The Keystone XL Pipeline and its Controversies

September 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

On August 20th, 2011, the staged protest to the Keystone XL pipeline project began. It was a two-week long protest, which consisted of a peaceful sit-in in front of the White House and eventually led to over 1,200 arrests. By its end on September 3rd, although Obama had taken no action to renounce support for the pipeline, people were still feeling that a movement had been set in motion, that an energy had been ignited that showed the real force and opposition to the issue at hand.

However Obama’s administration seems to be dangerously close to approving the plans. The Keystone Pipeline System, which was originally proposed in 2008, has already been built in Canada and runs from North Dakota straight south to Nebraska and then west to a refinery in Illinois. In 2010, an extension of the pipeline to a refinery in Oklahoma was approved and completed. Now, the argument is over the proposal to create a new pipeline (The Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project) that will directly connect the “Athabasca Oil Sands” Canadian source to Oklahoma’s refinery and move it further south to Texas. It is the construction of this 1,660-mile pipeline that thousands of protestors have opposed in the last couple weeks. 

For a map of the current pipeline and proposed expansion, click here.

What’s so bad about the pipeline? If one already exists, what’s wrong with extending it? There are many reasons to oppose the XL extension, and here are just a few:

1) For environmental reasons, this pipeline would run through crucial ecosystems and wetlands that would subsequently harm populations of many birds and animals native to the area.

2) Furthermore, the pipeline not only endangers the flora and fauna that live in these regions, but it runs right through the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest freshwater reserves in the world. This aquifer currently provides fresh water for 8 states and clean drinking water for 2 million U.S. residents. If there were to be a spill from the pipes into the aquifer, it could have disastrous results, not only depriving 2 million people of drinking water, but ruining the productivity of farms and other agricultural resources as well.

3) Besides the direct effect it has on our citizens and ecosystems, the pipeline will negatively impact the environment. The environmental ministry in Canada released a report showing that if the pipeline project were to be completed, Canada would double its current level of tar sands production within the next ten years. This would require cutting down 740,000 acres of boreal forest, which is an important habitat as well as a vital carbon sink.

4) Furthermore, because the process to extract oil from the tar sands is rather complicated, greenhouse gas emissions from the process of extraction would rise by almost one third by 2020 (from 2005 levels). Canada, which pledged at the 2009 Copenhagen conference to reduce its greenhouse has emissions, may not be able to achieve its goal if it continues with a project that requires such a rise in emissions.

According to the U.S. State Department, the reasons for approving the plans seem good–the pipeline will create 20,000 American jobs, it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and environmental evaluations of the plans reveal that there is little risk of a spill or any environmental harm.

However all this is untrue.

The first part of the project negligibly boosted American employment. The construction of the pipes through South Dakota, for example, only dedicated 11% of the available jobs to American citizens, and even then, the jobs were minimal and part-time.

Additionally, this pipeline will not reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Rather we will sell the refined oil we produce to Europe and Latin America. Only a very small portion of our oil will be going to our own citizens.

And lastly, the evaluations that were done to determine the viability and safety of the projects have all been flawed. TransCanada, who originally proposed and carried out the pipeline, estimated that a spill might happen once in the first seven years. So far, within the first year, there have been a total of TWELVE spills (for an interesting infographic about the Keystone XL project and the problems it’s already causing, click here). Apparently, the steel that TransCanada has been using to construct the pipes is of inferior quality and unable to sustain all the use it has undergone. If this is already the case, how is the steel supposed to hold a doubling of oil transported within the next decade?

The Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and many other environmental organizations agree that this project would be a disaster for the environment, so why aren’t their voices being heard?

To learn more about the issue and to do what you can to help, click here.


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