Quietly waiting backstage as current political frenzies play out is the Keystone XL pipeline. Last January, President Obama evaded Congress’ deadline for a decision on the pipeline, citing further review was needed. The State Department will release a new environmental impact statement in the coming weeks with President Obama making a decision early next year.
TransCanada’s pipeline has been a contentious issue since its proposal in 2005. There are currently several sections operational, delivering crude oil from Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma. Just this last March, Obama approved the construction of a pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast. The remaining section, the Keystone XL, would connect Alberta to Steele City, NE through Montana and South Dakota. The pipeline was cross directly over the Ogallala Aquifer – one of the largest aquifers in the world, supply over 2 million people with water.
The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands oil (dilute bitumen), doubling the United States’ current consumption. Besides the detrimental environmental effects of tar sands’ production, the pipeline itself is a significant risk to major water supplies. In addition to the Ogallala Aquifer, the pipeline would cross the Missouri River, the Yellowstone, and the Red Rivers. Tar sands oil is so thick that it would not likely reach the aquifer, but the benzene present in crude oil could very easily contaminate the water supply if a leak were to occur.
TransCanada hasn’t earned a good environmental report card. The energy company recently experienced a whistleblower incident in which Evan Vokes, a former engineer reported a gross disregard for safety regulations.
Vokes said, “The controls for the industry are there but they are not being implemented or enforced. We have the technology to do things right, but we don’t have the willpower.”
Since the other sections of the Keystone pipeline have become active, there have been 14 spills. Tar sands oil isn’t exactly an easy cleanup job either. Two years after the massive spill in the Kalamazoo River, thick black ooze cropping up.
“It’s like molasses but even a little thicker,” said John Bolenbaugh to NPR. Bolenbaugh was a clean-up worker on the spill who eventually turned whistleblower.
“It smells like asphalt, kind of. When it was fresh, it was a horrible, horrible smell, like they just paved your road, but they paved it on all four sides of your house, and you had to stay there for months. It was that bad.”
The extraction of tar sands oil produces 5%-15% more greenhouse gas emissions that average crude oil. The process also use 4 barrels of water for every 1 barrel of oil produced. Nearby residents and indigenous tribes to the Alberta region have experienced abnormally high rates of cancer linked to the tar sands production.
There are several studies that show the Keystone XL pipeline will actually have a negative impact on U.S. jobs. If the Keystone XL is approved, how much are we risking for limited economic impact?