Canada’s tar sands have been dubbed “the most environmentally destructive project on Earth,” and guess what? Now a money-hungry oil company wants to transport that crude acidic oil thousands of miles south to the Gulf Coast in Texas by constructing a massive new pipeline, known as the Keystone XL. Not only would construction of the pipeline tear apart many miles of land in the U.S., but it would require Canada to double its tar sands production, which destroys boreal forests and emits much higher greenhouse gas emissions than traditional oil production. Since Saturday, hundreds of protesters have sat outside the White House, urging Obama to stop Keystone XL, which needs approval from the State Department to continue. More than 160 protesters have been arrested, but we certainly hope that Mr. President is hearing their message loud and clear.
The State Department is currently furthering the study of the pipeline’s environmental impact, and a spokesperson has said that our country’s energy security plays a role in the decision making process, meaning that unrest in the Middle East could prove detrimental to the environmentalists’ quest. The privately funded Keystone XL would expand an existing 2,154-mile pipeline that runs from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska and then east to Patoka, Illinois. The 1,661 extension would wind through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma to oil refineries near Houston.
Yesterday, the New York Times published an op-ed taking a stance against the pipeline, highlighting the paper’s main concerns of oil spills and the fact that tar sands create way more emissions than conventional oil production:
The Canadian government insists that it has found ways to reduce those emissions. But a new report from Canada’s environmental ministry shows how great the impact of the tar sands will be in the coming years, even with cleaner production methods.
It projects that Canada will double its current tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. That rate will mean cutting down some 740,000 acres of boreal forest — a natural carbon reservoir. Extracting oil from tar sands is also much more complicated than pumping conventional crude oil out of the ground. It requires steam-heating the sands to produce a petroleum slurry, then further dilution. One result of this process, the ministry says, is that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a whole will rise by nearly one-third from 2005 to 2020.
TransCanada, the company that would be using the pipeline to transport the oil, has tried hard to curb the bad press about Keystone XL, inflating the number of jobs it would create and sugar coating the number of serious spills that would probably occur on the line. TransCanada said there could be 11 serious spills in a 50 year period, but environmental engineer John Stansbury crunched the numbers and found that a more realistic estimate is 91 serious spills.
Our country’s energy security clearly plays a big role in the State Department’s decision, and recent polls have shown that Americans are much more concerned about the price of gas than they were a year ago. But instead of building a massively destructive pipeline, we need to put our money — and our security — in clean, renewable resources that won’t destroy our environment and speed up global warming. The State is to make a decision by year’s end, and we certainly hope the department makes the right one.
Images via Tar Sands Action