The U.S. State Department released its 2,000-page draft environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline last Friday, a project slated to transport oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb., and then, finally, onto the Gulf of Mexico.
The tar sands in Alberta, Canada, are currently home to millions of barrels of oil. Because Alberta is landlocked, most of this oil ends up transported to the American Midwest for processing. Unluckily for Canada, Cushing, Okla., is also home to an abundant source of oil that needs to be refined, which means there is a surplus of Canadian crude that sells at a $30 discount. This bottleneck makes Canadian oil producers unhappy for fiscal reasons. The Keystone XL Pipeline is one of three proposed solutions to remedy the issue.
Keystone Pipeline in full is a strategy proposed by TransCanada Corp. to pipe oil from the tar sands in Hardisty, Alberta, through the United States, down to the Gulf Coast. Because more than 25 percent of Gulf Coast output is dedicated to export, Canada and its oil now have greater access to world markets. Keystone includes four phases, the first two having already been completed.
Phase three and four are what is referred to as Keystone XL. Through the implementation of these new pipes, Canada will benefit, foreign importers of oil will benefit, but the United States will be stuck in the middle, housing just over 1,600 miles of underground pipes, pumping even more of the world’s dirtiest oil through its heartland, and left at risk for a potentially massive eco-disaster.
In opposition to these theories, the State Department’s draft concluded that Keystone XL would have a small impact on the climate, even though the extraction, shipping, refining and burning of tar sand oil emits more greenhouse gases than more typical forms of foreign and domestic oil production.
Since climate change has, in fact, been materialized in part by human activity, it’s critical that the country takes steps to slow down the process, not contribute to a problem that we helped create. Combined with the current pipelines, Keystone XL could more than triple U.S. consumption of tar sands oil, “one of the most polluting and carbon-intensive fuels in the world,” according to the National Wildlife Federation. And coupled with pollution from the process of extracting this oil, it will subsequently wreak havoc on earth’s climate. Or, we could just ignore this altogether, and support the ridiculous dichotomy of warning against the hazards of climate change, yet allowing for a project that will only make them substantially worse.
Another incredibly important environmental concern is the danger of leaking or faulty pipes that could potentially cause a large-scale ecological disaster. More likely than not, the pipes will leak; Keystone I reportedly suffered 12 in its first year alone, though was predicted to leak only once every seven years. So if, or when, Keystone XL leaks, crude oil will be released into the surrounding areas of grassland, wetlands, river systems or other open water sources, and could potentially disrupt and reduce already-sensitive wildlife populations and aquatic habitats.
But the jobs! It seems like a small risk to take compared to all the jobs the pipeline will create, right? Sure, if one is inferring temporary jobs. The purported thousands of jobs this pipeline will create are only temporary. Once manufacture of the 1,661-mile pipeline is complete, it need only be maintained in the long-term by as few as 20 people, according to the U.S. State Department, or as many as a few hundred, according to TransCanada. These inflated jobs numbers don’t bode well for TransCanada, nor for U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who has harped on job creation to rally support for the project and who, coincidentally, reportedly invested thousands of dollars into firms with stake in Canadian oil sand.
Keystone XL has long been fought against by climate activists, and rightfully so. President Barack Obama already denied a permit once for the project. The final decision on XL isn’t anticipated until at least June, but it certainly puts pressure on the president to deliver his inaugural promise to “respond to the threat of climate change,” despite those who deny the overwhelming scientific evidence. His willingness to stand with science will reveal what might be its greatest political asset: that it cannot be undermined by institutions with special interests or big oil corporations with their eyes on the dollar. It is based on fact, and the facts surrounding Keystone XL prove that it isn’t worth the environmental contingencies.
Jillian Correira is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.