Proposed oil pipeline raises environmental doubts

Karl Sadkowski/Opinion Editor

National controversy is flaring over a proposed oil pipeline running from tar sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Texas coast. The 1,700-mile long Keystone XL pipeline suggests eliminating United States dependence on Middle Eastern oil, instead working with a close ally in reducing oil prices and creating jobs. However, the crude oil Keystone XL would transport would have to cross the entire American Midwest to reach its destination. At this distance, the risks of pipeline leaks and prolonging the battle against greenhouse gas emissions will certainly not lessen, not to mention the further depletion of environmentally sensitive habitats coming in contact with this old solution to the energy crisis in America.

Environmental activists gathering in front of the White House hope to sway the final build-or-not decision. According to organizers, up 800 people were arrested in only 10 days for the peaceful protests against Keystone XL. Organizer Bill McKibben, concerned with the long-term effects the pipeline would create, said, “The tar sands are the second biggest pool of carbon on the earth, and if we burn them, it’s essentially game over for the climate” (NPR). The protests have also attracted Liz Barratt-Brown, a member of the National Resources Defense Council. She claims that refining the pipeline-carried oil would produce about the same amount of emissions as seven new coal-fired power plants. “When you think about bringing a pipeline in that’s the equivalent of seven new plants, I actually think that’s quite significant,” she said.

Tar sands are easily the dirtiest sources of oil extraction. Rather than pumping oil directly from the earth, a mixture of sand, clay, water and a gelatinous form of oil called bitumen must first be scooped from massive holes dug to expose the potent combination. It is then sent to refineries, where natural gas burners separate the oil from the excess (Huffington Post). The liberation of this kind of oil is much more detrimental to the atmosphere than the traditional “Drill, baby, drill” approach taken by supporters of even off-shore oil rigs—although, off-shore drilling doesn’t always work in favor of the environment also, as seen recently in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman wrote a personal letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton asking that they deny the federal building permit of the pipeline. Heineman said although he typically supports oil pipelines, he opposes Keystone XL in that it would cross the Ogallala aquifer, a vast supplier of water for farm irrigation and drinking water to about 2 million people in several states. He disagrees with an environmental impact statement created by the State Department, asserting that leaks would affect only limited areas (Des Moines Register).

Keystone XL is only a piece of the United States’ great search for energy. While alternative energy sources are growing in popularity, the future of universal electric energy currently remains dim. Although shifting focus from one oil exporter to another may help create jobs and reduce oil prices, focus should instead lie in developing cleaner jobs and reducing oil prices altogether.

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