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Pipeline will increase CO2; ethanol is a cleaner option

A recent opinion piece titled, “Pipelines: Safest Way To Transport, Oil, Gas” by Rolf Westgard which was published in the Brainerd Dispatch on May 1, 2014, contained several inaccurate and misleading statements.

In the piece, Westgard said “there is little difference in emissions from the tar sands oil versus conventional oil” and added “CO2 emissions are the same regardless of the crude source.”

In actuality, lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, which calculates emissions from the production state to the consumption stage, for crude oil differs in accordance to its source.

The State Department’s report for the Keystone XL Project released in January clearly states that on a lifecycle analysis, Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin crude oil (which will flow through the proposed pipeline) emits 17 percent more greenhouse gases than the average barrel of crude oil refined in the United States.

It said 0.24 million metric tons of CO2 will be emitted per year during the construction period of the Keystone XL project and, once operational, it would emit 1.44 million metric tons of CO2 per year.

Westgard also mentioned the Ogallala aquifer, which is below specific parts of the proposed pipeline, and said that a bigger threat to the aquifer is the farming of corn in those areas for biofuel production, adding it takes 500 gallons of water to produce corn for a gallon of ethanol in Nebraska and Kansas.

A study by Argonne National Laboratory, which is a nonprofit research laboratory operated by the University of Chicago for the Department of Energy, points to a lower amount of water used to produce corn in those states.

In a 2011 study, it said 239 gallons of water is needed to produce corn for a gallon of ethanol in states like Nebraska and Kansas, where rainfall isn’t as much as in states like Minnesota (for illustrative purposes, only 17 to 25 gallons of water is used to produce corn for a gallon of ethanol in Minnesota).

This water usage includes groundwater, surface water, rain water and water that’s reused. It is imperative to note that water usage for corn production is the same irrespective of whether it is used for ethanol or animal feed (which still comprises the bulk of corn production nationwide).

Additionally, during the ethanol production process, only a third of the biomass in a corn kernel goes to ethanol. Another third becomes CO2 which is used for dry ice and bottled drinks while the remaining third is used to produce dried distillers grain, which is a high-protein animal feed.

As such, Argonne said, the amount of water used to produce corn specifically for ethanol in the Great Plains is actually 160 gallons.

It should be pointed out that actual ethanol production, according to the same 2011 Argonne study, only requires 2.7 gallons of water for a gallon of ethanol. In Minnesota, some producers are using only 2 gallons of water.

In another Argonne study released in 2012, it said ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 44 percent. Using the laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy Use In Transportation (GREET) model, the Renewable Fuels Association concluded that ethanol reduced 38 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2013, which was the equivalent of removing eight million cars from the road.

In contrast, the State Department’s Keystone XL report said the annual 1.44 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from the pipeline is the equivalent to greenhouse gas emissions from 300,000 passenger vehicles a year.

Thank you.

Raman is Communications and Education Coordinator for Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association, Inc., in Minneapolis.