Sustained Argument about why the Keystone XL Pipeline is Bad (Last Post)

Pipeline under construction in Alberta, Canada

Background

The topic I have chosen to focus on throughout my time in English 214 are the two recently revived pipelines, the Keystone XL and North Dakota Access pipelines. I have covered a wide range of subject matter related to this topic which includes the ongoing protests, the pros and cons, and researching what exactly the effect the pipelines will have. I have always been against the pipelines ever since I first heard about them in early 2015 and after this semester, my opinion hasn’t changed. However, I will specifically focusing on why the Keystone XL is un-beneficial to not only for our environment, but also the economy. But of course, in order to go forward, we must first go back and take a look at what exactly the Keystone XL pipeline is.

First proposed in 2008 by energy infrastructure company TransCanada, the XL pipeline is actually an extension to the already built Keystone pipeline that currently runs from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Illinois, Texas and oil tank farms in Oklahoma. Ever since the XL was first proposed, it’s been plagued with controversy, mainly from concerned environmentalists who claim the project would go against “advocates of energy independence and economic growth.”

The project has also been a major spectacle of political debate, dividing the public and the major political parties alike. To be more specific, according to the Pew Research Center, they found that out of a sample of 1,503 US adults, 48% of the sample are opposed to building the pipeline while 42% are in favor. What’s more interesting is that citizens who identify as republicans are nearly 5 times more likely to support the pipeline than democrats. The main reasons republicans are so for the pipeline is because they believe the XL is safe, reliable and will benefit the economy (specifically the oil business). Most democrats oppose the XL due to concerns over climate change, public safety and environmental damage. Statistical evidence finds that 76% of republicans favor the pipeline while only 17% think the same.

Political Party Viewpoints

The pipeline was an intense issue for the Obama administration and an immense amount of pressure was put on Obama to either reject or support the XL’s construction. The debate heated up early in 2015 and it was initially predicted that Obama would allow the XL to live on. However, in early November 2015, President Obama announced that he rejected TransCanada’s request to build the XL extension. “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama said during his public address of the XL. “And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.” President Obama rejected the pipeline because he wanted America to commit to countering global warming and he believed this was a necessary first step for the nation.

Donald Trump signing executive orders to revive the pipeline

The Keystone XL project laid dead and the battle was thought to be over, but as soon as President Donald Trump took office, he reversed Obama’s decision and signed an executive order in January 2017 to advance revive the Keystone XL and it’s currently once again under review and could possibly begin construction in late 2017.

My Claim

The pipeline has sparked a numerous amount of protests from the public, some who claim the pipeline is good, but mainly to claim the pipeline will hurt the US if it’s built. Therefore, it is understandable that we would want to save the environment and if the project truly doesn’t yield any actual economic benefits, then it needs to be stopped. And although the Keystone XL has potential positive impacts for America, we must come together and understand that this pipeline is bad for our environment and our economy; therefore it should not be built. I’ll be going more in depth on the purpose of the pipeline, the environmental effects, the economic effects, the counter argument and the overall solution to this very big problem.

Purpose

Segment of the XL

In short, the Keystone XL pipeline would be 1,179 miles long and run from Hardisty, Alberta Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Steele City, Nebraska. The XL will help the already existing Keystone pipeline transport 830,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. However, this pipeline is not carrying typical crude oil. It will be running tar sands which is basically heavy clumps of oil. The tar sands will be mined from the tar sand fields in Alberta which will then be transported and refined into crude oil. So overall, the one true purpose of the XL is to supply more Canadian crude oil to the US Gulf Coast refineries that are facing potential shortages because of “declining heavy crude production from Mexico and Venezuela, the US’s main suppliers.” This means that the Keystone XL is a simple transaction from Canada to the US, a case of a seller and a buyer coming together to profit from the transaction. So why is this a bad thing?

Map

Environmental Effects

The Keystone XL has many environmental downsides and although it can be argued the impact will be small, that couldn’t be further from the truth. First off, using Canadian tar sands is extremely troublesome and tedious. Not only is it financially unwise, it sells less than crude oil from say a Texas refinery, and tar sand is extremely troublesome to transport and mine. That being said, if we rely on use of tar sands, we’ll need more strip mines which can hurt Canada’s rivers and streams, cause them heavy erosion and create pollution that could hurt Canadian citizens and wildlife.

