Why I Support the Keystone XL Pipeline

by Sean Brodrick on November 7, 2011

You may have seen news reports that thousands of people recently gathered at Lafayette Square across from the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline project, a pipeline that would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands to the U.S.  The 36-inch diameter pipeline is a $7 billion project that would run 1,700 miles from the town of Hardisty in Alberta, Canada, through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma to terminals at Nederland, Texas on the Gulf of Mexico.

pipelineOpponents have a lot of reasons for disliking the pipeline.  Those reasons include a potential threat to water supplies (if there’s a spill), higher pollution and an increase in greenhouse gases from tar sands, one of the dirtiest of fossil fuels,  the potential harm to wildlife, and more.

It is true that Keystone will cross the large Sandhills wetland ecosystem in Nebraska, and the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest reserves of fresh water in the world. The Ogallala is a big source of water for people living in western states. Portions of the pipeline will also cross an active earthquake zone that had a 4.3 magnitude earthquake as recently as 2002.

What’s With the Thinner Steel?

And project developer TransCanada has applied for special permits to build its Keystone XL pipeline with thinner-than-normal steel, possibly saving the company more than a billion dollars.  The company may get the waiver by beefing up in other areas. For example, it could inspect 100% of girth welds, for instance, instead of the 10% mandated by federal law.

For its part, TransCanada has said in press reports that it has been pumping oil through thinner pipes across Canada since 1973.  The steel used on the new pipeline will be tested to withstand 125% of allowable pressure.

I’ve seen other pipelines have zero impact on the local wildlife.  I don’t think that’s a big deal.  The only wildlife it might really impact is wildlife you won’t miss (because it’s insects and vermin).

Leaks are a real concern.  Critics note that despite the best efforts of pipeline operators, leaks are nearly inevitable. They don’t have to be big leaks.  Last year, a Chevron pipeline spilled 33,000 gallons of oil from a “quarter-size” hole into a Salt Lake City creek.

However, TransCanada has a financial incentive to keep the pipeline safe, as the Nebraska Legislature passed LB 629, which holds TransCanada as solely financially responsible for any problems that may arise.

Also, the Ogallala is not a lake or a river or even a creek – it’s a aquifer.  An aquifer is porous rock, sand, and sediment that holds water underground. Damage from an oil spill could happen, but it’s not like the pipeline is running through an open reservoir.

Also, it is true that tar sand oil carries traces of deadly chemicals, including nickel, vanadium, lead, chromium, mercury, arsenic, selenium, and benzene.  But you know what?  Coal also carries those deadly chemicals.  There is no such thing as clean fuel except maybe solar, wind and hydro,and those have their own drawbacks.

I think the pipeline is worth supporting for jobs.  True, the pipeline company is probably over-optimistic with its estimate of 20,000 high-paying jobs.  The US State Department is probably closer to the mark, with its estimate of approximately 5,000 to 6,000 workers over the 3-year construction period.

And that brings me to my main reason for supporting the Keystone XL pipeline …

Are We Serious About American Energy Independence?

The initial capacity of Keystone Pipeline is 435,000 barrels per day, which will be increased up to 590,000 barrels per day.  Upon completion, the Keystone Pipeline System would provide 5% of the current U.S. petroleum consumption needs and represent 9% of U.S. petroleum imports.

That’s not chicken-feed. If you think so, just try cutting U.S. oil imports by 9% and see what happens to prices.

Personally, I’d rather buy more oil from our Canadian friends than from a bunch of foreign despots who hate us and our way of life.  More than half of America’s oil comes from countries deemed as hostile. Oh, it’s easy to give lip service to American energy independence.  Here’s a chance – right here in the Keystone XL pipeline – to actually do something about it.

And if we don’t build the pipeline and buy that oil, do you think it’s just going to sit there?  Fat chance. Instead, Canada will send that oil to China, where oil demand is booming.

So all those pollutants and chemicals that protesters are worried about?  They’ll still go into the air even if we don’t build the pipeline.

If the protesters want to make a real effort to cut down on our production of Greenhouse gases, I recommend they give up their cars for bikes just one day a week.  That would be HUGE.  Since we use 19.6 million barrels of oil per day, and 40% of that is turned into gasoline, if we stopped using cars one day a week, that would amount to a savings of 407.6 million barrels of oil per year.  Since mining and upgrading one barrel’s worth of oil from tar sands emits about 176 pounds of greenhouse gases, giving up cars for bicycles one day a week would save 71.75 million pounds of greenhouse gases a year.

Hey, people’s concerns are real.  And if you want to make TransCanada use thicker steel and beef up safety along the pipeline, I’m all for it.  But don’t stop the Keystone XL pipeline.  Not if you’re serious about America becoming more, not less, energy independent.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

David X November 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm

“However, TransCanada has a financial incentive to keep the pipeline safe, as the Nebraska Legislature passed LB 629, which holds TransCanada as solely financially responsible for any problems that may arise. ”

Now that’s sensible legislation.

