Dear Mr. President:
We wish to express our deep concerns about the proposed construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline that was submitted by TransCanada to the United States government for approval. During the past few weeks, we have studied and reflected on this important public interest question, so as to present our views to you as forthrightly and clearly as possible. As members of the interfaith religious community, we adhere to an unassailable, bedrock ethical principle that humans, at all times, must live in harmony with nature. For it is only when we consider ourselves as an inter-dependent and integral part of Earth’s biosphere, with its myriad living species and natural ecosystems, that we fulfill our sacred moral obligation to sustain and safeguard all creation on this planet.
If we observe the Earth’s surface from the vantage point of a satellite circling above our globe today, while blue oceans, continental masses, high mountain ranges, vast stretches of deserts and large-scale cloud formations are easily discernible, only one human-made landmark comes into unmistakable view. This is the Tar Sands bitumen extracting project in Alberta, Canada. Satellite photographs show it as a clearly visible blot on Earth’s surface, appearing as a massive scar on the North American continent. Here, large tracts of primeval boreal forests and peat bog wetlands have been extensively destroyed to meet our insatiable demand for fossil fuel energy. It is as if the lifeless surface of the moon was suddenly placed upon our planet, as bleak and forsaken a landscape as the aftermath of a massive bombing raid. This is a petroleum mining project of unprecedented scale, dwarfing any mountain top coal removal operations we have embarked upon at present.
Last month, the Final Supplemental Environment Impact Statement (FSEIS) on the Keystone XL Pipeline was released by United States Department of State for public comment. After reviewing its overall scope, including consulting with a number of independent experts, we have come to the conclusion that the XL Pipeline should not be built. To begin with, we raise issue with one of the fundamental premises made in the FSEIS – that current and projected bitumen extracting project will proceed, regardless of whether the Northern segment of the XL Pipeline is built or not. Several economic analyses conducted to date find that such a sweeping assumption to be highly questionable. They show that the overall costs of extracting bitumen deposits in Alberta and processing them elsewhere would be economically unfeasible without building an extensive pipeline to transport its heavy crude oil to refineries in the United States located near the Gulf Coast. There is reason to believe, according to several energy experts, that much of the refined oil products will be not be domestically consumed, but shipped to lucrative markets in Asia and Europe.
This position was spelled out by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in their earlier comments on the draft SEIS (letter of Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles, dated April 22, 2013). They point out that the delivery of bitumen oil by alternative means, primarily through rail transportation, would not only be publicly resisted by communities who live along the route, they are, in fact, prohibitively expensive, “. . . since the level and pace of oil sands crude production might be affected by higher transportation cost and potential for congestion impacts to slow rail transport of crude.” This concern is borne out in the final SEIS, which projects a cost difference of two- to three-fold between transportation of heavy crude oil by rail ($15 to $20 per barrel) versus by pipeline ($8 per barrel). In the foreseeable future, this rules out rail transportation of bitumen oil as a viable, cost-competitive option. At present time, the actual railway freight rates for transporting heavy crude oil is in excess of $30 per barrel.
In short, by approving the construction of the XL Pipeline, the United States government would, in effect, be aiding and abetting the continuing desecration of our planet by the mining and production operations related to the Tar Sands project. It means that we have given license for extraction of oil sands in an ancient forested, wildlife area (141,000 square kilometers), equivalent in size to the State of Florida, to be grievously exploited in the future for extracting low-grade bitumen oil from the ground. It means that we will allow the potential destruction of much of the homeland, livelihood and cultural heritage of First Nation Peoples in the Athabasca boreal forest region. It means that we will have given consent to the release of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the largest industrial project on earth and its single dirtiest known source of fossil fuels. This, in essence, is the heart of our moral objection to the construction of the XL Pipeline. We urge you to keep this overarching ethical and biospheric consideration in mind before drawing your ultimate conclusion.
We also know that as a decision maker of this proposal, you have an obligation to reach your decision on a wider set of considerations – that is, on other environmental, economic, societal, and national security grounds. Here is an outline of our review on a number of critical issues that were considered in the FSEIS:
- Carbon Emissions and Climate Change: According to the FSEIS, bitumen oil from the Tar Sands project will produce annually between 1.3 and 27.4 million metric tons more carbon emissions than crude oils currently processed in Gulf Coast refineries from domestic and imported sources. At the upper range, the estimated carbon emission rate is equivalent to 5.7 million passenger vehicles or 8 coal-fired power plants, as stated in the FSEIS. This is not an inconsequential increase in carbon emission, since 5.7 million passenger vehicles is nearly 40% of the number of cars currently owned by Canadians (14.7 million).
