Keystone XL pipeline sparks pollution awareness

By Ian Hagerty

(Shannon Patrick/Flickr)
(Shannon Patrick/Flickr)

President Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline bill Tuesday, and frankly I couldn’t be happier about it. For once, we Americans get to see a president using the full reaches of his power to do something truly good.

We are entering a new era of energy usage. On some level, often too small a level, take hybrid cars or solar energy for instance; people are trying to change the methods we use to produce energy. This gradual and adaptive change has been a long fight, and there are still many bridges to be crossed and battles to be won before a significant dent can be made and we can lower the amount of pollution that we constantly dump into our planet.

Although much of the scientific community says global warming is real and has proof, there are still skeptics. These skeptics don’t think the fossil fuel pollution we have dumped into our planet’s skies and oceans could significantly affect this grand, large world of ours. To the naysayers I ask this: Have you never seen smog in your life? Does the air not smell different in the city than it does in the country? Even if you don’t believe the earth is warming, wouldn’t it just be nicer for everyone to have less petroleum in our lives?

Of course, we have to consider the fact that fossil fuels are our main source of energy today, and things do have to change gradually. We cannot just drop our entire method of doing things all at once. We also depend on the revenue of these fuels and the jobs associated with them to help support our economy. When the supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline argued the loss of potential job creation, it’s easy to understand their point of view. Everyone wants to find a stable job and thus maintain a stable and potentially happy life.

What we have to ask ourselves though, is whether we really want to dig ourselves deeper into the slick, difficult to climb out of, oil-drained hole we find ourselves mucking about in now. Clean energy projects on the rise would have their purpose striped by further support and development of the oil industry. Cleaning up one mess and making another keeps us in the same dirty kitchen.

One of the lines ruptured in a suburban neighborhood and forced residents from their homes. In another, 8,500 barrels worth of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. You don’t have to be told that oil spills cause significant environmental damage.

One of the main arguments that supported the XL pipeline is that pipelines are much safer than trains for transporting oil. Considering the recent train derailment in West Virginia and the deadly train explosion in Canada two years ago, the concern is valid. They both caused environmental damage, and the explosion in Canada killed 47 people.

However, some blame the recent train incidents on poor maintenance of railways and train containers that are insufficient to protect against spills in the case of a crash. It is also argued that updating and maintaining our railways would be much less costly than the huge expense of building stationary oil pipelines. Also to be taken into account is the cost of maintaining oil pipelines that pipelines leak every single day in our country. The railways aren’t about to vanish, so it’s a question of building new structures and maintaining two systems, or just marinating a system that already exists.

There are other pipelines in the United States already. The Keystone XL pipeline gained national attention because its crossing over a national border made it a federal matter. In the short scheme of things, stopping this one specific pipeline probably won’t affect much; oil will still be shipped around our country in many ways, pipelines included. In the long run though, this issue, like all good stories has put light on the subject.

As we push forward into a necessary era of change in our energy usage, people need to know how things work and to see the dangers on both sides of the coin. President Obama’s decision to veto this bill may have angered just enough of the right people to really bring this issue to the table. His actions also set forth a message of willingness to adapt, that many Americans will probably appreciate. All of the oil industry is dangerous.

I don’t want my home heating bill to increase any more than the next person does but we shouldn’t be further supporting an infrastructure based on oil dependence. Plus, if our railways were in better support, maybe it wouldn’t cost more than a plane ticket to take a train to your next destination; it’s more efficient than flying. It may be slower, but the scenery not yet destroyed by pollution would make for a nice distraction.

Ian Hagerty is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]