by Emily Main, online editor at Rodale News
It's a topic that's nearly yawn-worthy, environmentalists spouting their rage at an oil company trying to build a pipeline. Big deal, right? We all want lower gas prices, and more oil means cheaper gas.
Except that's not the way the world works anymore, and there really is a serious threat to our food and water from a pipeline, the fate of which is expected to be decided this summer (though recent news from the Obama administration suggests that he may delay his decision to the end of 2013 or, possibly, to early 2014).
The oil itself is filthy--refining tar sands oil releases 17 percent more greenhouse-gas emissions than other type of oil--and it's twice as difficult to clean up when spilled. But oil-friendly politicians and TransCanada, the company trying to build the pipeline, have been on an aggressive campaign to convince Americans that we need another massive pipeline.
Here's why you shouldn't believe them:
1: It won't wean us off foreign oil. One of the biggest misconceptions about this massive pipeline is that it will somehow allow the U.S. to reduce our dependence on oil from unstable countries. And that's not true. First, even without the Keystone XL, we already import more oil from Canada than any other country, and our northern neighbors provide us with almost twice the oil the Persian Gulf supplies us.
But TransCanada, the oil company pushing the Keystone XL, wants to ship all its oil to the Texas Gulf Coast. And nearly 80 percent of oil sent there gets exported, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration. Why? Because there aren't any pipelines running from Houston to other parts of the U.S.
2: It is, by no means, a "job creator." When the U.S. State Department conducted a review of TransCanada's application, the agency concluded that this massive pipeline--one that will run for 1,700 miles across the entire nation, mind you--will create a grand total of 35 full-time, permanent jobs.
TransCanada likes to throw out an overblown figure that the pipeline will create 13,000 jobs. Of course, in oil-industry speak, that means "job years," or the number of years people will work to get the job finished. An independent analysis of the application by the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations uncovered that TransCanada thinks that it will create between 2,500 and 4,650 temporary jobs to build the pipeline, each of which will last approximately two years.
3: It will raise gas prices in the Midwest. According to Cornell's analysis, construction of the pipeline would allow TransCanada to bypass refineries in the Midwest, which currently refines a lot of Canadian oil. The report concludes: "Keystone XL will divert Tar Sands oil now supplying Midwest refineries, so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and export markets. As a result, consumers in the Midwest could be paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel fuel. These additional costs (estimated to total $2 to $4 billion dollars) will suppress other spending and will therefore cost jobs."
And more oil doesn't equal lower prices for the rest of us, either. Oil is a global commodity and, as such, is impacted by supply and demand in other countries. So having more oil on the market doesn't necessarily lead to lower prices, because of the relationships between oil-producing and oil-consuming countries. Here's a simple breakdown of how the system works.
4: There will be spills--and cover-ups. Yes, oil companies have a bad reputation as being bad, bad neighbors. But what's getting scarier about them is that more and more, the government is allowing them to control the flow of information about their bad deeds. I realize that statement has tinges of wacked-out conspiracy theory to it, but it's legitimate: On March 29, 2013, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying Canadian oil sands through Mayflower, Arkansas, ruptured, spilling between 200,000 and 420,000 gallons of oil over 29 people's homes. But federal officials have been all too willing to let ExxonMobil's public relations department be the public face of the spill. Reporters attempting to cover it have been threatened with arrest, and according to the Pulitzer Prize-winning news outlet Inside Climate News, it's Exxon, not government public information officials--those working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration--issuing daily updates. When one of the news group's reporters visited the site to interview government officials about the spill, it was an Exxon spokesperson who came out to answer questions.
And that's just one spill. In 2010, while oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, another spill from a pipeline in Kalamazoo, Michigan, became the largest Canadian tar sands spill in U.S. history. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been tallying the amount of oil spilled--a process that has taken three years--and in March, it had calculated the total to be just over 1.1 million gallons. By the end of March, that number had been taken down from the EPA's website and replaced with a lower figure that more closely matched that of Enbridge, the company in control of the ruptured pipeline.
John Stansbury, PhD, PE, professor of environmental and water resources engineering at the University of Nebraska, has estimated that Keystone XL would result in 91 major spills over the 50-year life of the pipeline. And you can be sure that TransCanada will work hard to minimize the PR damage from each and every one.
5: It's robbing farmers of their land. Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of this massive pipeline is that, even before its approval, farmers and landowners from Texas to Montana have been threatened with land repossession by eminent domain. In case you're unfamiliar with the term, it basically means that a private company can come in and take part of your property if it can prove to the government that doing so is "in the public good." Naturally, not a lot of farmers were keen to let an oil-spill-in-the-making cross their farmland, particularly those in the Nebraska Sand Hills, a region known as the Napa Valley of grass-fed beef (and if that link isn't enough, see here, here, and here). So when they declined TransCanada's offers of leasing their land, the company threatened to "condemn" it, or, basically, take it anyway. The company currently has 56 eminent-domain claims filed against American landowners.
Let that sink in. A foreign company with no ties to the U.S. is demanding land from U.S. landowners--before its pipeline has even been approved--to carry oil that is, most likely, not going to stay in this country. How is that "in the public good"?
And isn't that why the colonists revolted against the British--we didn't want foreign entities telling us what we could or couldn't do? Yet, as soon as oil industry money starts spilling over our borders, our government officials are quick to abandon the very principles on which our country was founded.
Let your voice be heard. Tell President Obama you want him to reject the Keystone XL pipeline by signing an open letter to him at act.350.org.
Emily Main is an online editor at Rodale News, where she covers all things related to health, the environment, and the food system. Before working at Rodale, she edited a green living website at National Geographic and wrote for the Natural Resources Defense Council. If she's not working, she's probably outside on her apartment balcony wondering why her plants never grow or at the dog park exercising Ziggy, the bouncy Australian shepherd.
top photo credit: shannonpatrick17
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com