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taxpayer November 8, 2011 at 11:18 pm

I would like to make a constructive comment, but I just can’t think of one.

If they build the pipeline, and there’s a leak affecting Nebraska, I suppose TransCanada will use part of their billion dollar savings to bribe Nebraska’s legislature to pass a retroactive exemption. Or, if Nebraskans are unusually honest, they’ll bribe the U S Congress to override Nebraska.

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Sachin February 10, 2012 at 5:31 am

#17:Hey, at least a cielndyr explosion would be quicker than a high octane burn fueled with 15 or 20 gallons of gasoline.ReplyLike or Dislike: 0  0

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Mike H. November 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm

It would be nice to say that financial incentives would pipelines operated safely, but history show otherwise:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/09/09/business/energy-environment/pipeline-spills.html?ref=energy-environment

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pipeline_accidents#United_States

“Spill, Baby, Spill”?

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Gene November 8, 2011 at 7:29 pm

First, build out the CNG highway infrastructure for heavy trucking and fast track approval for CNG export terminals
to really make a dent in clean energy independence and balance of payments. Then let Canada refine and ship the
sands crude to china and we all win.

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Mark November 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm

We will need a special unit to patrol and protect the pipline. Keystone Cops is what we will need.

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Gordon Smith November 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

Build it – NOW ! What are we waiting for ? Higher prices ? If we ever want to put america back to work again, we need cheap gasoline !

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Sam in Seattle November 12, 2011 at 12:54 pm

More P respective: I do not support the pipeline:
Existing pipeline goes more through Canada than US. Why not keep it that way.
Existing pipeline goes on the edges of the aquifer, new one right in the middle, more chances of contamination. Why not choose a better route.
Existing pipeline shorter, new pipeline longer.
Who is the ultimate beneficiary? US public? US investors? Canada? I guess not US public as oil companies do not disclose the impact on US oil supply. Plus, the plan is on Hilary Clinton’s desk for approval. The person leading the project was Hilary’s campaign manager! Read on…

Why not ship oil via highway or route it via Canada
Plus, there is a lot of misinformation on this site as pointed out by one of the readers. For starters, huge oil leaks have happened in the past and aquafier is already contaminated somewhat. Now more chances if another longer pipeline, albeit stronger, is placed.
In summary, too risky for the gain of a few jobs to place one of the largest purest water reservoir in North America at risk..
http://tucsoncitizen.com/wryheat/2011/10/13/keystone-xl-pipeline-and-the-ogallala-aquifer/

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C November 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I am definitely for the pipeline. The pipeline in Alaska never ruined life in Alaska and an oil pipeline won’t kill other American states either. In fact, the Alaskan pipeline should be brought down to other states as well.

Protesters should be required to be the first example to give up ALL gas or oil related products and transportation and energy sources , including their computers and everyhting made with plastics or rubber, bicycle tires, train & airplane transportation, every type of motor including water pumps, wind turbines, heaters, and everything and anything they use that is produced by using plastic, rubber or oil in any manner, including whatever is packaged, lubricated or preserved with the same.

Americans should stop deferring the burden of possible spill and contamination to other citizens of the world. The hypocracy should stop and protesters need to be educated. Except for possibly a tiny few, oil protesters do not live on dirt without a building made of manufactured products, plumbing and electricity, without any type of factory produced containers or tools and video/TV equipment. Even making electricty from water or wind uses large amounts of oil.

I love green nature. I want natural things to be managed well and wisely, including oil. But so called ‘Green’ lovers’ complaints and demands should not be given any sort of credence while they benefit in any way from anything using or produced with oil while they insist that other people in the world should be subject to it’s transportation and production of the very things they enjoy and use. Piping oil in America and using it in American manufacturing plants is less costly, most easily controlled, and more prudent than insisting that citizens of other countries take all of the risk and associated ‘dirt’.

Oil is required for any kind of machinery including the manufacturing plants that package health food vitamins and supplements. America needs to bear our own burden of supply & demand, and deal with problems if and when they arise, without shaming and condecending attitudes.

Do accidents happen? YES.Greenies need to get out of the unrealistic and irresponsible la la land and recognize that every thing in the world comes with responsibility.

America needs and uses oil, has oil, and we CAN take responsibility.

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Sam in Seattle November 13, 2011 at 10:52 am

Great commentary, we all agree. Oil is and will be an essential part of our lives for some time to come. All the oil company in this case has to do is bypass the aquifer. Risk is too high to contaminate the largest body of clean water. If the public never objected to oil companies ever, just visit Shanghai and see for your self what happens. And I hope the Congress exercises common sense before approving this project.

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R. Celius November 13, 2011 at 1:48 am

Instead of spending billions on a controversial pipeline, why not build a refinery on the US/Canadian border to service the norther tier of states? No hurricains there, just blizzards.

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sean brodrick November 14, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I’m glad to see a discussion got going on this. UPDATE: Canada is now seriously looking into shipping the oil to Asia, as expected. http://on.wsj.com/tQevxS

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