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New 'pollutant' issue emerges in Keystone pipeline controversy

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By The Washington Post

Published: Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 7:26 p.m.

With the State Department close to completing a new environmental impact statement on the revised Keystone XL pipeline plan, environmental groups are struggling to keep pressure on the Obama administration to block the 1,700-mile-long project that would link Alberta's oil sands to Texas coast refineries.

Last week, an advocacy group, Oil Change International, released a report that said estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands development failed to include emissions from a byproduct of refining oil sands crude — a coal-like substance known as petroleum coke.

When burned as fuel, petroleum coke — or petcoke — emits 5 to 10 percent more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal, the report by the Washington-based group says. And though some of the plentiful petroleum coke produced by oil sands upgraders or refineries is stored, much of it is sold at low prices to power plants or industry.

The report asserts that counting petroleum coke use would raise estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands development by 13 percent beyond earlier estimates used by the State Department.

The Oil Change International report isn't the first or only one highlighting petcoke.

Deborah Gordon, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who wrote about the petroleum coke issue in a December report, said that if Keystone XL begins moving diluted raw bitumen to the United States, “this co-product —which is essentially 90-plus percent carbon and a dirtier substitute for coal — can no longer be ignored.”

TransCanada dismissed the Oil Change International report as “the latest attempt by professional activists who oppose Keystone XL to change the discussion” and said that “there is nothing new in this document.” The company said that crude derived from oil sands was no worse than heavy oils from California, Mexico or Venezuela.

Supporters of the pipeline say that President Obama should approve the project anyway.

“It once again boils down to a political decision by the White House: Will they follow what's in the best interest of the country or will they follow other political pressures?” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute.

 

 
 


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