A Discussion on the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and Its Potential Influence on the Environment

The Keystone XL is the fourth and final phrase of the Keystone oil pipeline that runs from Hardisty, Alberta to as far south as Houston, Texas. This purposed project is almost a duplicate of the first phrase of the pipeline, but has a shorter more direct route and diameter of the pipe is larger. It would start in Hardisty, run through Baker, Montana picking up American-produced crude oil and end in Steele City, Nebraska. The Keystone XL would be 1,179 miles long and would be able to transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day. Despite the potential to create thousands of jobs, the pipeline is still faces criticism from environmentalists. Regardless of the risks, can our country even afford to not use the oil found in the tar sands in Canada? Small towns such has Port Arthur, Texas, whose economy is supported by chemical plants and refineries must often have to make a decision between having a job or sustaining environmental righteousness. Thousands of people are reported to have cardiovascular and respiratory problems as a result of the air pollution from the chemical plants nearby, but are still in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline being built because of the creation of jobs. In agreement to this one resident of Port Arthur even said, “’It’s easier to die from starvation than pollution. What do you choose?’” (Cherry). It is to my belief, that delaying the production of the Keystone XL would be delaying the inevitable. While we are still so dependent on oil, it is in America’s best interest to build the safest and most efficient way to extract the oil, which would be this pipeline. Most of the common fears of the Keystone XL have either been suggested invalid, or not directly linked to the pipeline such as the tainting of Sand Hills region in Nebraska and carbon dioxide emissions, but the benefits of the pipeline such as the creation of jobs and the investment of oil in our own country is too big to ignore.

One of the main arguments against building the Keystone XL pipeline is the potential of leaks that could damage the environment of the Sand Hills region in Nebraska, and more importantly contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer.  The Ogallala Aquifer is one world’s largest aquifers and is located in the Great Plains region of the United States. This aquifer provides drinking water to approximately 2.3 million people. Research hydrogeologist, James Goeke, who has been studying the Ogallala Aquifer for over forty years believes that the possibility of the Keystone XL pipeline contaminating the aquifer is miniscule. Goeke is confident in the fact that “if areas of the Ogallala were exposed to leaks from the pipeline, the highly varied layers within the rock formation itself would serve to localize the impact of the spill” (Goeke). To support this claim, TransCanada, the oil company responsible for the developing the Keystone Pipeline, designed the Keystone XL to have 16,000 sensors that would, in theory, detect when a leak occurs and shut off the flow of oil in under fifteen minutes. In addition, many opponents of the Keystone XL may not be aware that there are already thousands of miles of existing pipeline that have been crossing over the Ogallala Aquifer over the past few years. Well-know oil pipelines include The Pioneer pipeline that transports crude oil across Nebraska and the Pony Express pipeline runs through Colorado, Nebraska and Kanas. Declaring the argument that the Keystone XL Pipeline shouldn’t be constructed because it is the only pipeline in the United States that carries the risk of possible leakage is false even though in reality, there is a very minimal risk. Also, taking no notice of the fact that our ground isn’t filled with pipelines anyhow is just plainly ignorant. Pipelines that transport crude oil isn’t, at any means, a new concept for America. Yes, the Keystone XL pipeline is larger in diameter than normal, but precautions have been set to ensure the safety of this pipeline.

