Currently the United States is importing 800,000 gallons a day of the dirtiest oil in the world; Tar Sands oil. This type of crude oil is acquired via a much more dangerous route compared to conventional oil drilling, which already creates enough concerns. Tar Sands oil is exactly what it sounds like, and unearthing this from the ground releases an alarming amount of greenhouse gases which we will discuss. This corporate initiative has become political, and creates multiple urgent environmental concerns for both the people on the lands directly affected by the pipeline, as well as everyone on earth who will be potentially affected by the drastic increase in Co2. Tar Sands crude oil is one of the most carbon intensive and polluting sources we could contemplate tapping.
We are living in a time when the earth has reached a breaking point after a more than a century of exploitation and degradation since the Industrial Revolution. Global warming is an incredibly serious matter, and we can afford very little added carbon emissions to the already overheated mix in our atmosphere. While the country has focused on mitigating out greenhouse emissions, this project sets that progress back by miles. The earth is currently dealing with massive extinctions, dying oceans, depleted ozone, and deforestation. All of these things must be addressed immediately with our collective efforts through managing and limiting any further increases in Co2 emissions, as well as making marked decreases.
TransCanada had proposed the Keystone XL pipeline, to supplement the southern pipeline which is currently in use and pumping dirty oil. That pipeline alone is already creating oil spills, land and water contamination, in many instances which did not go public. The new pipeline would send this same dirty crude oil from Alberta, Canada over 2,000 miles south to Texas, running through the earth and nearing community water sources of 6 US states; Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. This pipeline with all the dangers it implies, would send 830,000 gallons of crude a day through the heart of the United States. This is a corporate initiative and pushed for by the powerful financial influence of this major oil company. In the end this is about creating profit without concern to the inevitable and potentially disastrous effects. Some of which are unredeemable and that is a bet no one on earth can afford to wager.
Now we are facing more and more areas threatened by this irresponsible agenda which has lost no momentum as it bulldozes it's way through Northern America. In an illegal scheme approved by the corporate bolstered state departments, a tar sands route has been approved through the Great Lakes which provide 84% of North America's fresh surface water.
Two important aspects must be comprehended about Tar Sands and fracking: through this incredibly dangerous and relentless initiative, the oil companies are literally making a killing, and water is being poisoned to the point where it risks becoming a corporatized resource removed from the foundation of our basic human rights. The thirst for oil has resulted in every single US war initiative in the Middle East, as well as unscrupulous people like Dick Cheney making 39,500,000,000 US tax payer dollars through the monstrous company Halliburton. Halliburton also played a large role in the BP blamed Gulf Oil spill of 2010.
(For more on this please see "Overturning Citizens United and Why it Matters")
Would more oil solve our gas problem and make gas cheaper for US citizens?
The question may first arise about gas prices, and it may appear on the surface that this may help us to offset those escalating prices. This should not even be a consideration, and it is this level of shortsighted thinking which has gotten the human race into the terrible trouble we are already combating in the first place. Please understand, the damage done to the earth may already be near irreparable. It is only in scientifically generated models where we follow strict guidelines to reduce our global emissions that there is hope for a chance, yet still no guarantee. This model and highly recommended solution of reducing those emissions to a projected level is drastically overshot, and even blatantly disregarded by the agenda of the oil companies. Where will we drive when the earth is a barren wasteland of unbreathable air? We need to care about the green that matters, the earth upon which we live. What hurts the earth most certainly hurts us, as the earth is our source of food, water and air. Importing dirty crude Tar Sands oil through Keystone XL will not lower gas prices nor will it create the kind of energy security that matters.
Energy Security: Tar Sand will not Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil
Keystone XL will not lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but transport Canadian oil to American refineries for export to overseas markets.
· Keystone XL is an export pipeline. According to presentations to investors, Gulf Coast refiners plan to refine the cheap Canadian crude supplied by the pipeline into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin America. Proceeds from these exports are earned tax-free. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks.
· Reducing demand for oil is the best way to improve our energy security. U.S. demand for oil has been declining since 2007. New fuel-efficiency standards mean that this trend will continue once the economy gets back on track. In fact, the Energy Deptartment report on KeystoneXL found that decreasing demand through fuel efficiency is the only way to reduce mid-east oil imports with or without the pipeline.
