The Politics of Pipe Dreams
The Keystone Pipeline System – a TransCanada Corporation project designed to transport crude oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Illinois and Texas – is not only large in its physical scope, but also in its political, social, and economic implications. Perhaps what is most at stake, however, is the environmental impact of the construction of the Keystone XL.
Keystone XL is a proposed additional segment to the already existing pipeline system, traversing about 1,700 miles from Canada to the United States and crossing highly sensitive terrain. This includes an active seismic zone in Nebraska that experienced an earthquake as recent as 2002, and the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground freshwater source in the Great Plains which provides drinking water for two million people and supports one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cattle and cotton industries in the United States. A leak in these areas would clearly prove calamitous to those affected, both in terms of potential health issues that could be caused and the funds needed to address repairs. Bitumen, a component of the oil sands, is specifically conducive to explosions and corrosion, having already led to 14 minor leaks in Keystone. In dealing with these variables of simultaneous magnitude and fragility, it has become clear that the risks the construction of the Keystone XL poses cannot be overstated.
Beyond these immediate concerns, Keystone XL does not provide even a partial solution to the issue of American dependence on foreign oil, contrary to what many of its supporters claim. OPEC’s oligopolistic power and vast supply of cheap oil ensure that it will be difficult for the United States to make itself energy independent in the near-future. Indeed, the domestic oil generated through the pipeline will not be significant enough to counter these foreign forces; however, the process to extract the oil will be unrivaled in its levels of carbon emissions. The method by which the oil is derived from the Canadian tar sands produces 17% more carbon dioxide than conventional sources. Given the dangers of greenhouse gases such as carbon, this figure was enough to lead the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, scientist James Hansen, to call it “game over for the climate.”
In short, the Keystone XL will severely exacerbate unsustainable carbon emission trends, pose direct risks to the health and livelihood of millions, and fuel our addiction to fossil fuels. To obfuscate these facts, TransCanada has manipulated various supposedly impartial environmental studies of the pipeline. An assessment performed by Cardno Entrix reported little environmental impact as a result of the pipeline. It was later discovered that the firm that had authored the study had "previously worked on projects with TransCanada and described the pipeline company as a 'major client' in its marketing materials". Further demonstration of TransCanada’s disreputable practices lie in the threats of eminent domain faced by landowners in the pipeline’s proposed path. Even though the project had not yet received federal approval, as of October 2011, TransCanada had "34 eminent domain actions against landowners in Texas" and "22 in South Dakota.”
Those in favor of the Keystone XL tend to cite job creation as a positive outcome of the project. Of course, a report written by the Perryman Group, later revealed to be hired by TransCanada to evaluate the Keystone XL, found that the pipeline would create 20,000 jobs and generate $7 billion in consumer and investment spending. An independent study performed by the Cornell ILR Global Labor Institute, however, found that only 2,500 to 4,650 temporary construction jobs would be created. The estimated number of long-term permanent jobs created by the pipeline is, frankly, paltry – the State Department estimates that the Keystone XL will support 127 permanent jobs.
The takeaway is clear: TransCanada’s claims about environmental impact and job creation with regards to the Keystone XL are not credible or reliable, especially as the company continues to put its thumb on the scales to hide the truth of just how harmful this pipeline will prove to be.
The Senate’s recent rejection of the Keystone Pipeline XL construction bill is a reflection of the dire need for more stability, security, and sights to the future. The slim margin by which it was rejected indicates that we are, quite literally, treading on shaky ground. Probably Senate majority leader, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, predicts a bill approving the construction of Keystone Xl would be “advanced very early up in the next session” in the new Republican-controlled Congress. Following the vote, North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven stated his belief that the bill will be passed in January, “when a number of new senators who support my legislation take office and the new Congress begins.” The strong relationship between big oil money and conservative politics is representative of an ensuing favorable political climate for the Keystone XL. Ten more pipelines, comparable in scope to Keystone and similar in their risky management and implementation, have been quietly approved while the contention of Keystone waged on. Still, Obama is the ultimate proprietor of power in granting or denying TransCanada’s application. Given his previous rejection of the permit, his stipulation that the pipeline "not significantly exacerbate the climate problem”, and a lack of reelection prospects, Obama may hold his ground against a pipeline that threatens it.
- Sabine Teyssier