By Other Words
By Michael Brune
With all the political posturing in Congress over the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, it’s easy to lose sight of the real issue: This pipeline is dangerous and unnecessary. It will cost the American people far more than we can afford.
The politicians pushing the pipeline are lying about the pipeline’s benefits and pandering to Big Oil. What will Americans really get? Higher gas prices, more air pollution, contaminated water, and enough carbon pollution to make stopping climate disruption next to impossible. All for only a small fraction of the promised jobs and a big zero of the billions in profits that Big Oil companies would reap.
The exaggerated job numbers being thrown around play well to deep public concern about unemployment and the economy, but they are a hollow promise. The numbers from TransCanada — the company behind the pipeline — have been thoroughly discredited as fuzzy math for using tricks like double counting and including incidental employment for dancers, dog walkers, and speech therapists. Is this ok?
Here’s some non-fuzzy math: Independent analysis shows that the pipeline would raise gas prices. According to a Cornell University study, the pipeline would raise gas prices in the Midwest by 10-20 cents a gallon because TransCanada officials have stated it would divert oil typically headed for the Midwest toward the Gulf Coast and export markets. These higher gas prices would dampen Midwest economic growth and hurt all Midwestern families and business.
Actually, the pipeline could actually destroy more jobs than it generates due to everything from oil spills to the increased health problems and extreme weather events caused by its tremendous pollution — not to mention its approval’s impact on the burgeoning clean energy economy.
America needs jobs, but we don’t need dirty and destructive jobs. What we need are jobs that put the American economy back on track, jobs that support innovation, jobs that don’t undermine the health of our children or the livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers.
TransCanada has a dismal record of cutting corners, ignoring the law, and spilling oil. The company’s Keystone 1 pipeline spilled more than a dozen times in its first year of operation, including a 21,000-gallon spill in North Dakota in May 2011 that shot a 60-foot geyser of oil into the air.
Streams and groundwater along the pipeline’s entire 1,700-mile route — drinking water sources for millions of Americans — would be at risk. Efforts to reroute the pipeline around specific “high-risk” areas just show how unsafe TransCanada’s pipelines are, and how little confidence we should have in their keeping crude oil contained.
Unrefined tar sands crude is both thicker and more toxic than conventional crude oil. Sand in the mixture scours the inside of a pipe, and highly reactive chemicals in the crude corrode the steel. Making things even worse, the heavy, gooey tar sands oil has to be pumped at far higher temperatures and pressures than conventional oil. Think about a pipe the diameter of a table top filled with this toxic mess pumped at pressures above 1,000 pounds per square inch. (Your car tires are full at 40 PSI.) Any leak, any drip becomes a fountain of crude oil, one that the company cannot detect until it is spewing up to half the contents of the pipe into the environment.
This pipeline is a bad deal that would generate billions in profits for oil companies while leaving Americans to pay the price in higher fuel costs, energy insecurity, and polluted air and water. At a time when we need to be doing everything we can to get off oil and reduce global-warming pollution, the Keystone XL would take us in exactly the wrong direction.
President Barack Obama did the right and responsible thing by deciding to reevaluate the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. We can’t and we must not let Big Oil and its minions in Congress force it upon us against our will.
Michael Brune is the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. www.sierraclub.org