In what seemed to be a fleeting moment of remembering why many of his supporters in the last presidential election voted for him, President Obama rejected, for the time, a proposal that would allow the Keystone XL pipeline extension to be built.
Had it passed, the extended pipeline would transport crude oil from tar sands in Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Though the temporary rejection of the proposal took place on January 18, many media pundits and writers are still debating whether or not it was a good decision. However, I don’t think it’s as difficult of an issue it’s been made out to be.
Proponents of the pipeline project tout claim it would create 20,000 American jobs and significantly reduce our dependence on oil from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Creating jobs that will mostly disappear when the project is finished, boosting the economy and being less dependent on OPEC (of which many members are not big fans of the United States) sounds great.
However, the sad truth of the matter is that building the pipeline would essentially put the economies of eight states, along with the environmental and public health of millions of Americans, at risk — for dirtier energy than we are currently using.
Tar sands are named so because the natural mixtures of sand, clay and highly viscous bitumen (a form of petroleum) have the same obnoxious, smelly stickiness. The environmental stress caused by the extraction and refining process of tar sands alone should’ve been reason enough for lawmakers to reject the pipeline.
The high viscosity of natural bitumen found in oil sands means after they are strip-mined (usually assisted by steam) and carried to processing facilities in giant, oil-fueled trucks, they are then heated by steam to a temperature at which they will flow freely and can be chemically processed to remove impurities. The processed bitumen is then diluted with other hydrocarbons so it can be pumped to refineries.
These processes not only require the burning of massive amounts of other fossil fuels, but also millions of gallons of fresh water, of which a mere fraction of the Earth’s water is composed of.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline extension would cover 1,700 miles of the American Midwest. Underneath those 1,700 miles lies the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides almost 30 percent of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States and approximately 80 percent of the drinking water for the people in that area. More than $20 billion worth of crops rely on that irrigation water.
For those of you who don’t know, Lubbock happens to draw its water from the Ogallala; so if you think our water is bad now, try to imagine how much worse it would be if it was contaminated by benzene, a carcinogenic and highly soluble chemical contained in bitumen.
The proposed pipeline also passes over a seismically active area in Nebraska, which experienced a 4.3 magnitude earthquake in 2002. TransCanada, the company that owns the pipeline, tried to cut corners and applied to Congress to use thinner steel — saving them almost $1 billion — and pump at higher pressures and temperatures, yet still swears they will adhere to the highest safety standards and a leak or spill is unlikely at best.
At this time, I would like to invite readers to look to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 as prime examples of how trustworthy the oil industry is when it comes to adhering to safety standards.
If all of this isn’t enough to show how much the oil industry cares about the people it impacts, TransCanada also threatened 56 landowners with confiscation of their private lands through eminent domain actions before they had federal approval to begin construction, according to the New York Times.
President Obama only postponed the decision on whether or not building the Keystone XL pipeline was in the U.S. national interest until next year, citing the 60 days Republicans in Congress gave federal agencies to assess its impact as inadequate. However, I think it’s obvious that if we plan on truly developing energy independence and sustainability, pandering to the oil industry and building this pipeline will do nothing but hold our nation back.