The analysis of greenhouse gas emissions presented by the State Department in its new environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline includes dozens of references to reports by Jacobs Consultancy, a group that is owned by a big tar sands developer and that was hired by the Alberta government—which strongly favors the project.
In the end, the environmental review took into account much of the Jacobs group's work—though not quite as much as the Alberta government wanted. The State Department report will play a crucial role in the Obama administration's decision about whether to approve the Canada-to-Texas tar sands pipeline.
The Jacobs Consultancy is a subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering, a giant natural resources development company with extensive operations in Alberta's tar sands fields. The engineering company has worked on dozens of major projects in the region over the years. Its most recent contract, with Canadian oil sands leader Suncor, was announced in January.
"The Alberta Oil Sands are a very important component of our business," the parent company said in late 2011, announcing seven new contracts in the region. "Jacobs has a strong history in the area, and we are pleased to support our clients in these initiatives."
Jacobs's deep involvement with the expansion of the tar sands extends beyond its engineering activity. Jacobs Consultancy has carried out influential studies assessing the oil sands' carbon footprint—research that has played a role in in the Obama administration's review of the Keystone XL.
Two of its widely cited reports were paid for by government agencies in Alberta that are devoted to oil sands expansion.
One, done in 2009, was among a handful of studies chosen by the State Department in its Jan. 31 environmental impact statement to represent a range of estimates of the tar sands' greenhouse gas impact.
As a rule, the Jacobs carbon footprint estimates of the tar sands oil that would move through the Keystone XL were considerably lower than alternative estimates produced by the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory, or NETL, which is part of the Energy Department and is independent of tar sands commercial interests.
Rather than choose a single figure, the State Department presented a range of estimates. Compared to other sources of oil, it said, annual incremental emissions of tar sands oil moving from Alberta to the Gulf Coast through the Keystone would fall between 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide and 27.4 million tons.
The 1.3 million figure came from Jacobs; the 27.4 million figure from NETL.