Environmentalists are also concerned about the increased amount of carbon dioxide emissions if the Keystone XL is approved. This is a definitely a fair concern because extracting crude oil from tar sands produces 17% more greenhouse gas emissions than the regular barrel of oil. This is also the main reason that President Obama hasn’t approved the project. He has stated that he will only approve the project if it “’does not significantly exacerbate carbon dioxide emissions’” (“9 Questions about the Keystone XL Pipeline…”). According to the State Department’s review, the Keystone XL would add an extra 1.3 million to 27.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere each year. To provide a visual, that’s the same as putting on additional 250,000 to 5.5 million cars on the road (“9 Questions about the Keystone XL Pipeline…”). I can agree on the fact that maybe our nation needs to shift away from being so contingent on fossil fuels and start relying more on renewable energy, but that can take years and in all honesty, our society isn’t just going to cut down on energy use until then. Here’s the reality: the crude oil is not just going to stay locked underground. While the United States is still dependent on oil, oil companies will look for alternative means of transportation of this crude oil, whether that be on other pipelines or a rail system. Based off these facts, it can be concluded that the pipeline has no direct impact on emissions, but because the crude oil is going to be extracted with or without the Keystone XL, the pipeline can be referred to how the managing senior editor of the Engineering New-Records Web Site, Richard Korman describes it; “a necessary evil” (Korman, 234). This particular pipeline deems necessary because it is the safest way to transport crude oil from the tar sands in Canada.

In any and all cases there are regrettable tradeoffs, but even so, a poll in June of 2014 found that 61% of Americans support building the Keystone XL pipeline (“9 Questions about the Keystone XL Pipeline…”). One of the reasons that the United States citizens are so in favor of the pipeline is the employment opportunities. The State Department’s review estimated that the two-year construction period would create about 42,000 direct and indirect jobs that would contribute about $2 billion in wages to the economy. About 9,000 of the jobs would be temporary construction jobs for men and women and the rest of the jobs are being found in manufacturing companies and other professional services. In addition, the pipeline construction will also create a huge demand for local goods and services, including equipment supply and maintenance, food, and lodging. The Keystone XL will produce the need for hundreds of new jobs in professional services and managements, trade, housing, and even food services in the neighboring poverty-stricken towns where employment is most needed (Keystone XL Pipeline). Despite most of the jobs being temporary, American citizens will still jump on the opportunity. Danny Hendrix, Business Manager for the union, Pipeliners Local 798, spook on behalf of these citizens by saying: “’They’ve got healthcare for another year, and they’ve got a pension credit for when they retire… It means they can make a house payment; it means they can send their kids to college’” (Keystone XL Pipeline). These temporary jobs mean thousands of hours of labor where families have the chance to improve the quality of their lives.

Furthermore, TransCanada will be a property tax payer in many of the counties that the Keystone XL pipeline crosses. In 2013, $44 million property taxes were acquired from the parts of the Keystone Pipeline that were operational, which was an increase from $37 million in 2012. These proceeds have helped addressed the building of local infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and hospitals. It is projected that tax revenues are expected to increase by about 10% in the counties that the Keystone XL goes through, because of this approximately $3.4 billion would be contributed to the United States economy (“Five Reasons to Support Building the Keystone XL Pipeline”).

Another important reason that the majority of American citizens are in favor of completing the Keystone Pipeline is energy security. The Keystone Pipeline connects the largest oil refinery found on the Gulf Coast with the third largest oil reserve in the world and the second largest-oil producing location in the United States. Building the pipeline would also establish a permanent channel for oil between us and our ally, Canada, thus creating concrete trade relations for Canada and the United States (“Five Reasons to Support Building the Keystone XL Pipeline”). American citizens are also in favor of using our oil at home instead of oversees in countries such as Saudi Arabia. About 36% of United State’s oil comes from Canada, but not all of it stays here. The United States is on the pathway to becoming the next major exporter of oil. It just goes to show: if we start investing in ourselves, then other countries will start investing in us too.

How our oil gets to us is equally important as where it comes from when ensuring our energy’s security. It has been proven that pipelines are the safest mode of transportation for crude oil and natural gas. A study conducted at the Fraser Institute shows that pipelines have less incidents per mile than trains and trucks and pipeline workers are less likely to be injured while working. The Keystone XL is also designed to be safer to a much higher degree than other operational oil pipelines in the United States. The Keystone XL pipeline also has 59 additional safety measures that go beyond federal regulations, such as the sensors that detect leaks. (“Five Reasons to Support Building the Keystone XL Pipeline”). If the Keystone XL isn’t put into play, other means will be taken to ensure the use of the crude oil in the tar sands in Canada. A popular alternative to the pipeline is using a rail system, but rails have been proven to have more potential to spill, carry less oil than the pipelines and are subject to explosions possibly caused by terrorist attacks. Our nation has provided a plan to promise the most efficient and safest way to transport our most needed energy resource. Why we can’t approve this project is beyond me.

