Your chance to sound off about a hot button issue.
What do you think about the Keystone Pipeline? Why has it become such a lightning rod?
Do these facts change your opinion?
Keystone is a multi-phased project. Several sections have already been built and are in use. The Keystone XL pipeline that is under consideration and the subject of controversy is the last of four phases.
Oil extracted from the tar sands/oil sands in Alberta, Canada is called bitumen. At 57 degrees fahrenheit it is as hard as a hockey puck. It must be warmed or diluted before it can be piped. Extraction is energy intensive.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline crosses an international border. Approval depends on a finding by President Obama’s administration that construction will be in the national interest. Proponents say it will help the economy and lessen dependence on oil from hostile suppliers. Opponents say it will worsen global warming, and that spills will cause environmental damage.
￼Existing pipelines: Three segments of the pipeline are already in use: (1) Hardisty, Alberta to Steel City, Nebraska and Pakota, Illinois. (2) Steele City to Cushing, Oklahoma, and (3) Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas. The controversial route more or less duplicates the Hardisty to Steele City route, but is shorter (see green line on map, runs through Baker, Montana).
Several additional pipeline routes to carry oil across Canada are being planned; and, a pipe parallel to an existing line from Hardisty to Wisconsin, has been proposed.
Spills: Over the last ten years, 4.1 million gallons of petroleum and hazardous liquids have been spilled each year in pipeline accidents, causing an average of two deaths per year. Property damage: $263 million annually. The Keystone Phase 1 pipeline, which opened in 2009, has had 12 reported leaks. In 2010, over a million gallons of Canadian diluted bitumen spilled from a pipeline into the Kalamazoo River. As of Aug. 2013, Enbridge Corporation, the company that built and maintains the pipeline, had spent more than $1 billion to repair and mitigate the damage. Cleanup is still underway.
Train transport: The number of train shipments of bitumen-derived oil has increased exponentially in recent years. Transporting by train is more dangerous than by pipeline.
Train accidents involving oil transport in 2013:
- ￼July, Lac Megantic, Quebec: Oil train derailed and seventy two tanker cars exploded and burned. Forty seven people died. Forty downtown buildings were destroyed. Cleanup estimate: at least $200 million.
- Oct., Gainford, Alberta: Four rail cars carrying crude oil and nine carrying liquified petroleum gas derailed in Alberta. The fire burned for days.
- Nov., Aliceville, Alabama: Crude-oil tanker train derailed and burned. Released up to 750,000 gallons of oil.
- Dec., Casselton, North Dakota: 20 cars in a train carrying crude oil ignited after colliding with a derailed grain train near Casselton, N.D., sending up a fireball and spilling an estimated to 476,000 gallons of oil.
Environmental impact of bitumen vs. ordinary oil: From shale to tail pipe, bitumen releases 17 to 20 % more carbon into the atmosphere than regular gasoline.
Jobs: temporary jobs (one year or less, full and part time) 42,000. Permanent jobs: 30 to 50.
Scribbler’s view: It was a surprise to learn how much of the Keystone Pipeline is already finished, how common pipeline spills are and how much oil is transported by rail. Tar sands oil extraction is more dangerous and dirtier than I thought, and more of a done deal.
The last phase of the XL project will probably be approved. Even if it isn’t, stopping the construction of the pipeline will not end the extraction, shipment and burning of bitumen-derived oil from Canada. At most it would increase costs. This is a symbolic fight, a line in the ‘sand,’ and rallying point to organize fights against practices which worsen climate change.The legacy and value of the controversy will be new political alliances, and that the fight has brought the issue to the headlines.
How do you think Congress and the President should/will resolve the Keystone controversy?