Earth Week 2013: Explaining Keystone XL

Keystone XL is a pipeline that is scheduled to be placed between Western Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas, and there are many detrimental environmental implications of placing this pipeline across the United States. Abbreviated as KXL, the pipeline project will bring tar sands/oil sands and heavy crude oil through the pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

Also, according to and the NRDC, there are a few misconceptions about the pipeline. Since tar and oil sands are heavier, there is a greater risk of oil spills. The pipeline is less likely to contain the material, leading to a greater possibility of spills and breaks in the pipe. Also, since the piping will be so long, about 2,000 miles, it passes through ecologically sensitive areas and stretches across the country’s largest Aquifer, the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water resources for 20 percent of the agricultural industry in the US.

Another thing to think about is terrorists. Most people wouldn’t think of international conflict as a con of the pipeline, but with a pipe stretching across Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois and Texas in multiple states, there is a greater risk of a terrorist attack on the pipeline. Since the pipeline is estimated to bring in at least 700,000 barrels a day, a bombing or attack on one part of the pipeline, the refinery in Steele City, Nebraska, the factory in Cushing, Oklahoma, or the refineries, shipping ports, or terminal in Port Arthur, Texas could cause devastating damage to the economy and energy security of the United States. Also, again, since the pipe is so long, it would be difficult to stop the flow of oil if we did get attacked, causing devastating environmental damage that would affect delicate ecosystems and national parks in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as a possibility of oil seeping into the ground near the Ogallala Aquifer, causing the agricultural structure of the Mid-West to crumble temporarily as a result.

There is still time to stop the pipeline decision: On January 18th, 2012, the US Government turned down Canada’s proposal for the pipeline, citing environmental issues as a main cause of the disapproval. On May 4th, 2012, TransCanada (the agency in charge of the pipeline) resubmitted their claims. Over the past 4 years, the State Department of the United States has been conducting research on the environmental implications of the pipeline. However, on Monday, April 22, the State Department came out with a report explaining the outcome of their research: there is insufficient evidence that the pipeline will cause environmental damage. The EPA has been urging the State Department to look over the report again, and the State Department responded publicly, saying “officials have long-planned to conduct additional analysis and will incorporate comments from the public and other federal agencies into a final environmental report expected this summer.”

Skeptics say that the pipeline will create jobs: studies project that only 35 sustainable jobs will be created, and thousands of temporary jobs, sending these people back into unemployment when the project is over. Skeptics also say that there is little chance of a spill: Joe Oliver, Canada’s minister of natural resources, states that there is a 99.99965% of the oil will be transported safely. However, even .0004% of these large volumes of oil will create a very large mess – on April 10, 2013, there was an oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas. This case shows that even a couple thousand barrels of oil spilled can cause catastrophic environmental damage and poses a risk to global health. I want to remind you that the KXL will transport 700,000 barrels of oil a DAY.

On top of all of this, the EPA reports that “oil sands crude is significantly more GHG [greenhouse gas] intensive than other crudes, and therefore has potentially large climate impacts.” We do not need more greenhouse gas emissions (these lead to global warming and climate change.

VisualCapitalist came out with an all-inclusive infographic on this topic last year, and it provides the best comprehensive overlook in infographic form that I coud find. See below:

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