The Keystone XL may be closer than you think.
Recently, both the House and the Senate have managed to jointly pass a bill approving the construction of the beleaguered Keystone XL Pipeline. The bill is on its sluggish way to Obama’s desk for the final seal of approval before paper becomes law, but Obama is expected to veto the bill as he said he would do in the past. So before the bill gets some 1-on-1 time with the president, as an American and as a car owner, it’s important for you to understand the pros and cons of this heavily contested bill and how exactly it may or may not affect you in the end.
So, here is the condensed and home-cooked wrap-up of the Keystone XL:
What is it? First of all, the Keystone XL pipeline is not an entirely new pipeline (thus the XL), as it will add on to a pre-existing system of pipes in the Midwest, touching and altering virgin land in Canada, South Dakota, Montana and Nebraska. This extension of the pipeline was proposed in 2008 by TransCanada, receiving support from unions, the Canadian Energy Board, and most Republican politicians, while receiving heavy criticism from environmentalists and landowners in Nebraska and South Dakota.
The pipeline will allow for a little short of a million new barrels of “tar sands” oil to be pumped into the United States every single day via a more direct and efficient route than on rails and trucks alone. This would allow for an increase in production of gasoline and other items.
What are its benefits? Keystone XL is lauded by many for the jobs and greater energy dependence that it will create, ultimately strengthening the national economy. These vague notions all may be true, but of course there are drawbacks as well.
What are its drawbacks? Obviously, the pipeline will interfere with and maybe even drastically alter local ecosystems during its two year construction phase due to land and habitat clearing in the Midwest, as well as in Canada with the destruction of forests around where these tar sands reside. But perhaps the real issue lies not in the construction of the physical pipe itself, but more in the processing of the oil. This is not conventional oil pumped from an underground lake in a desert, it is the sticky tar-like cousin to oil called bitumen, found mixed together in a soupy sludge of clay, sand, and other sediments which are aptly named tar sands. Consequently, the processing of this oil produces more than double the greenhouse gas emissions during the extraction phase and during the heating phase, in which the bitumen is heated to convert it into a more usable substance, thus further exacerbating the issues of climate change and pollution.
These are all things that we know will happen for sure, but it’s wise to also consider the things that might happen. Just a few days ago, a train carrying a hefty load of crude oil derailed in West Virginia spawning not only a monstrous explosion of fire, but also fear that now the water supply around the neighboring town may be contaminated (read the article here). The construction of this behemoth pipeline will likely make these events more common as it traverses several major waterways including the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, and also because tunneling millions of tons of oil transnationally is by no means easy. Tar sands oil also does not float, rather, it just sinks, making any attempt at clean-up phenomenally more difficult and expensive if a disaster should occur.
The pipeline is also destined for a swarm of litigations as land ownership and property rights are inevitably violated directly by construction or indirectly by its environmental consequences, potentially pulling up the grand total by several digits.
Lastly we must consider the question “How will all of this this affect you?”
a.k.a. Will it lower gas prices? The Keystone XL may likely, and ironically, raise gasoline prices in the Midwest. This region already imports much of its oil from Canada and the new pipeline seeks to reroute oil from these same sites and carry it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico for export and processing, thus bypassing the Midwestern region while taking from its supplies. It may however lower gas prices around the Gulf of Mexico, but seeing as gasoline is already resting at extremely low price levels, the drop in price may not be much. The entire country may or may not see a difference in their local gas prices.
The U.S. may see an overall positive impact in manufacturing and an increase in jobs, but at what price? I would argue the funds for this multi-billion dollar project could be used elsewhere, perhaps invested into alternative energy sources and improved public transportation, which would also create jobs while potentially lowering gas demand and prices as well. The Keystone XL pipeline may create a short-term increase in energy dependence and some warm-and-fuzzies in Congress, but in the long term, will it be worth the cost?
Earthgarage – Greener Car. Fatter Wallet.