Thursday, April 04, 2013

Pipelines and Disincentives

Ray Pierrehumbert makes a good point about the Alberta tar sands, that also pertains to arguments you hear here in the Pacific Northwest, that if we don't let coal companies ship their coal down the Columbia River basin to China they'll just find another way to do it:
But perhaps this is all beside the point according to the State Department's analysis -- which, as HuffPost previously reported, suggested that Alberta's tar sands would be extracted at pretty much the same rate with or without Keystone, thanks to alternative transport via other pipelines and trains.

"That's pulled directly out of industry writing," said Pierrehumbert. "And it's just nonsense."

"Building a new pipeline provides a new market for the oil. And by providing another outlet, you are increasing the stream of capital going into tar sands development," he added. "If we get Keystone, rail isn't going to go away. It'll be rail plus Keystone."
If coal or oil companies can't ship via their perferred route, which is presumably the cheapest one they can envision, then other routes will be more expensive. That raises the price of the oil or coal, which provides an incentive for alternative energies.

He goes on to say:
"You could always take the world's fossil fuel consumption and break into small-enough pieces to say that each piece is too little to matter," said Pierrehumbert, referring to the oil that flows through any one pipeline. "But each adds up to something that does matter."
The Athabasca oil sands contain about 1.7 trillion barrels of oil. At 0.43 metric tonnes of CO2 per barrel, and a 14-37% premium because the tar sands are harder to extract than conventional oil, that's 230 to 270 gigatonnes of carbon, or about 30 times current annual emissions. At a carbon-climate response of 1.5°C/TtC, it's 0.3-0.4°C of warming (if we burn it all).

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