library

Erb Faculty Director, Joe Arvai published in Nature (International Weekly Journal of Science)

Consider the global impacts of oil pipelines.

The debate over the development of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, has long been a flashpoint for tensions in and between Canada and the United States. In April of 2014, US President Barack Obama deferred a decision on the fate of the pro- posed Keystone XL oil pipeline, despite escalating pressure to approve it from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Jump ahead nearly three years, and Keystone XL is back on the political radar with President Trump promising to breath new life into the project. The contentious pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels per day of partially refined bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands, through the US Midwest, to Gulf Coast refineries.

Adding to the drama, Keystone XL isn’t the only major pipeline project in the news: The Dakota Access pipeline is also under public and regulatory scrutiny because of its proximity to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. But these dramas over the pipelines obscures a larger problem: A broken policy process. Both Canada and the United States treat oil production, transportation, climate, and environmental policies as separate issues, assessing each new proposal in isolation. According to work by an international group of scientists, including Joe Árvai of the Erb Institute, amore coherent approach to decision-making—one that evaluates these proposals together as part of an integrated energy and climate strategy—is sorely needed.

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