The XL Keystone Pipeline

By Alex Kaufman


“I’ll get us that oil from Canada that we deserve,” Mitt Romney vowed to his supporters after winning the Michigan primary. The oil he is referencing in his victory speech, and more importantly, the manner in which the United States could acquire that oil, is the oil in Canadian deposits channeled by the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Like other candidates in the 2012 race for the Republican candidacy, Romney latched on to the Keystone XL pipeline issue, raised it to national awareness, and framed the issue as a setback induced by President Obama’s rejection of the pipeline proposition.

The Keystone pipeline is a proposed 1,700 mile conduit that would link crude oil deposits in Alberta, Canada, cross over Canadian-United States borders, and travel through the heartland of America to refineries in the Texan Gulf in an attempt to meet supposed American demand for oil. The TransCanada Corporation, a major North American energy company and the main contractor involved in the pipe construction, submitted the application three years ago.

In December 2011, the date that TransCanada awaited the permit’s verdict, Obama postponed the judgment until 2013. Congressional Republicans responded to the delay by pushing the deadline forward to January of this year, pressuring the president and the Department of State to decide on the proposal hastily. President Obama denied the expedited presidential permit in late January because he could not gather enough information by the new deadline set by Republicans, seemingly without rhyme or reason.  He justified his rejection of the measure and issued a statement saying, “As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially [on] the health and safety of the American people, as well as [on] our environment.

This motion met fierce opposition from Congressional Republicans. Speaker of the House John Boehner responded to the president’s rejection of the permit, arguing that this pipeline could…“like other energy-pipeline projects, create hundreds of thousands of jobs” for Americans who are still suffering from the recession. He echoes Romney in saying that this oil would meet the great demand in America for more gas.

The United States Energy Information Association (USEIA) would say that this claim doesn’t stand to reason. Many Americans, Boehner and Romney included, don’t seem to grasp that the demand for oil has been decreasing since 2008 and continues to flatten, according to the USEIA. Moreover, the amount of jobs that the pipeline would create counts in at about 20,000 jobs, as estimated by the Perryman Group in 2010, a firm hired by TransCanada. Though this doesn’t seem to make a significant dent in the unemployment levels, it’s a statistic many Republicans have exploited and exaggerated. However, last year the United States Department of Labor came to a much more modest estimation that, in fact, the pipeline would provide 5,000 to 6,000 jobs. If this pipeline can’t even provide enough Americans with jobs, what can it accomplish?

Environmentalists say that the pipeline can disrupt the natural ecology of the land over which the pipeline extends. Protesters have been up in arms about the proposed pipeline and have sporadically demonstrated outside the White House for the past several years. Activist groups such as the Sierra Club have vehemently opposed the pipeline due to concerns that spills and gas emissions from refineries will be frequent and overwhelm its surroundings. The Sierra Club has issued reports explaining that Canadian crude is extracted from tar sands, which is incredibly corrosive, heavy, and can cause severe trouble if there were ever pipe leaks. These pipes would hypothetically travel over the Ogallala aquifer, a group of numerous fresh water reserves that spans eight states and provides millions of Americans with clean water. If a pipe were ever to leak over these reserves, the tar sands would sink to the bottom and be irremovable.

Brandon Bass, a junior environmental engineer at Cornell University, says he’s concerned about the impact extraction of oil from the tar sands will have on the surrounding environment. “What concerns me the most about the Keystone pipeline, and overall further development of tar sands extraction, is the climatological impact it will have. The stabilization of the climate to a point where we will not incur extremely serious climatological shifts will not happen if the tar sands are exploited as an acceptable fuel source.”

Keystone XL and TransCanada aren’t going away for the foreseeable future, much to Bass’s and environmentalists’ dismay, as the corporation plans to apply once again for the coveted permit. Though TransCanada will refrain from constructing the cross-national pipeline until the Department of State reviews its permit application, it does have the ability to build a pipeline that extends from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico in the interim.

Oil consumption may be decreasing, but this is no testament to a nation whose politicians rightly claim merit for reduced levels of consumption. In order for America to conquer its oil addiction and rid itself of any chimerical need for such a pipeline, the focus must shift from consuming to producing. The United States didn’t become a superpower by consuming more than any other country: that leads to failure and decline. Streamlining the American economy will happen once Americans go back to the basics and perfect what was once an acclaimed attribute of this nation: production. O



Interview with an Expert:


“Extracting oil from Canadian tar sands is a very energy-intensive, polluting, expensive, and inefficient process that already has resulted in massive deforestation, displacement of wildlife and indigenous populations, water pollution, and carbon emissions.”



“The pipeline will not create millions of jobs. It will not create a hundred thousand jobs. It will not even create 20,000 jobs, which is the number everyone spouts in the media.”



“All that nonsense about getting oil from our “friendly neighbor” holds a lot less water when you realize that Canada just wants to ship it out, and the US is complicit in that.”



”Even if you don’t think of environmental stewardship as one of the main issues you care about, you should be outraged about the way this pipeline has been bandied about in Congress.”

Devin Powell, Student Expert, Tufts Sustainability Collective


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