The Obama administration is currently in a tricky situation regarding the prospective completion of the Keystone pipeline by TransCanada, an energy company based in Calgary, Alberta. Most of the pipeline already exists, linking Canadian tar sands in the province of Alberta to two storage sites: Cushing, Oklahoma, self-declared “Pipeline Crossroads of the World,” and Patoka, Illinois.
The proposed additions to the pipeline, dubbed Keystone XL, will streamline the oil’s path from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska (where the route splits towards Oklahoma and Illinois), as well as continue the line to a leading-edge refining center on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.
The refining center is equipped to handle heavier Canadian crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta. The process of refining is known to produce more carbon pollution and use more energy than that of conventional crude oil.
Protestors of the pipeline cite this reason in their arguments directed towards TransCanada and their claims in Washington. Reducing the nation’s reliance on crude oil energy, as well as preventing practices that will inherently worsen the state of the present and future environment are also among the items on the agenda of those opposing Keystone.
In early February of this year, protestors of similar minds gathered together to hold candlelit vigils in an attempt to send a clear message to President Obama. There were over 280 vigils held altogether, spanning 49 states. Bold demonstrators in the capital inflated a mock-pipeline in front of the White House in a grand display of protest.
Many citizens of Nebraska have been particularly outspoken and instrumental in the arrangement of the new pipeline’s route. The state’s Sandhills region contains the Ogallala, one of the nation’s largest aquifers. This aquifer is a crucial source of water for around 2 million Americans, for both domestic and agricultural uses.
Nebraskans were concerned for the safety of the aquifer and delicate sand dune formation (the most expansive in America) if the pipeline were to be constructed through the fragile ecosystem. They succeeded in influencing the legislature and caused the proposed pipeline blueprints to shift out of the Sandhills region, to the east.
Those supporting the completion of the pipeline (65% of Americans, according to a PEW Research Center poll administered in September 2013) believe that the benefits of jobs and energy security weigh out the ecological impacts.
TransCanada stated on their website that, “Keystone XL is the definition of shovel-ready infrastructure project. Almost overnight, Keystone XL could put 9,000 hard-working American men and women directly to work. The U.S. State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement found that the project would support more than 42,000 direct and indirect jobs nationwide.”
As for energy security, TransCanada claims on their website, “Keystone XL Pipeline Project has the potential to reduce the amount of oil America imports from Venezuela, the Middle East and other unstable regions of the world by up to 40 per cent.”
There is also the argument that completion of the pipeline wouldn’t have a tremendous economic impact, simply because if we don’t obtain the oil, someone else is bound to.
As stated by journalist Laura Parker in her National Geographic article “Keystone XL: Is It the Right Fight for Environmentalists?,” “The State Department concluded that, though the tar sands have a somewhat larger carbon footprint than other sources of oil, the pipeline was unlikely to affect the rate at which the oil is extracted—one way or another, it would find its way to market.”
The White House must decide between energy and employment security on one hand, and environmental impact on the other.
The President has spoken often about investing in alternative “clean” energy sources, but oil is still quite a hot commodity these days, and will continue to be so for a long time.
We need it for our cars, our planes, our trains; we find it wherever we can: we dig holes miles deep; we drill through the seafloor. Oil, in a way, is the blood of our nation, the highways and train tracks the veins.
The Keystone pipeline represents a major investment in our continued reliance on fossil fuel.
The White House is still deliberating, and a verdict is expected at any moment.