Tar Sands

Getting back to the more serious American concerns, the biggest risk we face are leaks from the XL. Tar sands have been found to be more corrosive than standard corrosive oil which means that the pipeline has a better chance of developing weak points and ultimately leaking. To support this, Cornell University Global Labor Institute created a study that found that existing pipelines in America that already carry tar sand oil spill around three more times per mile than pipelines that carry standard crude oil. In fact, if a leak were to occur, it would be terribly more complex to clean up because like mentioned before, tar sands are dangerous to animals and humans. Primarily, if tar sand oil leaks into waterways, it could contaminate water sources for agriculture and environmentally sensitive areas. According to Kim Ong, staff attorney at the National Resources Defense Council, he claims that “to date, no known way of cleaning up [tar sand] oil [is possible].” This is because tar sand oil sinks immediately to the bottom of contaminated waterways.

What a leak could look like

Another risk related to the XL pipeline is climate change. There has been much debate whether the pipeline has the ability to affect the climate, but according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the XL can and will contribute to climate change. Again, it all boils down to the Keystone XL’s use of tar sand oils. The EPA found that “extracting oil from the tar sands generates more greenhouse gases than extracting oil through more conventional methods and therefore contributes to a greater amount of greenhouse gas emissions over time.” This means that if oil is being extracted faster and faster, more greenhouse gas will be released. Also, the US State Department determined that oil from the Canadian tar sands produces about 17 percent more greenhouse gas pollution than if we used normal crude oil.

Let’s not forget about the animals! The Keystone XL’s construction, maintenance, and potential oil spills can heavily damage habitats and kill animals. To be more specific, it has been found that the whooping crane, an endangered species, is at risk of flying into power lines that would come from XL and kill them. Another animal considered is the swift fox, whose habitat would be destroyed because it is on the route of the XL. Other animals AND plant species in danger include American burying beetles, gray wolf, Dakota skipper, rufa red knot and western prairie fringed orchid. The US State Department says the pipeline doesn’t exactly pose a threat to the listed animal habitats, but the potential for them to be affected is always a possibility.

Chart for endangered species

Economic Effects

The Keystone XL has been promised by big oil industries to positively affect the American economy, but vast numbers of official reports say otherwise. To get the tar sands out of the way, according to the NRDC, tar sands are economically and unwise to invest in. This is because tar sands are very difficult to get out of the ground and require a longer process than mining for standard crude oil. In the end, tar sands actually sell for about $20–30 less per barrel. This is particularly why TransCanada wants the keystone XL to be built because profit would be cut short and TransCanada and the US could lose money if the tar sands were transported on a railway system. In short, if there’s no pipeline we would rely on rail to transport the tar sand oil which in turn would not make the US money and possibly lose us money.

In terms of job creation, no the XL will not create a boom of long term jobs. The XL does need a lot of workers during construction, but it has been found that the XL will only create 35 full time jobs once construction is done. It has also been claimed by “dirty energy lobbyists” that the use of tar sands will bring US fuel prices down, but NRDC found that a majority of the XL will be sent to markets overseas which in turn could lead to higher fuel prices in the future.

Referring back to the Cornell University Global Labor Institute’s study, the board found that “the socio-economic impacts of the Keystone XL Project will be of a temporary nature and limited to the relatively short duration of pipeline construction without significant long term effect on the surrounding communities. (Emphasis added)” This is important because although the study acknowledged that the short term jobs created are by no means insignificant, they won’t last after construction, families aren’t expected to move near the construction area and the jobs created would most likely be primarily for local workers who live near the construction site. So, the economic “boom” the fossil fuel industry claims will happen in job creation is clearly being over exaggerated and are being used to sell the idea of an economic positive.

To summarize everything said above, the XL will have short term positive effects which will only last anywhere from 6 months to a year. There is no boom in generation and there is nothing totally significantly positive about the pipeline.

Counter Argument

To be fair, proponents of the Keystone XL have the right to their own opinions and with every good argument, we must look at viewpoints from both sides. The main advocates for the XL are, without a doubt, a majority of republicans who are in favor of the oil industry. Other advocates include the oil industries themselves and of course, TransCanada, the builder of the pipeline at hand. Through extensive research, there are plenty of websites that argue for the XL, most of them are extremely opinionated, but I came across a brochure from TransCanada called “Straight Talk about the Keystone XL Pipeline: Addressing Myths with Facts.” The brochure covers a wide range of material which is basically the overall argument most republicans and proponents make when discussing the XL pipeline. What’s interesting is that while the facts presented aren’t necessarily incorrect, they are very sugar coated.

The Brochure by TransCanada

First off, the brochure claims that the XL is the safest pipeline that will ever be built, citing that it will use satellite technology to “monitor 20,000 data points on the pipeline’s operating conditions.” While this sounds comforting, the already existing Keystone pipeline was claimed to be just as safe, but it’s already leaked oil over 35 times. The worst leak was in South Dakota of last April and the pipeline leaked 17,000 gallons of oil. The leak went undetected by the pipeline’s spill detection system and went unnoticed until reported in by a local resident.

