President Trump signed executive actions today to advance the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. The University of Michigan has experts available to discuss the topic.
Andrew Hoffman is the Holcim Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources and Environment, and serves as education director of the Graham Sustainability Institute. He can field questions about the economic competitiveness and climate-change impacts of Trump's actions.
"Trump's decision is consistent with his efforts to undo Obama's legacy on climate change," Hoffman said. "But in the end, this is all a tempest in a teapot. The Keystone pipeline will not substantively lower gas prices, reduce our dependence on foreign oil or create a significant number of jobs.
"Similarly, it will not significantly raise carbon dioxide emissions. It is just one more battlefield between the left and the right about free commerce, the role of government and the influence of activists. It is about whether we continue to pursue a fossil fuel economy, whether we begin to address climate change, whether the government should intrude in the market in this way and whether activists should be able to interfere in commerce in this way.
"While Obama vetoed the project in his administration, it is no surprise that this came up in the Trump administration."
Joe Árvai is director of the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the Max McGraw Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the School of Natural Resources and Environment and Ross School of Business.
Árvai joined U-M from the University of Calgary, where he had extensive experience with the Canadian oil and gas industries and the pipeline sector. His expertise is in the area of decision-making, corporate sustainability and the triple-bottom-line.
"That this issue has resurfaced is no surprise," he said. "Mr. Trump promised to breathe new life into Keystone XL while he was campaigning, and he pledged his support for Dakota Access, over the objections of First Nations, environmentalists, and private landowners. Both Keystone XL and Dakota Access will pose considerable local risks—to the environment, economy and the social fabric—that should not go unaccounted for. On the other hand, the effects of this executive order for climate change are less certain. Much of what will happen on this front has to do with the oil sands operations in Canada, and the price of oil globally.
"Currently, the price of oil is so low that these pipelines, if built, may not add much in the way of new emissions-creating capacity. On the other hand, I'm sure oil sands operators in Canada, as well as TransCanada Pipelines, will gladly take Keystone XL as a piece of infrastructure that may open up future opportunities should the price of oil rise.
"Indeed, there's an irony here in that the president is taking aim at foreign trade with one set of executive orders while creating potential windfalls for Canadian companies with another. Another set of issues that should not be overlooked here are potential conflicts of interest. The president recently sold his stake in Energy Transfer Partners, the company that is building Dakota Access. However, one of his cabinet nominees—Rick Perry—sits on the their board of directors."
Mark Barteau is the director of the U-M Energy Institute and the DTE Energy Professor
of Advanced Energy Research in the College of Engineering. He chaired the National Academies' 2013 study on the effect of diluted bitumen crude oil on transmission pipelines. He can discuss the history of the Keystone pipeline, the safety features and limitations of modern pipelines, and the tension between America's infrastructure needs and environmental conservation efforts.
"Modern pipelines are a vital part of our energy infrastructure and remain the safest, most efficient way to transport oil," he said. "Whether we are building new pipelines or replacing old ones, we need to consider not only better technologies, but better practices for evaluating and mitigating risks and impacts on the environment and our communities.
"Accelerating review processes for large projects about which there is legitimate public concern is probably not one of these. It is also important that we not allow private investments and the demand for future return on these to hinder progress toward cleaner energy resources and enabling infrastructure."