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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere


The DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) being installed between farms, as seen from 50th Avenue in New Salem, North Dakota. Image: Wikimedia/Tony Webster.

09 October 2019 / James Hansen

How much effort to spend fighting pipelines? What is the best use of our time and resources? On one hand, educating lawmakers and the public about the merits of a rising carbon fee is crucial. Once enacted, a rising carbon fee will make the most carbon-intensive energy sources uneconomic. Oil derived from tar sands or tar shale is high on the list of the most carbon-rich.

Jim Hanson, Earth Institute

However, as part of my testimony last week to the Illinois Commerce Commission, in opposition to the proposed expansion of the Dakota Access pipeline, I did a calculation of the amount of CO2 that will be released by the additional crude oil, if the pipeline capacity is increased from 570,000 bpd (barrels per day) to 1,100,000 bpd. The additional CO2 emitted is equivalent to fifteen 1,000-megawatt coal plants.

The lawyers asked the question, “If the proposed expansion does not occur, won’t refiners find other sources of crude?” The real question, it seems to me, is whether the Illinois Commerce Commission will pave the way for expanded use of this exceptionally harmful fuel or whether, by making the right choice, the Commission will exercise leadership that other authorities can emulate, which decisions, in combination, will function to restrict full exploitation of this carbon-intensive crude.

Stopping pipelines is difficult. Yet, climate science is clear. Most of the additional CO2 pumped into the air will need to be extracted, somehow, if we are to maintain shorelines and a hospitable climate for future generations. Just slowing approval of pipelines has merit. If construction is delayed long enough to allow governments to come to their senses, we may prevent some pipelines from ever being built.

My testimony to the Illinois Commerce Commission is available at

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James Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at the Columbia University Earth Institute.

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