I recently read an article in the Huffington Post titled “Obama Declares Venezuela a Threat to U.S National Security” (Mason and Rampton 2015). The United States is an oil-rich country that loves to take heavy oil (or crude oil, dirty oil, etc.) from a so called, ‘strong’ ally (if it ever was) and use it domestically. However, the U.S is the number one purchaser of crude oil from Venezuela. Yet, if this failing relationship continues, a strain on imports from that country, no matter how unlikely, could happen. This short introduction brings me to the main point of this article: America, finish building Keystone XL!
If you are reading this article I can assume that you have some knowledge on the debate surrounding KXL. But let’s quickly recap: The Keystone Pipeline has been planned for about six years now. This multi-year debate on Keystone XL is actually just phase four of the project. This project began in the early 2000s when I was just a little tot in school. Since then, oil prices have risen as the ‘War on Terror’ began and Canada’s (well Alberta’s) northern oil sands began to interest companies that needed to transport oil out to the Gulf Coast to ship it to China or another overseas country. Phase one was approved under the Bush administration in 2008. Phase two is also now complete. Phase three has been put into construction. Phase one runs from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, Phase two runs from Steele City to Cushing, Oklahoma. Phase three continues this down to Texas, where it branches off to two ports. There is a heck of a lot that goes on between those places however. Phase four is where the current controversy arises.
KXL would duplicate Phase one, however, with a shorter, more direct route and a wider pipeline. This pipeline does not just carry Canadian oil. American crude oil would join the Canadian oil in Baker, Montana. The main debate for anti-KXL activists would be that the pipeline is dangerously bad for the environment (along with other issues). Supporters of KXL, including myself, argue that oil is an essential commodity to grow the world economy and that the pipeline is a safe way to move oil to refineries. Furthermore, the pipeline would improve both countries politically, socially, economically and whatever other word you can think of that ends with ‘ly’.
The Sand Hills region in Nebraska presented a problem with environmental concerns. KXL was originally planned to go right through this beautiful region, which also supplied eight states with clean drinking water. TransCanada, a Calgary based company, immediately proposed fourteen different routes the pipeline could take, including one that completely avoided the Sand Hills region. In November of 2011, the Nebraska Legislature passed two bills to allow TransCanada to alter the route. A year earlier, in 2010, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a report stating that KXL would pose no real threat to the environment as long as all safety procedures are followed. A few months following the TransCanada route change in Nebraska, TransCanada issued an environmental study stating that “based on extensive feedback from Nebraskans, this reflects our shared desire to minimize the disturbance of land and sensitive resources in the state” (Reuters 2012).
Now, I understand defending TransCanada’s claims with their own claim is problematic, however, the Federally regulated EPA’s report is clear. The environmental risks are minimal. However, the potential of an oil spill also looms large for anti- KXL activists. A spill would obviously pollute the air and any water it contaminated, however, the main issue of water contamination was avoided when TransCanada re-routed the pipeline around Sandy Hills. Moreover, as many scholars have suggested, if there was a leak around the “Ogallala Aquifer” (the Nebraska fresh water reserve), it would not be bad enough to penetrate the aquifer. It is obvious that a spill into fresh water would take a lot of money and time to clean. A spill would affect wildlife and agriculture in the area of the spill and that would be devastating for many ecosystems.
Yet, the argument that KXL could negatively affect these ecosystems is overstated. Look, I completely understand that a pipeline is not going to save our environment. However, it is not going to necessarily hurt it and that is my point. There are already numerous pipelines that go East-West or North-South through and around the Sand Hills of Nebraska. Although they are minor compared to the proposed size of KXL, they are still there moving oil daily.
Here is another fact to consider: we are all dependent on oil! From the natural gas or coal power plants powering our homes, to the electric car you are thinking about buying or your stove at home, they all have one thing in common: they need oil. A large portion of Canadian GDP is determined by how many barrels of oil are sold. Provincial and Federal economies all, to some extent, rely on oil. Where does North America get that oil from? You guessed it, by train from Canada and developing countries around the world.
Well Mr. President, why not drastically eliminate your dependence on moving oil by train and approve this pipeline? If you google which is the safest way to move oil, pipeline beats rail every time. There were over 1000 rail accidents last year in the U.S (over 100 deaths) and only eleven pipeline accidents. The last human fatality due to pipeline accident was in 1988, my eldest sister had not yet been born (she is 25). Pipelines are safe and it is as simple as that. There are thousands of reports, articles, and essays to defend this point. Ideally, the Barack Obama administration would use the small economic gain from this pipeline to end some of their dependence on third world oil and maybe actually help develop those countries.
KXL would also create jobs. This is a key point pro-KXL supporters bring up. The U.S State Department released a report in 2012 stating that 40,000 jobs would be created during the construction of KXL. Although most of them are not permanent, that is still 40,000 jobs America! The President, in 2013, publically stated that KXL would maybe produce “2,200 permanent jobs” (Reuters 2013). The President clearly was not pleased with his State Departments findings, even still, isn’t 2,200 jobs better than zero? This is an essential reason why public opinion polls all support the KXL in the U.S. The Republican Party received a majority in the Senate in the 2014 fall election partially because of its support of KXL. The Republican led Congress and Senate then passed KXL in January and sent it to the President for approval. President Obama vetoed the bill just two weeks ago and the Congressional override did not produce its needed two thirds majority to support the project.
It is looking more and more unlikely that KXL will pass and this is problematic for both of our countries. As Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer stated “the choice is to have it come down by a pipeline that he approves, or without his approval, it comes down on trains” (McCarthy 2013). The U.S is already using Canadian oil, receiving millions of barrels of oil daily. Much of that oil comes through pipeline and crude oil will be used no matter what, so it is our challenge to make it as safe as possible.
KXL would drastically improve both of our nations’ economies. It would bring more Canadian oil to the U.S, thus eliminating its dependence on third world countries. KXL would produce more jobs for both countries and ultimately make the movement of heavy oil safer. Those summary points, in my eyes, drastically improve our common good. There is no liberal way out of this debate, either you agree with me, or you think KXL is dangerous. To those against, I strongly encourage you to really think about this issue and why we depend on oil, or what good oil can do for our society. KXL would do wonders for the common good of both Canada and the United States.