Friday, March 13, 2015

Student Blog #6: #KXL Why Now?

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post titled “Obama Declares Venezuela a Threat to U.S National Security” (Mason and Rampton 2015).  The United States is an oil-rich country that loves to take heavy oil (or crude oil, dirty oil, etc.) from a so called, ‘strong’ ally (if it ever was) and use it domestically. However, the U.S is the number one purchaser of crude oil from Venezuela.  Yet, if this failing relationship continues, a strain on imports from that country, no matter how unlikely, could happen.  This short introduction brings me to the main point of this article: America, finish building Keystone XL!

If you are reading this article I can assume that you have some knowledge on the debate surrounding KXL. But let’s quickly recap: The Keystone Pipeline has been planned for about six years now.  This multi-year debate on Keystone XL is actually just phase four of the project.  This project began in the early 2000s when I was just a little tot in school. Since then, oil prices have risen as the ‘War on Terror’ began and Canada’s (well Alberta’s) northern oil sands began to interest companies that needed to transport oil out to the Gulf Coast to ship it to China or another overseas country.  Phase one was approved under the Bush administration in 2008.  Phase two is also now complete. Phase three has been put into construction.  Phase one runs from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, Phase two runs from Steele City to Cushing, Oklahoma.  Phase three continues this down to Texas, where it branches off to two ports.  There is a heck of a lot that goes on between those places however.  Phase four is where the current controversy arises.

KXL would duplicate Phase one, however, with a shorter, more direct route and a wider pipeline.  This pipeline does not just carry Canadian oil. American crude oil would join the Canadian oil in Baker, Montana.  The main debate for anti-KXL activists would be that the pipeline is dangerously bad for the environment (along with other issues).  Supporters of KXL, including myself, argue that oil is an essential commodity to grow the world economy and that the pipeline is a safe way to move oil to refineries.  Furthermore, the pipeline would improve both countries politically, socially, economically and whatever other word you can think of that ends with ‘ly’.

The Sand Hills region in Nebraska presented a problem with environmental concerns.  KXL was originally planned to go right through this beautiful region, which also supplied eight states with clean drinking water.  TransCanada, a Calgary based company, immediately proposed fourteen different routes the pipeline could take, including one that completely avoided the Sand Hills region.  In November of 2011, the Nebraska Legislature passed two bills to allow TransCanada to alter the route.  A year earlier, in 2010, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a report stating that KXL would pose no real threat to the environment as long as all safety procedures are followed.  A few months following the TransCanada route change in Nebraska, TransCanada issued an environmental study stating that “based on extensive feedback from Nebraskans, this reflects our shared desire to minimize the disturbance of land and sensitive resources in the state” (Reuters 2012).

Now, I understand defending TransCanada’s claims with their own claim is problematic, however, the Federally regulated EPA’s report is clear.  The environmental risks are minimal.  However, the potential of an oil spill also looms large for anti- KXL activists.  A spill would obviously pollute the air and any water it contaminated, however, the main issue of water contamination was avoided when TransCanada re-routed the pipeline around Sandy Hills.  Moreover, as many scholars have suggested, if there was a leak around the “Ogallala Aquifer” (the Nebraska fresh water reserve), it would not be bad enough to penetrate the aquifer.  It is obvious that a spill into fresh water would take a lot of money and time to clean.  A spill would affect wildlife and agriculture in the area of the spill and that would be devastating for many ecosystems.
Yet, the argument that KXL could negatively affect these ecosystems is overstated.  Look, I completely understand that a pipeline is not going to save our environment.  However, it is not going to necessarily hurt it and that is my point.  There are already numerous pipelines that go East-West or North-South through and around the Sand Hills of Nebraska.  Although they are minor compared to the proposed size of KXL, they are still there moving oil daily.

Here is another fact to consider: we are all dependent on oil!  From the natural gas or coal power plants powering our homes, to the electric car you are thinking about buying or your stove at home, they all have one thing in common: they need oil.  A large portion of Canadian GDP is determined by how many barrels of oil are sold.  Provincial and Federal economies all, to some extent, rely on oil. Where does North America get that oil from? You guessed it, by train from Canada and developing countries around the world.

Well Mr. President, why not drastically eliminate your dependence on moving oil by train and approve this pipeline? If you google which is the safest way to move oil, pipeline beats rail every time.  There were over 1000 rail accidents last year in the U.S (over 100 deaths) and only eleven pipeline accidents.  The last human fatality due to pipeline accident was in 1988, my eldest sister had not yet been born (she is 25).  Pipelines are safe and it is as simple as that.  There are thousands of reports, articles, and essays to defend this point. Ideally, the Barack Obama administration would use the small economic gain from this pipeline to end some of their dependence on third world oil and maybe actually help develop those countries.

