October 27, 2015

David Turnbull, david [at] priceofoil [dot] org
Hannah McKinnon, hannah [at] priceofoil [dot] org

Pipeline opposition could end tar sands growth – new analysis
The end of growth in the tar sands: new model and report

The pipelines exporting tar sands out of Alberta are almost full, according to new analysis released today by Oil Change International. Without major expansion-driving pipelines such as Energy East, Kinder Morgan or Keystone XL, there will be no room for further growth in tar sands extraction and tens of billions of metric tonnes of carbon will be kept in the ground. This would be a significant step towards a safer climate, cleaner water and air, and healthier communities.

The report, entitled, “Lockdown: The End of Growth in the Tar Sands” can be found here:

“The tar sands have run out of room to grow,” says Hannah McKinnon of Oil Change International. “Production is close to peaking, and now it is time for a recognition that tar sands production has no place in a climate safe world.”

All proposed new pipeline routes out of Alberta are facing legal challenges, opposition by local authorities and regulators, and broad-based public opposition.1 All of the major projects have been significantly delayed with some cancellations seemingly imminent. No pipeline has been built since 2010, despite active industry efforts.

To assess the impact of these pipeline constraints, Oil Change International built a new and comprehensive model called the Integrated North American Pipelines model (INAP). It finds:

  • the current system is 89% full; and
  • the industry will run out of transportation capacity as soon as 2017.

Subsequent economic and carbon analysis of the model data finds:

  • further growth in the sector is unlikely to be viable without major pipeline expansion;2
  • transporting tar sands by rail is found to be too expensive to justify major new growth; and
  • the emissions savings of no new growth would be 34.6 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (equivalent to the annual emissions of 227 coal plants over 40 years).

“This model shows us what every board room in the sector is stewing over – this industry does not have room for profitable growth,” says Tom Sanzillo, Director of Finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “Under mainstream oil price forecasts, the model shows that market access constraints take new growth from being commercial to uncommercial.”

The model’s findings are released today in a report entitled Lockdown: The end of growth in the tar sands, published by Oil Change International with the support of Bold Nebraska, Environmental Defence Canada, Equiterre, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club U.S., and

“This new report is conclusive proof that organizing works,” said May Boeve of “In the four years since we began marching, sitting-in, and risking arrest to keep tar sands in the ground, no new pipelines have been built. It’s victory for our climate, our future, and for all the communities who are the front lines of this fight. With development locked down, it’s time for investors and politicians to look past the tar sands and start investing in the just transition to an 100% renewable energy future.”

“We are seeing the results of a movement that has stood up to dirty pipelines that harm our climate and our communities” said Lena Moffitt of the Sierra Club. “Now is the time to invest instead in clean and renewable sources of energy and leave dirty fuels where they belong — in the ground.”

With the outgoing Canadian Stephen Harper administration having faced major international criticism on climate and energy, the pipeline constraint also offers incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the new government an opportunity to change course.

eline constraint also offers Justin Trudeau and the new government an opportunity to change course.

“When asked about the Energy East pipeline during the election, Liberal leader and now Prime minister-designate of Canada, Justin Trudeau said that ‘governments give permits, people give permission’ and clearly, people are saying no to pipelines all across North America,” said Steven Guilbeault of Equiterre.

“It’s simple–without more pipeline capacity, the tar sands can not be recklessly expanded,” said Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska. “People are standing in the way of Keystone XL and other equally risky and unnecessary pipelines. Gone are the days when Big Oil can buy their way to approval of their risky pipelines. We the people have changed the tar sands pipeline game forever.


Notes for Editors

1: The report identifies industry’s two main pipeline expansion strategies: major new infrastructure build out – pipelines such as Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, TransMountain, and Energy East -, and incremental expansion – primarily of the Enbridge Mainline. Both strategies are facing increasing public opposition.

TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, from Hardisty to Cushing, has been delayed for more than five years, and President Obama has committed not to approve its construction if it adds to greenhouse gas emissions. Two proposed pipelines from Alberta to the British Columbia coast – Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain twinning – both face legal challenges and extensive and growing public and political opposition, in particular from First Nations communities. TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline to New Brunswick has been delayed to at least 2020, and faces similar levels of opposition, especially in Quebec, through which it would have to pass. And expansions of the existing Enbridge pipeline system through the U.S. Midwest are now also subject to legal challenges and public protest.

2: A cashflow forecast of four typical proposed tar sands extraction projects shows that transporting the oil by rail rather than pipeline would tip them from commercially viable to uncommercial. The forecast uses project data from Rystad Energy, and the oil price forecast from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

One Comment

  • How can we all come together as one unit to form a “Creator’s Constituency”, so to speak, so that we may be more effective in moving to clean, sustainable, renewable energy like wind & solar.
    As an individual, but part of many active environmental groups, it still feels like a fragmented fight sometimes.
    I think that is why Standing Rock has gotten to be a machine of change, because so many First Nation communities converged together. Even though the Trump Administration is doing everything possible to stop them, including using “peace” officers to defend the Fossil Fuel Industry, the fight continues and is growing in strength, despite major set-backs.

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