Gas prices: Keystone XL will increase gas prices for Americans—Especially Farmers
· By draining Midwestern refineries of cheap Canadian crude into export-oriented refineries in the Gulf Coast, Keystone XL will increase the cost of gas for Americans.
· TransCanada’s 2008 Permit Application states “Existing markets for Canadian heavy crude, principally PADD II [U.S. Midwest], are currently oversupplied, resulting in price discounting for Canadian heavy crude oil. Access to the USGC [U.S. Gulf Coast] via the Keystone XL Pipeline is expected to strengthen Canadian crude oil pricing in [the Midwest] by removing this oversupply. This is expected to increase the price of heavy crude to the equivalent cost of imported crude. The resultant increase in the price of heavy crude is estimated to provide an increase in annual revenue to the Canadian producing industry in 2013 of US $2 billion to US $3.9 billion.”
· Independent analysis of these figures found this would increase per-gallon prices by 20 cents/gallon in the Midwest.
· According to an independent analysis U.S. farmers, who spent $12.4 billion on fuel in 2009 could see expenses rise to $15 billion or higher in 2012 or 2013 if the pipeline goes through. At least $500 million of the added expense would come from the Canadian market manipulation.
What is the problem with tapping Tar Sands?
Pollution on multiple levels is a huge concern and one which cannot be overlooked. The carbon emissions released from Tar Sands oil production is 3 to 4 times higher than those from conventional oil (which as discussed is an already serious concern in itself.) This is due to the energy required to extract the crude and the refining process itself.
“During the tar sands oil extraction process, vast amounts of heat, water and chemicals are needed to separate the tarry substance (known as bitumen) from sand, silt, and clay and to flow up the pipeline. The water used in the process comes from rivers and underground aquifers. It takes three barrels of water to extract each single barrel of oil. Ninety-five percent of the water used to extract the oil, which is about 2.4 million barrels per day, is so polluted that the water must be stored in large human-made pools, known as tailing ponds. As the heavy bitumen sinks to the bottom of these ponds, the toxic sludge, full of harmful substances like cyanide and ammonia, works its way into neighboring clean water supplies.”
Forest Degradation is a huge concern as the Alberta area of Canada is home to one of the most important (still intact) ecosystems in the world. This is not some nasty old deserted mud hole as we see so often reflected in pictures of the pipeline already in place, that is what we have turned this lush and rich land into. This area (much like the Amazon Rainforest) is considered a carbon sink through which a large portion of our collective oxygen is supplied, as well as being home to a biologically diverse population of many species. There is one of the largest unspoiled water bodies here as well. Each of these are threatened as forests are dug up to build this pipeline.
Indigenous populations are at risk, both their health and their peaceful and balanced livelihoods. Many of these people make their lives off the land and respect the earth as sacred. “Not only have indigenous communities been forced off of their land, but also those living downstream from tailing ponds have seen spikes in rates of rare cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism. In the lakeside village of Fort Chipewyan, for example, 100 of the town’s 1,200 residents have died from cancer.”
Oil spills are a much bigger concern when utilizing these tar sands, compared to conventional drilled oil which already creates enough catastrophe of its own. When oil spills inland, that oil runs through the earth, soil and water become poisoned. This is a health issue and environmental concern, and we can all appreciate how big a problem this type of spill would pose. The probability of spills through such a lengthy pipeline is much greater and the cleanup is much more costly and difficult. The Keystone pipeline would run across major water sources such as the Missouri River, Yellowstone, and Red Rivers. It would also endanger important sources of drinking and agriculture water running through the Ogalalla Aquifer. This aquifer alone supplies 2 million Americas their drinking water and a quarter of the water used in irrigated lands. TransCanadas initial pipeline has had over a dozen spills within the first year of operation.
“In the summer of 2010, a million gallons of tar sands oil poured into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan from a pipeline run by another Canadian company, Enbridge. Although nearly one billion dollars have been spent over the past three years to clean up the spill, almost 40 miles of the river are still contaminated. In April 2013, a 22-foot crack in an Exxon pipeline caused a devastating tar sands oil spill that began in a residential neighborhood of Mayflower, Arkansas and into Lake Conway, a drinking water source and popular fishing spot. Residents of the community were unaware of the pipeline under their town until this massive spill.”
