The giant Canadian energy company TransCanada is the main force behind the Keystone XL pipeline. They hope to build its northern leg. The Southern leg is already pumping. The completed section would travel nearly 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.
If built,the northern leg of the Keystone pipeline will carry one of the world’s dirtiest fuels: tar sands oil. There is great risk that a spill would do major damage to ecosystems. An accident could pollute the water table for Western states forever. And that would be a true disaster.
Huge oil corporations are heavily invested in Canada’s tar sands. They’re counting on the Keystone XL pipeline. Without it, the expansion of oil extraction operations in Canada wouldn’t be profitable.
Keystone would double imports of dirty tar sands oil into the United States.This sludge would then be transported to refineries on the Gulf Coast. From there it would be shipped all over the world.
The price we pay at the gas pump would not be directly affected. It’s also not a major jobs program. There would be around 2,000 temporary jobs created. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of jobs that would result from a major investment in our crumbling infrastructure.
Before Keystone can be built they need a permit from President Obama and the State Department. Don’t let Keystone supporters fool you. The U.S. State Department has final say on Keystone. This is right and constitutional. To alter this reality would take a new law.
The State Department is involved because the pipeline would cross our national border with Canada.
Tar Sands Oil is Very Dirty
- Tar Sands oil pollution is greater than regular oil.
- Levels of co2 released is up to four times higher than regular oil.
- The Keystone XL pipeline would deliver nearly 1 million barrels of tar sands oil into the United States every day.
- Pollution from Keystone is like adding more than 5 million new cars to our roads.
The Tar Sands Process is Filthy and Wasteful
- Extracting tar sands oil wastes huge amounts of heat, water and chemicals. (This process is needed to separate the tar (bitumen) from sand, silt, and clay and to flow up the pipeline).
- The water used in the process comes from rivers and underground springs.
- It takes three barrels of water per single barrel of oil produced. (2.4 million barrels of water is used per day).
- Ninety-five percent of the water used to extract the oil is so polluted that it must be stored in large pools (tailing ponds).
- As the heavy tar sinks to the bottom of these ponds, the toxic sludge, full of harmful chemicals like cyanide and ammonia, works its way into neighboring clean water.
The Destruction of Forests
The Boreal forests of Alberta, Canada is the world’s largest intact ecosystem.
The forests serve a few other vital functions. Their variety of plant life and bodies of clean water support many animal species.
They’re also a buffer against climate change. They protect against food and water shortages. However, the process of digging up tar sands oil destroys theses forests. The forests and its endangered caribou are both threatened by Keystone.
Keystone Would Harm Native Peoples
Northern Alberta is the region where tar sands oil is extracted. It happens to be home to many native peoples. The tar sands operations are a huge threat to their livelihood and traditions.
Natives have been forced off of their land. In addition, there has been a rise in health problems for those living downstream from tailing ponds.
Cancer. Lupus. Kidney failure. Hyperthyroidism. These are all on the rise for affected communities. Here’s one gruesome example: In the lakeside village of Fort Chipewyan, 100 of the town’s 1,200 residents have died from cancer. That’s nearly 10%!
Unless tar sands production is stopped, these problems will only get worse. Keystone would improve the rate of production, but decrease the quality of life for native populations.
Building Keystone would be one more incidence of moneyed interests taking advantage of a minority community. Pure environmental racism.
What If There’s A Spill?
The Keystone XL pipeline would wind its way through six U.S. states and cross major rivers. The Missouri. The Yellowstone The Red River. These are key sources of water.
The Ogallala Aquifer provides water for over 25% of America’s irrigated land. Two million people depend on it for drinking water.
The fact is, a tar sands oil spill is much worse than a normal oil spill. The tar sands oil sinks. It does not float. This makes clean up much harder and costlier.
TransCanada’s first pipeline spilled a dozen times in less than a year. Experts warn that the type of tar sands oil being pumped into the U.S. is already more acidic and corrosive. Our higher temperatures makes the oil even more corrosive.
All of this makes Keystone spills more likely. The EPA and other experts are calling on the State Department to conduct a thorough study of these risks.
In the summer of 2010, there was a huge oil spill in Michigan. One million gallons of tar sands oil poured into the Kalamazoo River from a pipeline run by another Canadian company, Enbridge. Cleanup costs were more than one billion dollars.
Then there’s the Mayflower, Arkansas spill. In April 2013, a 22-foot crack in an Exxon pipeline caused a devastating tar sands oil spill that began in a residential neighborhood. Lake Conway, a drinking water source and popular fishing spot also took on gallons of oil. Residents of Mayflower didn’t even know there was a pipeline running under their town.
Refining Tar Sands Oil is Risky
Dirty tar sands oil would travel thousands of miles through the Keystone XL pipeline. The oil would then be refined in facilities on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Refining oil is a dirty process. But refining tar sands oil is even dirtier. Higher discharges of toxic sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide is part of the process.
These chemicals cause smog and acid rain. They contribute to breathing diseases like asthma.
