The Keystone XL Pipeline: Smoke and Mirrors

The EPA reports that there are over 14,000 oil pipeline spills each year, where millions of gallons of oil spill into our soil and water, poisoning our land. The recent Yellowstone River oil spill exemplifies this issue as oil contaminates pristine wilderness areas. The potential for continued environmental degradation is worrisome, to say the least, and it affects us all. The more we abuse and degrade our own habitats, the more bleak our future becomes. Thus, there is much debate nationally about oil pipelines, specifically the Keystone XL pipeline, proposed by the Canadian company TransCanada. The pipeline would bisect the United States, through the states North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Despite the claims of TransCanada executives and pipeline supporters, the pipeline would have severe consequences. The Keystone XL pipeline represents a desire for instant gratification at a cost to our environment and our livelihoods. This article will focus on three areas—economic, political, and environmental—and show that the Keystone pipeline is an unwise and dangerous project to approve.

Economically, TransCanada executives claim that the Keystone Pipeline will create many jobs and bring us a step closer to energy independence. However, this is only a smoke-and-mirrors act, and those executives are easily disproved. As the report from the United States State Department describes, 42,000 jobs would be created over a two year period. While this is a considerable amount, these jobs will only last for the two years of construction. Only thirty-five permanent jobs would be created. That amount is highly unlikely to provide economic security to families or individuals working those jobs, and it would fail to make a significant economic impact. While politicians can claim job creation, a careful analysis reveals a manipulation of information intended to deceive Americans. Furthermore, claims of energy independence for the United States are faulty. An oil pipeline would not shield American consumers from Middle East price volatility or the world oil market as a whole. The Congressional Budget Office states “The extensive network of pipelines, shipping and other options for transporting oil around the world means that a single world oil price prevails…Disruptions related to oil production that occur anywhere in the world raise the price of oil for every consumer of oil, regardless of the amount of oil imported or exported by that consumer’s country.” The only way American consumers can shield themselves from this is to reduce our dependence on oil. The New York Times on October 3rd, 2011 also discussed how most of the oil that TransCanada would pump through the pipeline is exported overseas, with no added benefit to the American economy. “What pipeline advocates — including big-oil lobbyists and House Republicans who have tried to force an early, favorable decision — fail to mention is that much of the tar sands oil that would be refined on the Gulf Coast is destined for export. Six companies have already contracted for three-quarters of the oil. Five are foreign, and the business model of the one American company — Valero — is geared toward export.” Where is the benefit to Americans here? Why would we approve a project that only benefits foreign entities and exacerbates current environmental degradation? The main economic arguments that pipeline supporters use only seek to misinform and manipulate the American public. There is minimal benefit, if at all, to us. The more we know about the facts of the Keystone Pipeline, the easier it is to see how unnecessary and damaging it is.

Politically, the agenda of the wealthy and foreign use of American eminent domain law is a dangerous combination. So, in a time of incredibly low gas prices and an abundance of oil in the world market, why would we add another pipeline? Why sell more oil? Who does it benefit? It would seem that efforts to approve the Keystone Pipeline are more politically motivated than anything else. Politicians continue to ignore undeniable evidence of climate change and environmental damage and endorse the pipeline because of dishonest job creation messages, fossil fuel independence, etc. They then spread this to their voters in order to get reelected. Their voters believe them because TransCanada executives and wealthy individuals like the Koch Brothers continually spread that misinformation. Wealthy individuals with a stake in a multi-billion dollar oil business, along with dishonorable politicians, seem to be the few winners in the pipeline project. The Keystone pipeline only demonstrates the continued manipulation of our political system by those with the most resources, who push ahead with their own agendas despite the costs to the average person. Finally, there is inherent danger in allowing a foreign corporation to use eminent domain laws in the United States. TransCanada this past week has filed eminent domain to own the land of Nebraska landowners who refused to sell their land to the company. The Constitution, and state constitutions as well, lay out that American governments can use eminent domain to take land for public purposes provided just compensation is provided. However, with little economic benefit and large environmental damage, where is the justification for taking this land for public use? Furthermore, TransCanada is a foreign corporation, a legal entity not treated as an individual person. The precedent this sets, if approved, shows that interests of a large, non-American institution can override the rights of American citizens when it is expedient for them and violate the processes of the Constitution. A corporation thus becomes equal to a citizen even though it is legally not so. It is the responsibility of our state and federal governments to resist those that seek to undermine our livelihoods and rights and put the interests of American citizens first. Approving the Keystone Pipeline contradicts all of that.

The danger environmentally comes from the potential for severe ecological damage, the lack of adequate safeguards, and the large amount of carbon emissions. As the recent pipeline burst in the Yellowstone River shows, pipelines are not invincible. As safe as companies like TransCanada claim their pipelines are, the inherent danger of the pipe bursting even once is catastrophic. It causes disastrous health effects, ruins ecosystems, and displaces families. The proposed route of the Keystone pipeline crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, a groundwater source that spans the Midwest with a majority of the water located in Nebraska. It supplies drinking water for over two million people and provides irrigation for over thirteen million acres of land. It is a vital lifeline for the Midwest region of the U.S. A study by John Stansbury of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln warned that a worst-case spill in Nebraska “would pose serious health risks to people using that groundwater for drinking water and irrigation.” Furthermore, as the United States State Department report on the pipeline notes, the pipeline will be within threatening distance of thousands of surface water areas and ground wells. Also, the existing Keystone pipeline already has a poor safety record. Media Matters states: “TransCanada insists that there is little risk of a spill from the Keystone XL pipeline… [But] TransCanada gave similar assurances about the current Keystone pipeline, which spilled 12 times in its first year of operation — including a major leak of about 21,000 gallons in North Dakota. Since 1990, pipelines in the U.S. have spilled more than 110 million gallons of crude and petroleum products. And environmentalists warn that tar sands oil is more corrosive than conventional oil, which would make the Keystone XL pipeline more prone to leaks.” The federal agency responsible for overseeing and treating pipeline hazards is chronically understaffed and under resourced, making the impact of an oil spill even worse. Not only could the spill affect water quality and water sources, but it would negatively impact soil through erosion and contamination. The release of carbon emissions is also an important factor. The project would spur increased extraction from the Alberta Tar Sands region. As the Congressional Research Service notes, the Keystone XL pipeline would increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of “approximately 558,000 to 4,061,000 passenger vehicles” annually. If the United States is truly concerned about carbon emissions, approving the pipeline is a step in the wrong direction. The potential impact to the environment and the people who live in the Pipeline’s path shows us that the approving the pipeline is unwise and irresponsible. We must renew our commitment to an era without harmful fossil fuels and political manipulation by rejecting all that perpetuate them; the Keystone XL pipeline is where that begins.