It is to my opinion that the Keystone XL oil pipeline needs to be less of a political bargaining chip and more of a serious plan to receive the oil our nation is so desperately dependent on. Canada has been patient enough; it is our turn to take action. American citizens have it in their mind that this fight is over whether or not to build a pipeline, but that can’t be correct. The real fight that the environmentalists want to start is whether or we should  or shouldn’t extract the crude oil, but there’s no possibility that our nation is not going to stop doing so, being so heavily relying on this resource. A fact that I, myself even forget sometimes is that the Keystone XL is the last phrase of four already existing pipelines. The first phrase has been operating since 2010 that carries crude oil across three Canadian provinces and six American states. Phase two has been operational for two yeas expanded the pipeline system from Steele City, Nebraska to Crushing, Oklahoma. Both of these operational phrases has not had any major problems. Phrase three, while an approved project is still under construction extends the pipeline from Oklahoma to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas. Many people argue that the reason the Keystone XL hasn’t been approved is because of the possibility of it disturbing environmentally sensitive land in the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, but this is not longer a valid concern. Nebraska Governor, Dave Heineman expressed concerns of the same thing, so TransCanada rerouted the Keystone XL pipeline, which was then approved by the governor (“Keystone pipeline mysteries”). So why isn’t President Obama on board? The Senate voted in favor of the bill. The House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill. So why did the President Obama veto it? It it because the President Obama built his platform on reforming climate change and environmentalists are urging him not to approve this project? Is this all about image for President Obama? Is President Obama going to shut down the Keystone project simply because it will be a symbol that he still stands with the environmentalists, despite overlooking America’s best interest?

All in all, the Keystone XL oil pipeline is simply just an extension of an already approved and operational pipeline that is shorter than the first phase of the pipeline, will disturb less land and transport more oil. It has the potential to create thousands of jobs, improve trade relations between two countries and contribute billions of dollars to the economy. It has been proven to be the safest mode of transportation for crude oil and has no direct environmental impact because with our dependence on oil, carbon emission will be released into the atmosphere anyhow regardless of how we transport our energy. More than half of the American public are in favor of this project being built. Wake up Obama, this should be an easy decisions.

Works Cited

  1. Brady, Jeff, and Scott Horsley. "What You Need To Know About The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline." National Public Radio. N.p., 17 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
  2. Cherry, Courtney. "The Keystone Pipeline: Environmentally Just?" RECENT DEVELOPMENT (n.d.): n. pag. University of Houston Law Center. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
  3. Davenport, Coral. "Keystone Pipeline Pros, Cons and Steps to a Final Decision." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
  4. "Five Reasons to Support Building the Keystone XL Pipeline." Keystone XL Pipeline. TransCanada Corporation, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
  5. Gilmour, Jared. "Study Says Obama's Worst Keystone XL Fears Could Come True." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
  6. Goeke, James. "The Pipeline Poses Minimal Risk to the Ogallala Aquifer." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 4 Oct. 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
  7. "Keystone XL Pipeline." TransCanada. TransCanada Corporation, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
  8. Korman, Richard. "Building the Keystone XL Pipeline: A Necessary Evil." (n.d.): n. pag. Rpt. in Global Issues, Local Arguments. 3rd ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 234-35. Print.
  9. Mathews, Merrill. "Keystone Pipeline Mysteries: Column: 6 Reasons to Approve the Stalled Project." USA Today. N.p., 5 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
  10. "Myths & Facts." Keystone XL Pipeline. TransCanada Corporation, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
  11. "9 Questions about the Keystone XL Pipeline Debate You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask." Vox. Ed. Brad Plumer. Vox Media, Inc., 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.