What is conspicuously missing in the FSEIS is the comparison of carbon emissions from the Tar Sands project against hydropower, wind energy and other renewable energy sources. Let us examine the ‘wells to wheels” life-cycle annual carbon emission associated with the production, refining and combustion of Tar Sands crude oil. Based on an average of 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) oil being transported in the XL Pipeline, the FSEIS estimates annual carbon emission in the range of 147 and 168 million metric tons (carbon dioxide equivalent). This is equal to the annual carbon emission from 43 to 49 coal-fired power plants. It is as if we will be launching nearly one newly-built 200 megawatt coal-fired power plant every week on the North American continent for the next 30 to 50 years.
This is an unsustainable – in fact, unconscionable – increase in the rate of carbon emissions from a fossil fuel combustion source into our near-term future. It would simply negate all our best attempts to effectively mitigate the adverse consequences of global climate change. On both moral and environmental grounds, we find this energy production trend to be entirely unacceptable.
- Impacts on Land and Water Resources: While the FSEIS considered the complete life-cycle analysis of carbon emissions associated with the Tar Sands project, it only examined the impact of heavy crude oil leaks and spillages on surface and groundwater resources along the XL Pipeline route in the United States. By artificially drawing a line at the Canada-United States border, the FSEIS did not assess the present and future environmental impacts of the Tar Sands project on land and water resources on a more complete and wholistic basis. In effect, the FSEIS completely overlooked current and potential impacts on land surfaces and water bodies at the Alberta mining and production site, which are well-known and constantly monitored.
Each day, around three hundred thousand cubic meters of water are taken from the nearby Athabasca River to process the bitumen-laden soil at the mining and production site. Currently, the Tar Sands project has a license to divert up to 359 million cubic meters of water annually from the river, since it takes 2 – 4.5 cubic meters of water to produce one cubic meter of bitumen ore. According to the non-profit, Canadian-based Pembina Institute, this stream diversion license provides “more than twice the amount of water required to meet the annual municipal needs of the City of Calgary” – a city of one million inhabitants in Alberta Province.
In addition, enormous amount of ore-processed slurries are stored in temporary tailing ponds built along the banks of the Athabasca River. This spatial proximity to the river, separated only by earthen dikes, allow constant leaks and overflows to occur into the river. At present, despite building interceptor ditches and wells to contain leaks, each day over ten thousand cubic meters of the tailing pond’s highly contaminated wastewater (based on oil industry estimates) continue to be discharged into the river. Thus, the flowing stream contains a hazardous brew of toxic chemicals, such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), naphthenic acid, arsenic and heavy metals, such as lead, mercury and chromium. The ecological and public health impacts of the contaminated water downstream could be quite severe, not only affecting fish and wildlife in the region, but cause acute and chronic diseases among First Nation tribal populations that reside in the river’s watershed.
- Overall Job Creation: Proponents of the Tars Sands and XL Pipeline project, including some representatives of labor unions, claim that the construction and operation of the pipeline would result in a jobs bonanza. That is a gross exaggeration, for nothing could be further from the truth. Although there is some uncertainty as to the projected number of jobs created, independent analyses, carried out by using FSEIS estimates on an annualized basis, show that between 2,000 and 3,950 jobs will be created per year during the pipeline’s two-year construction phase – a trivially insignificant number of transient jobs, considering what is presently needed nationwide. Only 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs will be left in place after the pipeline’s construction is completed.
Last year, Canada’s Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), representing 35,000 oil and gas workers in the country, voiced their objections to the Keystone XL Pipeline project. David Coles, CEP’s President, made the following strongly worded remarks: “We’re diametrically opposed to the construction of it. The Keystone XL is not good for the economy, it’s not good for the environment, it violates all kinds of First Nation rights.”
Previously, both the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), expressed their firm opposition to the approval of XL Pipeline. In a joint statement, the Presidents of TWU and ATU stated: “We are leaders of transport workers union representing over 300,000 working women and men in the United States. We call on the State Department NOT to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline or take any actions that lead to the further extraction of Tar Sands from Alberta, Canada.”
It is noteworthy that union leaders representing oil, gas, and transport workers, who could have supported gaining additional jobs for their members, have come out unequivocally opposed to the construction of the XL Pipeline. It is quite apparent that they knew the true nature of the highly inflated job numbers that had been presented to the media and the public by proponents of the Tar Sands project and the XL Pipeline .
