Courtenay Bjorndahl breaks down the issues surrounding the controversial new Keystone XL pipeline, which would provide a more stable supply of oil as tension continues with the Middle East, but also represents a potential danger to one of the largest aquifers in the nation.
The United States has relied heavily on the Middle East for its oil. However, importing oil from countries we have strained relationships with results in national security issues. The U.S. would like to import more oil from Canada, but the infrastructure is nonexistent. This is where the Keystone XL Pipeline comes into play. TransCanada, a company responsible for building energy infrastructure in North America, wants to create this pipeline that would run from Alberta, Canada all the way down to the Gulf Coast. The oil that would be delivered and shipped on Keystone XL is tar sands oil, which is a combination of tar, sand, oil, clay, water, and bitumen. What distinguishes tar sands oil from shale oil is that it contains these particles of sand, surrounded by a microscopic layer of water that is itself enclosed by bitumen which is very thick oil. Separating the oil from the oil sands is considerably easier because of this water layer, since the oil is suspended in the water/sand layer and not directly stuck on or in the sand as is the instance for oil shale. This makes oil shale far more energy intensive to separate. If the pipeline becomes an addition, it could double the amount of oil that the U.S. imports from Canada.
What are some more of the positives? Well, the pipeline would create many jobs. TransCanada estimates that they would employ 13,000 Americans to construct the pipeline with 7,000 manufacturing jobs throughout the U.S. As well, 118,000 follow-up jobs would arise as local businesses along the pipeline route would see increased demand. This could be seen as beneficial because it would create jobs in a difficult time when we’re trying to come back from the recession. Also, there would be added stability in oil prices and supply. However, there are very mixed predictions when it comes to the discussion of the amount of jobs the pipeline would provide. For example, the State Department disagrees with TransCanada and states that after studying their proposal, it would create approximately 5,000 to 6,000 direct construction jobs and downplayed any major long-standing employment enhancement. Most of the large figures we hear have been quoted numerous times over the past six months by GOP leaders and industry representatives in the push for Congress to approve Keystone XL. It seems that the numbers vary as for those who are in favor of it and those who are not.
Critics of the pipeline have two main concerns that cause them to worry: the route of the pipeline running directly over an aquifer and TransCanada’s safety track record. The proposed route of the pipeline travels right over Ogallala Aquifer, an enormous underground lake of water that extends from South Dakota to Texas. According to the National Wildlife Foundation, the Ogallala Aquifer provides drinking water for millions of people and irrigates 20 percent of America’s agricultural harvest. An oil leak into the Ogallala would have overwhelming effects on inhabitants, businesses and farmland in the Great Plains area. The NWF also claims that TransCanada doesn’t have a proficient track record for safety. In fact, in one report, they list 12 TransCanada spills in one year, including a 21,000 gallon oil spill. From 1990 to 2005 there were more than 4,700 oil spills according to the same report.
Despite criticism from both the environmentalist view and the view of those supporting the idea of more jobs being created, President Obama’s rejection of the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline project wasn’t due to its worth. His administration claims that Congress attempted to pressure him with a strict deadline. President Obama felt that the deadline was too short to evaluate the environmental impact of the project and to make an informed decision. On the other hand, this rejection is not conclusive. TransCanada can surely submit an amended proposal. In actuality, TransCanada stated they have already been in conversation with the U.S. Department of State and fourteen different routes are being studied, including eight impacting Nebraska. One route actually avoids the Ogallala Aquifer all together.
The issue is really just the unions clamoring for the pipeline, saying thousands of jobs are at stake, versus the environmentalists that are passionately opposed to it. This controversial pipeline is sure to become a key issue in the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. As the campaign for President unfolds, the country will see more of it, especially as job creation and America’s oil dependency continue to be hot topics. Due to the rejection of the proposed route, it is likely that any final decision on the pipeline will be delayed until after the 2012 presidential election. This Keystone XL pipeline is certainly going to influence who voters put into office and until after the election, only time will tell how this divisive matter will be permanently addressed.