Keystone XL: Pros and Cons

The news media and various action groups have zeroed in on the debates over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the world’s 2nd-largest remaining reserves from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The pipeline would traverse 1,700 miles underground from Alberta to Port Arthur, LA or Houston, TX (A map of the pipeline may be found here). TransCanada, the proposed builder, specifies that the pipeline will measure 36 inches in diameter with ¾” thick walls. The controversy has become increasingly partisan, political, and at times openly antagonistic. This weekend, thousands of protesters gathered in front of the White House to protest the proposition. President Obama has approval (or veto) power over the pipeline and is expected to come to a decision by the end of the fiscal year. With so many voices in the crowd (stay tuned for our upcoming post!), we’ve decided to lay out 6 major pros and cons, in as unbiased a manner as possible.

PRO: More oil.
Supporters of the pipeline point to its potential to unleash the world’s second-largest remaining reserves of oil. The United States currently consumes 19,148,000 barrels of oil/day, and this number continues to grow. As an added bonus, this oil comes from a friendly neighbor (Canada), rather than the politically charged OPEC nations. TransCanada estimates that 700,000 barrels of oil per day will flow down the pipeline, which would account for approximately 7% of US oil imports.

PRO: More jobs.
TransCanada estimates that the project will add up to 20,000 “high-wage manufacturing jobs and construction jobs in 2011-2012 across the U.S., stimulating significant additional economic activity.” Amid rumors of a double-dip recession, these numbers are particularly appealing to those worried about job growth in a faltering economy.

PRO: Increased revenue from property taxes.
TransCanada also estimates that “once the pipeline is operational, the states along the pipeline route are expected to receive an additional $5.2 billion in property taxes during the estimated operating life of the pipeline.” This includes the states of Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

CON: More oil.
Many argue that the United States needs to decrease its dependence on oil and look toward a clean energy future, utilizing wind, solar, and other sources of power. NASA scientist James Hanson pointed out that currently available oil reserves are more than capable of raising atmospheric carbon to 400ppm (parts per million), far above the 350ppm that most say is the safest allowable level. Hanson admits that phasing oil out of our lifestyles is a tall challenge—adding more oil to the economy renders this “essentially game over.”

CON: Environmental destruction.
Further cultivation of the Alberta oil sands will result in continuing deforestation (74,000 ha) of Canada’s boreal forests, which are important carbon sinks. The process of extracting the oil is also energy-intensive, as the low-grade petroleum product must be melted out of the ground. This process emits up to three times more carbon dioxide than traditional extraction processes.

CON: Safety issues.
12 spills have been reported on other TransCanada pipelines over the past year, and the sheer size and carrying capacity of the proposed Keystone XL sets it up as a prime target for pressure-induced spills and explosions. The pipeline will also travel through environmentally-sensitive areas in the Midwest which are particularly susceptible to environmental disasters. A recent ExxonMobil pipeline spill under the Yellowstone River has increased concerns about pipelines, as well as fears that the oil companies may downplay potential effects on water safety.

It seems that everyone has an opinion on this issue, and we’d love to hear yours! Please maintain an appropriate and respectful tone when weighing in.