Secondly, the brochure says the Keystone XL will create over 9,000 construction jobs for “pipe fitters, welders, electricians, heavy equipment operators and many more.” What it fails to include is that these jobs will only be filled in by locals in the areas of construction sites and that the jobs created would last only a little less than year.

A third claim that is totally untrue is when the brochure claims that tar sands are no different than crude oil and is safe to transport. This is clearly false and as evidenced by earlier arguments about tar sands, it is more expensive to mine, is a waste of money, and is extremely more toxic to organic life and is nearly impossible to clean up than crude oil.

The brochure tries to normalize the XL pipeline by using the concept of logos and use of positive facts, but it fails to make a persuasive argument given it’s not using the “entire” truth (it makes a vague one-sided argument with not enough evidence).

Solution

Now it’s very clear why the Keystone XL pipeline is a bad idea. Not only is it un-beneficial to the economy it has the potential to hurt environment. Everything about it, including it’s use of tar sand, greenhouse emissions, short term jobs, etc, are red flags that can’t go unnoticed. Since Donald Trump has technically “expedited” the construction of the XL, it looks like there’s not much the public can do. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a lot of online petitions that we can sign, just do a quick thorough google search and we can also protest. Protests have been going on ever since the pipeline’s proposal and they have no sign of slowing down. Whether the protests be near the construction site in Dakota or Washington, the public can protest to make their voices heard!

Protests (not for the XL but related North Dakota Access Pipeline)

Another way to support the cause against the pipeline is to support renewable energy. In fact, the Department of Energy reported that in 2016, the economy created 230,000 new clean energy and efficiency jobs which accounted for 10% of the nation’s job growth. This is nearly triple the amount of job creation of the total fossil fuels industry jobs in America in 2016 and these types of jobs will only continue to grow. By supporting renewable energy, we can help shift America from dirty energy to clean energy. It’ll be a slow process, but hopefully in the next 50 years we’ll be a mostly renewable energy dependent nation.

Lastly, there is comfort in knowing that the XL could remain a proposed thought. President Trump’s executive order doesn’t guarantee construction, all it does is encourage TransCanada to resubmit their application to build the pipeline and have a slightly better chance at getting approved. Also, the company must “seek approval from Nebraskan authorities — a process than can take 8 to 12 months, and then must still seek right-of-way access for the pipeline. Ranchers and Native Americans are ready to fight to protect the lands they have stewarded for generations.” Aside from activists and the law, the nation as a whole greatly opposes the pipeline currently and referring back to the Pew Research Center’s poll, they estimate almost half of Americans are obsessed to the Keystone XL while only about 40% of Americans support the project.

Estimated American Approval

Therefore, given all the evidence stacked against it, the Keystone XL should not be built. It is bad for the economy, for the environment and it isn’t beneficial to America. That being said, I hope you have gained a better understanding about the Keystone XL pipeline and come to understand all the risks that come with it!

SOURCES:

Brady, Heather. “4 Impacts of the Keystone XL and North Dakota Acess Pipelines.” National Geographic , 25 Jan. 2017. Accessed 6 Mar. 2017.

Krauss, Clifford. “Keystone XL Pipeline: A New Opening, but What Lies Ahead?.” The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2017,https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/business/energy-environment/keystone-xl-pipeline.html. Accessed 10 Feb. 2017.

Davenport, Coral. “Citing Climate Change, Obama Rejects Construction of Keystone XL Oil Pipeline.” The New York Times, 6 Nov. 2015. Accessed 13 May 2017.

Swift, Anthony. “The Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Is Still a Bad Idea.” Natural Resources Defense Council, 23 Jan. 2017. Accessed 14 May 2017.

Denchak, Melissa. “What Is the Keystone Pipeline?.” National Resources Defense Council, 7 Apr. 2017. Accessed 14 May 2017.

Suls, Rob. “Public divided over Keystone XL, Dakota pipelines; Democrats turn decisively against Keystone.” Pew Research Center, 21 Feb. 2017. Accessed 9 May 2017.

“Straight Talk about the Keystone XL Pipeline Addressing Myths with Facts.” TransCanada, Nov. 2013. Accessed 16 May 2017.

Mearns, Euan. “Keystone XL Pipeline: Why The Big Fuss?.” Oil Price, 19 Jan. 2015. Accessed 17 May 2017.

Palmer, Brian. “The Tar Sands Bubble.” National Resources Defense Council, 2 Oct. 2014. Accessed 16 May 2017.

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