The pipeline to hell
How the Keystone XL pipeline can affect climate change
An Editorial by Barbara Trypaluk, Green Party of New York State
Our country is at a major crossroads in terms of whether we will take serious action to address climate change—and the big game changer would be the Keystone XL pipeline. If completed, this pipeline would be 1700 miles long and transport 800,000 barrels of oil a day through the mid-section of our country from top to bottom.
Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is a part of the national Green Party’s agenda, and should become a major priority. This project is not in the national interest because it will exacerbate global warming and has the potential to contaminate over 1,000 waterways including the Ogalala aquifer, which supplies drinking water to millions of people in the midwest and is used for irrigation of vast acres of farmland.
Plans for the pipeline have it originating in Alberta Canada, cutting through North Dakota, South Dakota, parts of Kansas, down through Oklahoma, to eastern Texas. The Keystone XL pipeline’s destination is Houston, Texas where refineries will transform the bitumen into gasoline for export to China and India. Through its acquisition of Nexen Inc., China now owns about ten percent of Canadian oil sands operations. Another pipeline is also planned to transport oil from Canada to Maine.
Oil from tar sands, or bitumen, is the dirtiest kind of crude of oil. Unlike the claims of industry commercials, they are not being extracted in an “earth-friendly way.” Tar sands exploitation has already destroyed 170,000 acres of ancient forest in Alberta. Tailing ponds from the extraction process are so big they can be seen from space. Northern Alberta, the source of the tar sands, is home to many indigenous populations. Not only have they been forced off their land, but those living downstream from the tailing ponds have seen spikes in rates of rare cancers, renal failures, lupus, and hyperthyroidism. In the lakeside village of Fort Chipewyan, for example, 100 out of 1200 residents have died of cancer.
Because the substance is so corrosive, pipelines transporting it leak all the time. Part of the Enbridge Pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Alberta to U.S. midwestern refineries leaked over 700,000 gallons of crude into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010. The 200 acres of the river still has hardened crude sitting on the bottom. According to a study issued by the major environmental groups, more than 60 percent of the local residents experience “respiratory, gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms consistent with acute exposure to benzene and other petroleum-related chemicals.”
Residents evacuated from Mayflower, Arkansas that was flooded with tar sands oil in April 2013, still haven’t returned to their homes and may not be able to because the tar sands are mixed with toxic chemicals such as benzene that turn to gas when exposed to the air. It was interesting that Exxon convinced local officials during the Arkansas incident to bar reporters from flying over the area to videotape the entire spill.
In addition, refining tar sands oil requires four times the energy and produces 5 to 20 percent more greenhouse gases compared to light crude oil. As most of the refined oil will be exported to Asia, according to a study by the Cornell ILR Global Labor Institute, the pipeline would not contribute to domestic energy independence as supporters of the project claim.
Trans Canada, the company that would profit from the sale of this oil, touted the creation of 100,000-plus jobs in the U.S. if the president approves this pipeline. But a report done by Cornell University stated that the pipeline would create only about 3,000 temporary jobs and 35 permanent ones. It is just laughable for anyone who knows how the mining of tar sands will exacerbate climate change to see television ads on the tar sands about how this fuel will “keep America on the move” and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Even though Obama has painted a picture of the U.S. well on its way to energy independence, we still import 40 percent of the oil we use.
Trans Canada has admitted that tar sands oil is largely destined for export. Retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson said it plainly: “The Keystone XL pipeline will not reduce America’s dependence on Middle East oil, or do anything to get us off oil completely, which is key to America’s national security future.” An increase in fuel economy of just 2.5 mpg would completely eliminate the need for all the oil supplied by the pipeline.
“The Keystone XL pipeline poses a threat to the Ogallala Aquifer, a water source for many millions of people who live in western and midwestern states. Instead of extracting more fossil fuels and dumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we should be mobilizing to curb climate disruption—the gravest environmental, social, and economic peril that humanity has ever faced,” said 2012 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Neither of the major presidential candidates raised climate change as an important issue in their campaigns. Stein and other Greens made it a priority. In fact, on October 31, 2012, Stein was arrested in Texas for trying to deliver food and supplies to Keystone XL pipeline protesters.
President Obama rejected the initial application for the pipeline in January 2012 but is expected to approve the renewed application. It is urgent to stop this project now. The country is at a crossroads, and has a chance to slow climate change in a significant way rather than making it worse. The pipeline is a ticking time bomb that must be defused.