The Keystone XL pipeline would allow oil producers to send 830,000 barrels a day of tar sands slurry from northwest Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast and then onto global markets. To the dismay of the oil industry, environmentalists have managed to delay the Obama administration’s approval for the northern leg of the pipeline, which would allow it to enter the United States from Canada. Here are seven reasons Keystone critics says the project is a bad idea:
'Biggest Carbon Bomb On the Planet’
The Canadian province of Alberta has 169 billion barrels of tar sands oil that can be recovered with current technologies. On top of that, an additional 1.63 billion barrels in tar sands oil could be reaped in the future as technology develops, more than five times Saudi Arabia’s total proven reserves. This has led renowned NASA climate scientist James Hansen to describe the Keystone XL pipeline as the “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.”
Producing and processing tar sands oil results in roughly 14 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the average oil used in the United States, according to Scientific American. Further downstream in the process, when the tar sands oil is refined, it yields a byproduct known as pet coke that emits at least 30 percent more carbon per ton than an equivalent amount of the lowest quality mined coals.
Sends Wrong Message to Rest of the World
Scientists estimate that humanity can burn only one-fifth of the Earth’s 2,800 billion tons of known fossil fuel reserves between now and 2050 in order to avoid the risk of runaway global warming. That means someone has to start leaving their fossil fuels in the ground. If Canada and the United States team up to exploit the Alberta tar sands, it sends an “anything goes” message to the rest of the world at a time when global cooperation in reducing carbon emissions is urgently needed.
Not a Job Creator
According to the State Department environmental impact statement on Keystone XL, the project would create only 35 permanent jobs after construction jobs dry up in a year or two. Meanwhile, renewable energy industries like solar and wind power have the potential to create millions of new “green collar” jobs. In 2013, the number of workers in the U.S. solar energy industry grew by almost 20 percent to 143,000, according to The Solar Foundation, while the wind industry currently employs another 80,000 workers.
Does Not Increase Energy Security
Supporters of Keystone XL argue that pumping in oil from the Alberta tar sands will drive down domestic gas prices. However, oil is sold on a global market. Much of the tar sands oil that is funneled to Texas for refining will subsequently be shipped overseas where there are already foreign buyers with contracts to buy it.
Bad For the Land and Water
Tar sands mining and production are already having a devastating impact on 140,000 square kilometers (54,054 square miles) of boreal forest, a complex ecosystem made up of forest, wetlands and lakes. According to the Worldwatch Institute, the forest is home to bears, wolves, lynx and caribou and provides critical habitat for 30 percent of North America’s songbirds and 40 percent of its waterfowl.
Tar sands operations require millions of gallons of fresh water per day. The contaminated water has to be stored underground or in giant reservoirs whose chemical soup is instantly lethal to birds that land on it.
Nasty Pipeline Spills
Tar sands slurry, also known as diluted bitumen, would travel through the pipeline for refining on the Gulf Coast. It is much more corrosive than regular crude oil and increases the risks of the pipeline leaking and spilling.
Pipeline ruptures have caused major spills of diluted bitumen in recent years in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River and in Mayflower, Arkansas. Diluted bitumen is more toxic than regular crude oil. And because it’s heavier, it sinks to the bottom of waterways and is much harder to clean up. Keystone XL would traverse over and put at risk parts of the Ogallala Aquifer, a shallow underground aquifer that supplies fresh water to eight states.
Billions in Profits For the Koch Brothers
Koch Industries owns more than 2 million acres of land in Alberta. It also controls 4,000 miles of its own tar sands pipelines, operates tar sands storage and refining facilities and is involved in oil derivatives trading. The company is poised to earn $100 billion over the next 40 years from its tar sands-related activities, according to a report by the International Forum on Globalization. The company’s top executives, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a network of right-wing groups and politicians who make attacking the science of man-made climate change a top priority. Profits from the Alberta tar sands will further replenish the Koch brothers’ political war chest.
Sources: Province of Alberta, Scientific American, Worldwatch Institute, Reuters, Rolling Stone, U.S. State Department, The Solar Foundation, ThomasNet News, Indigenous Environmental Network, Inside Climate News, High Plains Water District, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Environmental Defence, Sierra Club, International Forum on Globalization.