It’s been touted as the most innovative and advanced pipeline system in North America. More reliable than truck or train transport and with a promise of job creation and positive attributes that two North American countries would benefit from, the Keystone XL Pipeline has created a whole lot of buzz and bewilderment.
But for all of its alleged benefits, a growing number of constituents have come out in protest, turning the project into an all out battle. Native Americans have called the project a bad idea, especially since it would require the destruction of land that is considered sacred by Native people. Even non-natives have stepped out in protest, saying the project does nothing to contribute positively to collective environmental goals. Let’s explore what exactly the project is all about and how it will ultimately impact virtually everyone and everything in its path.
What is the Keystone Pipeline
The Keystone XL pipeline is a massive pipeline designed to transfer crude oil from the tar and oil sands in Hardisty, Alberta in Canada stretching some 1,660 miles all the way to Steele City, a sleepy village in southeastern Nebraska. Existing pipelines in the region would connect with the Keystone Pipeline, making its way to the ultimate destination -- large refineries along the Gulf Coast. It is capable of transporting 830,000 barrels of oil per day. In an effort to form greater alliances within North America, the Keystone Pipeline by some accounts was meant to keep oil within the region so that the U.S. and Canada could rely less on the Middle East for oil. Supporters also argue that by keeping the fossil fuel in the region, it would make oil prices fall with consumers reaping the benefits. TransCanada, an energy company based in Calgary, Alberta in Canada is funding the majority of the project.
Ironically, the people of Steele City are generally in favor of the pipeline. After all, construction jobs will result and the few small businesses that exist in the town with a population of less than 100 will gain increased business. For the most part, people are welcoming of the project with only a handful fighting it, citing private property concerns.
Conservationists and environmentalists have been sounding alarms since the announcement that the pipeline was moving forward. If mishandled, it could have dire consequences on both people and wildlife. Construction is expected to run through several animal habitats, some of them endangered. The U.S. State Department’s Environmental Impact has been tasked with monitoring the effects. In the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers lives the endangered pallid sturgeon. If an oil spill were to occur, it could have serious effects on this species as well as their food source. Other animals potentially in harm’s way is the swift fox. The animal is unique to The Great Plains and the pipeline route runs along one of the few remaining places the swift fox has a refuge.
Still, representatives for TransCanada try to assure the public that they are prepared to take extra measures to safeguard the habitats of people and animals, setting a new standard in the construction of extensive pipeline projects.
On November 16th, the unthinkable happened: an oil spill erupted in South Dakota spilling out 210,000 gallons of oil. TransCanada reacted quickly, immediately halting the transport of oil to attend to clean up efforts. Even though water supply tests were conducted in residential areas a mile away, many were left feeling vulnerable. In particular, the Sioux Tribe chairman expressed concerns about knowing the cause of the leak and whether it was related to a crack in the pipe. Details are still being reviewed.
While we can often easily point out the environmental effects of the Keystone Pipeline, there’s another area of grave consequence that has far reaching impact. Often overlooked is the economic consequences. The major stakeholders in the fossil fuel energy sector have actually been decreasing their workforce. Companies like Shell and ExxonMobil have reduced their human capital which means the industry as a whole may not have enough workers to support the existence of a series of pipelines.
To obtain oil, tar sands require a process whereby it is melted or burned down into liquid form (crude oil). Because oil is another form of fossil fuels, the burning process contributes to the warming of the earth’s temperature. This does more harm than good as scientists and environmentalist groups are busy combating this very issue. When the earth’s temperatures increase, we are bound to experience more extreme weather patterns. Sixty seven percent of U.S. counties experienced billions of dollars in losses as a result of extreme weather in the form of hurricanes and crop failure due to unpredictable harvest seasons; this is according to NYU Law School’s Environmental Law Center. In essence, to make crude oil contributes negatively to the already existing problems associated with climate change.