Communities near the refineries where the Keystone XL pipeline stops are already suffering from high levels of air pollution. Many of these are lower income communities of color. The Keystone XL pipeline would take this problem from bad to worse.
Petcoke is a dangerous, high-carbon byproduct of these refineries. Making petcoke is cheap, storing it is not. Most places just dump it into open pits.
Burning petcoke is so carbon-intensive that the EPA won’t let U.S. power plants do it anymore. But, plants in China, India, and Latin America bring in petcoke as a cheap coal substitute.
Election year drama centered around Obama’s potential approval of Keystone. Some wealthy environmentalists determined to make climate change a key election issue. Urging the rejection of Keystone was a major part of that effort.
The Keystone XL pipeline was a major issue in the 2014 U.S. elections. It affected various races. The House. The Senate. Governors. Even some local races.
In December,2014 there was a Senate Keystone vote designed to save the skinof Mary Landrieu. She was a Democrat from the oil refining state of Louisiana. The effort failed. Landrieu lost her run-off to a Republican.
Landowners in the path of the pipeline have complained about TransCanada threatening to seize their property.
As of October 17, 2011, TransCanada had 34 eminent domain efforts against landowners in Texas. And 22 in the state of South Dakota. Some of those landowners had testified before Congress in May 2011.
Keystone Supporters’ Claims
Supporters of Keystone claim it would lead to American energy independence. They say the U.S needs to import 10 million barrels of oil each day.
But according to studies like the 2011 study by the Pembina Institute. A large portion of that oil will wind up being consumed in other countries. In other words, it’s not staying here.
The same study says the price for heavy crude oil in the Midwest would actually increase. This is because tar sands oil would be diverted to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
TransCanada says that if Canadian oil doesn’t reach the Gulf through a pipeline, the only option is the oil tanker. Tankers produce more greenhouse-gases.
Others say opposition to the tar sands oil is mainly from countries who supply us with their crude. Nigeria. Venezuela. Saudi Arabia. They say theses countries would lose money if the price of crude drops due to additional supply from oil pipelines like Keystone. TransCanada says tar sands oil development will expand even if Keystone killed.
Then there are those incredible Keystone jobs numbers. Supporters claim Keystone will generate at least 20,000 American jobs. 20,000 is a correct figure. But the jobs will be temporary and vary in length.
Once the thing is built we’re looking at between 20 and 35 permanent jobs.
At Least It Polls Well
Independent national polling has shown support for Keystone. The Pew Center found 65% favored the project and 30% against in 2013. The same poll found the pipeline favored by most men (69%). Women (61%). Democrats (51%). Republicans (82%). Independents (64%).
Keystone was favored by almost every group. Age. Education. Economic status. Geographic region. No matter how you classify them, they all favored Keystone. The only group that didn’t support Keystone were self-identified liberals (41% in favor versus 54% opposed).
Here are some overall Keystone XL polling numbers from independent polls:
- Gallup (March 2012): 57% government should approve. 29% government should not approve
- Rasmussen (January 2014): 57% favor. 28% oppose (of likely voters)
- Pew Center (September 2013): 65% favor. 30% oppose
- Washington Post-ABC News (April 2014): 65% government should approve. 22% government should not approve
- USA Today (January 2014): 56% favor. 41% oppose
- CBS News – Roper (May 2014): 56% favor. 28% oppose
This proves opponents of the pipeline may have work to do. That’s if we care about public opinion. When it comes to stopping the pipeline it all comes down to one man’s opinion anyway. President Barack Obama.
The project polls well due to a multi-million dollar PR machine. Politicians and media calling it a jobs bill is also a factor. Plus most of the public has swallowed the lies about energy independence and lower gas prices.
However, things may be changing. A January 2015 poll by the Wall Street Journal shows only 41% favoring Keystone. Opposition was at 20% and 37% didn’t know enough to make a decision.
Final Argument Against the Keystone Pipeline
Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest fuels on the Earth. Helping oil companies exploit the tar sands will delay spending money on clean and safe alternatives to oil:
- Better fuel economy requirements.
- Plug-in electric cars fueled by solar power.
- Smart growth and public transportation that give Americans choices other than cars.
Not building Keystone will also help us avoid these devastating effects on the climate:
- Global temperature rise.
- Melting of the Arctic ice.
- Sea level rise.
- Extreme tornadoes and hurricanes.
- Floods and heatwaves.
Keystone jobs claims don’t add up:
- The vast majority of jobs created would be temporary.
- 35 permanent jobs at best.
- Real infrastructure repair would create millions of jobs.
At the end of it all the Keystone XL pipeline benefits are swamped by the huge risks. Potential damage to our environment makes it just too risky to build the northern leg. Bedsides, the only real winners would be TransCanada. Not to mention the other huge companies that have invested in tar sands oil.
At some point their winning streak has got to an end. We have to think about ourselves for once. We can’t let corporations become even more powerful. So powerful they can literally gamble with our precious planet Earth.