President Biden’s Keystone XL Carbon Footprint

President Joe Biden’s decision to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit has left many victims in the wake of the shutdown of this major infrastructure project in mid-construction, including thousands of construction workers and thousands more whose jobs depend on the project. 

A growing chorus of officials, including some key Biden allies like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, plus the attorneys general of 14 states, are joining us in calling on the president to reverse his decision and send those working Americans back to their jobs. 

But beyond the personal tragedies of those highly skilled – but now jobless – workers, and their families and their communities, another major victim is the very climate the president is seeking to protect. 

Sounds crazy? It’s true. Keystone XL was being built to operate entirely on renewable energy with no carbon emissions. Without this pipeline in operation, the same crude oil that the pipeline would have carried will now be hauled to Texas by high carbon-emitting diesel locomotives. 

Most of our crude oil imports – 56 percent in 2019 – come from Canada because it’s better, and cheaper, to get it from our friendly next-door neighbor than from the likes of OPEC and Russia. And now that number will grow even further, because another Biden decision is stopping new U.S. domestic oil production on federal lands and waters, which accounted for 22 percent of our crude oil supplies in 2019. We will need to import even more to help make up the difference. 

There are two ways to import crude oil from Canada – by pipeline and by railroad tank car. With existing pipelines being maxed out, what can’t be shipped by pipeline will come in by rail. Without the Keystone XL pipeline, at least 400,000 barrels per day will now travel by railroad tank cars 2,200 miles from Alberta’s oil sands to U.S. Gulf Coast oil refineries – about 650 tank car loads per day

Diesel locomotives hauling those tankers will burn 136 million gallons of diesel fuel per year and at 22.4 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon, will emit 1.5 million tons of CO2. This is equal to the amount emitted in a year by about half a million gasoline-burning passenger vehicles

Two other bad things happen when oil travels on the rails instead of by pipeline. First, America’s rail capacity, which is also needed for other types of freight, gets stretched to the limit, crowding out and thus raising the cost of all rail space. That’s particularly hurtful to farmers who will now pay more to move grain from midwestern farms to market. Farmers have had some very difficult years recently, and this will add to their woes. 

Second, it costs as much as three times as much to ship oil by rail than by pipeline. So consumers’ energy costs will rise even further. This will go hand-in-hand with higher costs for everyday products made from petroleum, plus higher prices for all consumer goods transported by trucks burning now more expensive diesel fuel. 

What the administration doesn’t understand, or chooses to ignore, is that demand, not supply or pipeline capacity, determines how much oil is produced and shipped. Killing pipelines does nothing to reduce demand — it only raises transportation costs, which then get passed along to consumers. So crude oil will continue to make its way to market, with or without pipelines. Consumers, farmers and the environment will pay the price for administration decisions that will be applauded by many of its supporters, but are bad for America

When Biden killed Keystone XL and sacrificed all those workers’ jobs on the altar of earth’s climate, either he caused that tragedy without complete knowledge of the facts and science of the situation, or his decision was driven by the politics — not the reality — of climate change. Reversing that decision is the right thing to for our workers, the climate, Americans’ energy costs and our country’s energy security.


Toby Mack is the president and CEO of the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance, the trade association representing energy infrastructure construction and its supply chain of contractors and providers of equipment, materials and services.

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