After the oils spills in Michigan and Arkansas the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) became highly concerned about further oil spills. Tar Sands, unlike conventional oil, are somewhat solid and must be diluted to pass through a pipeline. The diluting agents used are highly carcinogenic and contain many toxic constituents. These agents evaporate quickly to be inhaled and potentially cause widespread human health impact.
“Keep in mind that Keystone XL’s leak detection systems are only sensitive enough to detect leaks totaling more than 1.5% of the pipeline’s capacity. This means that the leak detection system would not detect spills below 12,450 barrels or 522,900 gallons of tar sands oil. Considering that the pipeline traverses large swaths of uninhabited farmland, the risk of a spill going undetected appears extraordinarily high. Independent engineering reviews of Keystone XL’s safety measures echo this concern and suggest that additional spill detection systems must be put in place to ensure that these types of leaks are more quickly detected.”
What do they do with the Tar Sands?
Once the crude has been extracted it would in theory travel over 2,000 miles through an underground pipeline to Texas for refining. The refining process for Tar Sands oil is very dirty and dangerous, besides releasing a high amount of carbons, toxic levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides are also released. These types of emissions contribute to issues like acid rain and asthma.
What does the Environmental Protection Agency think?
“The lead U.S. environmental agency has for several years raised serious concerns about the climate, environmental, safety, and health impacts of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Three different times, the U.S. EPA has issued failing grades saying the true impacts of the pipeline have not been adequately considered. And yet, the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) released in January by the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) and its contractor ERM failed again to meet the grade. NRDC has completed a review and concludes that the FSEIS failed to address many of the core concerns raised by the EPA and thereby fails to fully calculate the full extent of the pipeline’s environmental and human impact. The EPA is unlikely to buy the conclusion the pipeline has no significant impact on climate. At this point, the EPA can – and should – weigh in again during this critical final phase of the permitting process. Despite the serious flaws in the FSEIS underestimating impacts of the pipeline, there is enough evidence to reject the pipeline. Any meaningful analysis of the EPA’s concerns – including the failure of the environmental review to addresses those concerns - should lead to a very clear conclusion: Keystone XL is not in this nation’s national interest and should be rejected.”
Climate Change Concerns;
The FSEIS has shown that the carbon emissions unleashed by Keystone XL pipeline could create reach over 8 billion metric tons within a 50 year time span. “This is equivalent to annual emissions from 35 million passenger vehicles for 50 years. To gauge just how high that number is, the total number of passenger vehicles registered in Canada in 2010 was just over 20 million. Even if you only count the additional emissions of the project (using tar sands oil instead of conventional oil) countries in the world (27.4 MMTCO2e annually).”
In a time where there is no debate that we MUST reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and this would take up a huge percentage of the allowable “budget” which was projected to give us a chance to survive. The budget to which the rest of the world must comply (and which is dwindling quickly). What is already being produced now through the southern pipeline will have used up a full 5% of the remaining global budget as it is producing 23 billion metric tons of emissions currently, when projected over the next 50 years. Which is not as much time as it seems. We are looking to mitigate these numbers and Keystone XL is curbing all other action taken to amend our current situation in the opposite direction drastically. Air pollution is also a huge concern as this entire process places large amount of sulfurs, metals and volatile organic compounds.
We can see the only ones benefiting from this agenda are going to be the oil company TransCanada itself, at the expense of multiple risks, loss of life, risk of environment and health, loss of valuable ecosystems, increases to an already highly escalated global warming problem and that is just the definitive outcome, not mentioning all the probabilities. This is a lose, lose situation which will not benefit America, Canada (most of whose citizens are passionately voicing opposition) or the rest of the world.
What is the conclusion? And what can we do?
There are many groups which are active against the Tar Sand tapping Keystone XL pipeline initiative, both people living in areas directly affected, as well as people who recognize the widespread risks inherent in such an operations undertaking. The EPA and environmental groups been instrumental in the political arena keeping pressure on Obama to nip this in the bud so to speak. This is an area where we can each contribute,
The Tar Sands Blockade is very active through facebook and has a wonderful interactive website; https://www.facebook.com/TarSandsBlockade