Keystone XL a disaster waiting to happen

Tar sands, leaky valves and political indecisiveness make expansion a risky decision.

Keelia Moeller

TransCanada, a Canadian energy company, has proposed extending the Keystone Pipeline, a 2,000-mile oil pipeline running from Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. The pipeline carries tar sands across the United States, and its extension would double U.S. imports of this material. The extension project, Keystone XL, is surrounded by a multitude of controversies.

Job estimates from TransCanada Corp. stated that extending the pipeline would add 20,000 jobs. However, other estimates have been as low as 2,000 new jobs.

These economic benefits do not outweigh the environmental damage the extension would cause.

Many are worried that the Keystone XL Pipeline would have a variety of environmental impacts. The production of more oil will increase fossil fuel emissions, leading to a faster rate of climate change.

Tar sands are one of the world’s dirtiest fuels. Producing tar sands emits three to four times more carbon dioxide
emissions than conventional oil. Likewise, the substance is also a great deal more sulfuric and acidic than typical oil, which may lead to potential leaks in the pipelines. The Keystone XL is designed to double the production of tar sands, which would unleash a chain reaction that would pollute our already damaged environment even further.

In March 2013, 12,000 barrels of oil leaked from an ExxonMobil valve in Mayflower, Ark. The Environmental Protection Agency deemed this leakage a major event. Needless to say, a leak of millions of barrels would not go unnoticed.

Oil leakages have contaminated local water resources before. In 2010, 1 million gallons of tar sands spilled in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

Furthermore, cleaning up tar sands has proven to be more expensive and time-consuming than cleaning traditional fuel spills. Tar sands sink rather than float in water, making them difficult to extract from contaminated water. The Keystone XL pipeline would be near the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to nearly 2 million Americans. This is an accident waiting to happen.

The Department of State delayed a decision in 2011, but the southern leg of the pipeline, stretching from Oklahoma to Texas, was later approved. It went into official operation this year.

The U.S. is fundamentally behind other countries on their environmental repair plans. President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have yet to devise a plan for both countries to officially begin reducing fossil fuel emissions. The development of these plans should be Obama’s main focus, and it would be wise for him to leave Keystone XL on the back burner.