KXL would also create jobs.  This is a key point pro-KXL supporters bring up.  The U.S State Department released a report in 2012 stating that 40,000 jobs would be created during the construction of KXL.  Although most of them are not permanent, that is still 40,000 jobs America! The President, in 2013, publically stated that KXL would maybe produce “2,200 permanent jobs” (Reuters 2013).  The President clearly was not pleased with his State Departments findings, even still, isn’t 2,200 jobs better than zero?  This is an essential reason why public opinion polls all support the KXL in the U.S.  The Republican Party received a majority in the Senate in the 2014 fall election partially because of its support of KXL.  The Republican led Congress and Senate then passed KXL in January and sent it to the President for approval.  President Obama vetoed the bill just two weeks ago and the Congressional override did not produce its needed two thirds majority to support the project.

It is looking more and more unlikely that KXL will pass and this is problematic for both of our countries.  As Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer stated “the choice is to have it come down by a pipeline that he approves, or without his approval, it comes down on trains” (McCarthy 2013).  The U.S is already using Canadian oil, receiving millions of barrels of oil daily.  Much of that oil comes through pipeline and crude oil will be used no matter what, so it is our challenge to make it as safe as possible.

KXL would drastically improve both of our nations’ economies. It would bring more Canadian oil to the U.S, thus eliminating its dependence on third world countries.  KXL would produce more jobs for both countries and ultimately make the movement of heavy oil safer.  Those summary points, in my eyes, drastically improve our common good.  There is no liberal way out of this debate, either you agree with me, or you think KXL is dangerous.  To those against, I strongly encourage you to really think about this issue and why we depend on oil, or what good oil can do for our society. KXL would do wonders for the common good of both Canada and the United States.

-Wyatt Carleton
Twitter: @WACarl10


  1. Summary*** in that last paragraph

  2. Good blog. I agree that the pipeline is safer than train transportation.
    However, I am not too convinced that the trade of oil will benefit the common good. I think that we should maybe look at new ways to acquire energy and start looking at not using oil as our main source.

  3. There just isn't anything up to par yet. I read a study saying in 50 years the US will be at 30% wind power. Now that's a good thing, however, that is a very slow turnaround. Biofuels are unstable and also unproven, there just is not a viable option right now to counter our dependency on oil.

  4. Interesting blog Wyatt. Thanks for your insight into the topic. I do however cringe every time I hear the "you're either for it, or you're against society" type of rhetoric that always comes along with polarizing issues.

    I can agree with the majority of what you’re saying if I take a narrow approach to the conceptual formulation regarding the meaning of “the good life”: Jobs, economic prosperity, maintaining the status quo, growth growth growth, etc.

    However, I think it is a valuable exercise to question whether the current setup of society is truly promoting a “good life” for people—even rich people. Is productivity the end goal? Where are we growing to? How will this impact future generations? Do we care? If we don’t. Why not? When we are constantly striving for more in the future, do we get to feel alive now?

    I personally think it is near impossible to maintain the level of mass consumerism many people are engaged in without oil. That is not to say I think we should give up on investing in alternative energy.

    However, I think the biggest question for me is not how do we find alternative sources of energy to preserve our current lifestyles, but rather, how do we find alternative lifestyles that can be sustained by our current sources of energy.

  5. Thanks Michelle, I will answer that on Thursday if you want me too, I probably would type too much!! Thanks for the kind words as well

    1. Sure! I'm certain it will be an interesting discussion.

      In the meantime:

  6. Hi Wyatt,

    I Disagree with your conclusion. Your main points are good but looking at the Big Picture is where the fight really is.

    " Furthermore, the pipeline would improve both countries politically, socially, economically and whatever other word you can think of that ends with ‘ly’.

    Well actually 'environmentally' KXL Pipeline fails quite miserably.
    If passed, this pipeline prolongs the continuity of oil usage when in fact other options are available.
    The amount of emissions created to dig up Tar Sands, package and dilute (Dilbit) and ultimately send this goop to the U.S. to refine into usable gasoline etc is quite massive.

    If Canadians really want to use Tar Sands; why not refine it here at home? More jobs, more cheap gas and less emissions than transporting it to US THEN buying it back at higher price!

    The other side is looking to the Future.
    People want what oil gives us but don't want the problems.
    Enter the Clean Energy Agenda that President Obama has presented.

    In a short time, the US and even the world can wean itself off of oil and utilize cleaner energy sources.

    -electric cars-
    Energy Conservation

    It is all waiting for us to Embrace Change and step into the future.
    Like nuclear power (a failed technology), we can choose to stay with oil (no matter the consequences) or start down a different path.

    The Saskatchewan Green Party chooses to reach for the future now.

