Unease envelops Keystone pipeline

Controversy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline is surging, as the United States Senate is expected to vote on it next week following the House’s recent approval of the pipeline proposal. It’s likely that key votes could come down to a small group of undecided Democrats who are being targeted by proponents in a bid to move forward with the legislation.

If approved, the pipeline would move about 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Proponents contend that this would help the U.S. rely less on volatile oil from countries in the Middle East. Furthermore, it could create jobs — initial estimates state that 9,000 Americans stand to gain jobs — and provide other economic benefits, such as increased tax revenues, to towns it would run through.

Critics point out that while the pipeline has been touted as being a safe alternative to transporting oil by railway, there are still inherent environmental concerns to transporting tar sands.

Possible leakages could result in expensive clean-up costs. A 2010 pipeline leak of bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River has resulted in $1 billion in cleanup costs so far, in addition to health problems for local residents stemming from errant bitumen flowing freely around.

While we acknowledge the benefits of the pipeline, we remind proponents that building this comes with large, expensive environmental risks that could far exceed any short-term economic gains. Safety precautions and a contingency plan must be in place so that the inevitable finger-pointing cannot result if a leak occurs.