Former Obama Scientist Now Favors Approval of Keystone XL Pipeline

March 3, 2014 - 5:44 PM

Marcia McNutt, Ken Salazar

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar speaking at a news conference at Mather Point Amphitheater in Grand Canyon National Park flanked by BLM Director Bob Abbey (L), US Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt (Center-L) and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis (R). (DOI photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Marcia McNutt, former head of the U.S. Geological Survey under President Barack Obama until 2013 and now top editor at Science magazine, is no longer opposed to the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

“I believe it is time to move forward on the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil from the tar sands deposits of Alberta, Canada, and from the Williston Basin in Montana and North Dakota to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast,” McNutt wrote in a Feb. 21 editorial in the magazine.

Keystone is a proposed 1,179-mile 36-inch diameter pipeline that will transport crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Neb., according to the website of TransCanada, the company in charge of the project.

“Along with transporting crude oil from Canada, the Keystone XL Pipeline will also support the significant growth of crude oil production in the United States from producers in the Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota,” the explanation on the company’s website stated.

Keystone pipeline

In this Dec. 3, 2012 file photo, crews work on construction of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline near County Road 363 and County Road 357, east of Winona, Texas. (AP Photo/The Tyler Morning Telegraph, Sarah A. Miller)

A summary of McNutt’s commentary is available on Science magazine website, but subscription is required to access the whole article:

“I drive a hybrid car and set my thermostat at 80°F in the Washington, DC, summer,” McNutt wrote. “I use public transportation to commute to my office, located in a building given ‘platinum’ design status by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“The electric meter on my house runs backward most months of the year, thanks to a large installation of solar panels,” McNutt wrote. “I am committed to doing my part to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and minimize global warming.

“At the same time, I believe it is time to move forward on the Keystone XL pipeline to transport crude oil from the tar sands deposits of Alberta, Canada, and from the Williston Basin in Montana and North Dakota to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast,” McNutt wrote.

In a Feb. 20 article in the National Journal, more of McNutt’s editorial is quoted, including her stating that the pipeline could be safer and more regulated than transportation of crude oil by rail or truck.

"No  method for moving hydrocarbons can be considered completely fail-safe,” McNutt is quoted as saying in the article. “At least the current permitting process can, and should, be used to ensure that Keystone XL sets new standards for environmental safety.

“There is no similar leverage on the truck and rail transportation options, which produce higher GHG emissions and have a greater risk of spills, at a higher cost for transport," McNutt wrote.

When interviewed for a National Public Radio article on Feb. 21, McNutt said Canadian crude oil would be used one way or another.

NPR’s Morning Edition host David Greene asked McNutt why she had changed her mind.

“Just because there hasn't been a pipeline really did not stop the development of the Canadian tar sands,” McNutt said.

“They were going to be developed anyway, you're saying?” Greene said.

“Yeah,” McNutt said. “In fact, they are developed anyway.

“Rather than putting the oil in a pipeline, they are now putting the oil on trucks and railway cars, and trucks and trains actually use more fossil fuels themselves to get that crude oil to market than a pipeline,” McNutt said.                                 

Greene then stated that the pipeline “might be the cleanest of the options.”

“Not only the cleanest, but potentially safer, because the pipeline is still to be permitted. Environmentalists can demand the pipeline be the safest ever engineered,” McNutt said. “One of the reasons for opposing the pipeline is the emissions of greenhouse gases when the tar sands are converted to a liquid to put into the pipeline.

“There actually could be some concessions in exchange for approving the pipeline that could require a limit on the carbon emissions in that process,” McNutt said, adding that the pipeline “is the very cheapest way” to transport crude oil, which could free up funding for “renewable energy.”