    1. Excellent points, Victor. Thanks for your insight!

    2. Victor, if we reach for the future now (especially in western Canada) we would most likely freeze in our winter months. Solar CANNOT sustain us in Canada. I believe investment is important, however, it is a fantasy to have that now. Like Obamas clean energy we have invested a lot into cleaner initiatives (Saskpowers clean coal, etc.). Coal is obviously on the wait out, and I respectfully disagree with your claim o nuclear being a fail. Saskatchewan has massive amounts of uranium we could tap into, and the long term on Nuclear is fantastic (not to mention safer than ever).

      Even if we were to completely change course, countries such as China and Japan (large portion of our world) will not reduce their emissions, so how will that help us? No I know that is a negative view on our population, yet, that point still stands that a complete change is just unrealistic.

      As far as biofuels go, it takes a lot of money and effort, but even in Saskatoon we can see investment into biofuels. In a world where shortage of food is of the upmost importance, Saskatchewan has the tools for food storage (potash) and food as a whole (agriculture, etc.). To use our agriculture for fuel, believe, is to deny possibly millions of people food in our world. It is clear where I stand on the food v. Fuel debate. Thank you for your reply Victor!

  7. There is no liberal way out of this debate, either you agree with me, or you think KXL is dangerous.

    This type of black or white reasoning seems to be the basis of much of your argument. You've made some decent points in favour of the pipeline, but then to bolster your position you've misrepresented or entirely omitted some of the better 'liberal' arguments against (you seem convinced that anyone against the pipeline must be a liberal). Liberal or not, those against the pipeline tend to be environmentally minded, and while you may be correct in your assertion that a pipeline could be the safest way to transport oil, you conveniently do no mention the multitude of environmental problems associated with oil sands extraction itself. From inefficiency of production and elevated carbon emissions, to groundwater contamination, and excessive water usage, it should be quite clear that the keystone pipeline debate is not merely about how safely it can transport oil.

    As Victor says above, the bigger picture is where the concern lies. In this new age of battery powered cars, windmills, solar panels, hydrogen cars, and sustainable fusion perhaps just years away, the Keystone XL pipeline represents a blue pill/red pill proposition. Do we want build this pipeline which will keep fossil fuels viable for longer, as well as hinder innovation and investment in other sources of energy? Or are we finally willing to draw a line in the sand, look to the future, and make environmental protection and green energy our priorities, whatever the economic cost.

    1. Please read my reply to Victor, I believe I cover this. Of course I do not mention the problems, however, I respectfully disagree with the assertion of the size of this issue. I also do cover groundwater contamination in my article.

    2. Of course I do not mention the problems, however, I respectfully disagree with the assertion of the size of this issue.

      President Obama has often remarked on the cost ineffectiveness and environmental hazard that oil sands crude represents. Surely that makes it an issue worth arguing? And this is not the only argument you’ve ignored or misrepresented. First, your figure of 2200 permanent post-construction jobs has been revised down to somewhere ‘between 20 to a few hundred’ (Link). According to a Cornell University study, the pipeline destroys more jobs than it creates (Link). At this point, predictions of jobs indirectly created by the Keystone XL pipeline are premature guesses which seem to be based on the idea that the pipeline will permanently stabilize oil prices in the region. However, we have good reason to believe this will not be the case. The State Department’s final review of the pipeline showed that TransCanada Corp is entirely unwilling to require that the Keystone crude remain in North America after it has been refined. Apparently, three quarters of the oil has already been contracted to foreign companies who seem intent on moving the product into the higher priced global markets (Link).

      As for the environment: you might disagree on the size of the issue, but NASA climate scientists do not. Dr. James Hansen called the Keystone XL pipeline “a fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet,” and remarked that the eventual release of all the carbon stored in the Canadian tar sands would mean “game over” for the planet (Link). As for pipeline safety, the old Keystone 1 pipeline was predicted to spill once every seven years, but actually spilled twelve times in its first year and more than thirty times since it became operational (Link). There is little reason to believe Keystone XL will be much different. In fact, TransCanada has admitted that Keystone XL’s real time leak detection system can’t be relied upon to detect leaks smaller than about 700,000 gallons a day (Link). This is especially troubling since the pipeline’s route would pass over the largest underground water source in the US (Link).

      Nobody is saying that we should immediately abandon oil and freeze to death next winter (hello straw man), but the Keystone XL pipeline seems like a large infrastructure investment which benefits a select few rather than contributing meaningfully to the common good. Investment that could be better spent elsewhere. Since he’s a legend, Robert Redford gets the last word: “Tar sands crude means a dirtier, more dangerous future for our children all so that the oil industry can reach the higher prices of overseas markets. This dirty energy project is all risk and no reward for the American people."


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