From the brief analysis presented above, it is abundantly clear that the benefits of Keystone XL Pipeline project cannot be defended on environmental, economic or societal grounds, when seen in its entire life-cycle stages – mining, processing, transportation and refining. Extracting low grade bitumen oil is only an option if the world’s demand for fossil fuel remains unchanged at current market prices, while promising projects of harnessing renewable energy sources are allowed to dry on the vine. At present, the extraction and production cost for oil products from non-conventional petroleum reserves, such as Tar Sands and other similar deposits, have begun to rise steeply. Since crude oil prices on the world market show disturbing signs of tumbling to economically unjustifiable levels in the near future, it is not too early to seriously reconsider your Administration’s “all-of-the-above” regulatory guideline as a pragmatic basis for delineating U. S. energy policy. We believe that urgency to combat the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change – developing wide-ranging mitigation policies and well-thought out, timely adaptation plans – be given the highest priority by the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. To do anything less would be an abdication of moral and social responsibility by the leaders of this country.
On November 7, 2013, the interfaith religious community in Connecticut came together at an all-day Climate Stewardship Summit conference, which was held at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, CT. The main objective of this conference, organized by the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network (IREJN), was to reflect on the moral dimensions of the global climate change crisis that we are faced with today. At the conclusion of this well-attended event, we adopted The Hartford Declaration, which is presented below:
- There comes a time in every generation when a matter of great urgency requires that we, who belong to Connecticut’s diverse faith community, express our concerns with moral clarity and with a unified voice. That pivotal moment has arrived. We can no longer ignore the plain facts of climate change.
- Our planet is increasingly under threat from climate change and global warming, endangering human beings and other life-forms in all regions of the globe. As a result, recent storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and heat waves have begun to have serious impact on our lives. Continuing increases of these extreme events will destroy the underlying basis of human civilization as we know it.
- Climate change will undermine the very ecological fabric of our planet that sustains life, while eliminating vast number of species on earth.
- Climate change will disproportionately impact society’s most vulnerable members – the poor and underserved community, the elderly, the chronically ill, infants and young children, and those least able to fend for themselves.
- Many developing regions of the world will continue to be impacted by severe storms, drought-like conditions, sea level rise, vector-borne diseases, loss of food security and safe drinking water. This has caused mounting tension, conflict and war. It will cause millions of inhabitants to become environmental refugees with untold suffering, affecting the security and well-being of the entire globe.
- As members of the faith community, we have a deep obligation to understand the full dimensions of this growing problem, which the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community has brought to our attention in the past few decades.
- Safeguarding all creation on earth is a sacred trust that is placed upon us – to love, to care for and to nurture. We accept this trust as a universal moral imperative, one that we share across all human societies, religious faiths and cultural traditions.
Given the urgency of the current situation, we solemnly pledge to:
- Foster a reflective and prayerful response to the threat of global climate change.
- Work together as people of many religions and cultures on behalf of the one, planet Earth.
- Encourage members of our faith to develop and implement energy conservation plans and to use safe, clean, renewable energy.
- Be an authentic witness for action on climate change and environmental justice through teaching, preaching and by letting our voices be heard in the public sphere.
- Advocate for local, state, national and international policies and regulations that enable a swift transition from dependence on fossil fuels to safe, clean, renewable energy.
The Hartford Declaration reflects the interfaith community’s acute concern about the consequences of global climate change. For these reasons we believe that the decision to approve or not approve the Keystone XL Pipeline ought not to be considered solely on the basis of conventional environmental impact assessments and economic cost-benefit analyses. Instead, it should be based on a deeply-felt recognition of the sacred trust bestowed on us as humans – to be faithful and wise stewards of earth’s rich fecundity and abundant life, and for us to leave the planet a better place for our children, grandchildren and those who come after them.
We sincerely hope that you will heed the voices of opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline project and deny the go-ahead license to TransCanada for building its proposed heavy crude oil bearing pipeline in the United States.
Board of Directors of Interreligious Eco-Justice Network
A. Karim Ahmed, Ph.D.
Fatma Antar, Ph.D.
The Reverend Thomas Carr
Father Sam Fuller
The Reverend Charles Redfern
Canon John Spaeth
William Upholt, Ph.D.
Terri Eickel, Executive Director
Ccs – U. S. Department of State, and eight Federal Agencies identified under Executive Order 13337: Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency.