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Can the Keystone XL Pipeline Really Break America's Dependence on Middle East Oil?

The United States of America is in trouble… big time.  And while the brunt of the damage is coming from a failed (and some would argue, criminal) banking and monetary system, an inconsistent and confused energy policy also tops the list of reasons a once admired nation suddenly looks as if it’s been caught with its pants down.  Joining in chants of “hope and change,” millions of Americans elected leaders they thought would represent their best interests.  Instead, petty bickering, inflated egos (not to mention bank accounts), and a very real neglect for the working class families the country was built upon has prevailed.  With a downgraded credit rating, an unemployment rate teetering around 10 percent, and prices at the pump reaching an all time high, what’s a nation to do?  How about build another oil pipeline?

The Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed $7 billion project that would link oil sands operations in Alberta, Canada to American refineries in Texas.  The 1,700-mile-long pipe would create 120,000 jobs (20,000 direct and 100,000 indirect) and transport 700,000 barrels of oil per day.  The project is being spearheaded by Canadian oil company TransCanada.

However, while the project certainly looks good on paper economically, there are some other factors to consider.  First off, 700,000 barrels of oil per day may seem like a lot, but Americans are currently using upward of around 20 million barrels per day.  So Keystone XL would be bringing in roughly three to four percent of the oil the country demands.  While that’s nothing to turn your nose up at, it is certainly not enough to sever U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil, which is one of the main arguments in favor of the oil sands pipeline.  Not to mention, since oil is traded as a global commodity, it’s not likely the pipeline will actually drive down prices at the pump, because those prices are based on futures speculation these days.  Oil sands oil has been making its way to market for years now, and will continue to do so with or without Keystone XL.

There is also the environmental cost to be considered.  While some may argue that the pipeline shouldn’t be built because it would encourage further exploitation of the oil sands, the fact is, those sands are and will continue to be tapped for energy regardless of how dirty or socially destructive the process may be.  That is, until the day Greenpeace decides to break its non-violence decree and rolls in the tanks!  The bottom line is, there is too much money and far too many people benefiting from the sands’ exploitation.  Not just the corporate execs, but working class people are making outstanding wages in oil sands operations.  Yes, the land is being demolished, but most companies are reforesting, and new life is springing up, as is so commonly witnessed over and over again by the sands of time on this planet (and not just at the hands of mankind).  Plus, next generation oil sands technologies such as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) offer the potential of extracting bitumen from oil sands without needing to deforest at all.

What about oil spills?  You can say there’s a one in a million chance, but they do happen.  The ExxonMobil spill in Yellowstone River this year was a grim reminder that it’s not just offshore spills like BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout that need to be considered.  Unfortunately for Keystone XL, the pipeline’s proposed path cuts directly through Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, which provides roughly one-third of America’s irrigation water and provides drinking water to tens of millions of people.

“Maintaining and protecting Nebraska’s water supply is very important to me and the residents of Nebraska,” says Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R), who is opposed to the pipeline’s current route. “This resource is the lifeblood of Nebraska’s agriculture industry.”

TransCanada has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to its own pipeline safety record.  The first constructed phase of the pipeline, which currently travels through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, spilled 12 times in 2010 in just its first year of operation.  Over 30,000 gallons of crude were released.  Since oil sands crude is actually just diluted bitumen, you’re dealing with oil that is far more acidic, thick and sulfuric than conventional crude oil.  This means a higher likelihood of pipeline corrosion.

Nonetheless, former TransCanada CEO Hal Kvisle (retired 2010) claimed, “Construction and operation of the Keystone Pipeline system will continue to meet or exceed world-class safety and environmental standards.”

So the question really comes down to two things: jobs and the environment.  The social pendulum can swing both ways in this debate.  While the pipeline may employ tens of thousands of people, the potential downside is a hypothetical aquifer-polluting spill that could jeopardize the health of millions and risk the livelihoods of thousands of regional farmers and ranchers.  Chances are the pipeline is going to be built regardless.  The United States of America will settle into its new sense of energy security cozying up to its friendly neighbor to the north.  Gasoline prices may fall a few cents at the pump for a couple of days after the big announcement as speculation runs wild, and rainbows and butterflies will fill the sky.  Ten years later, America is still bankrupt, has a few more domestic oil spills to tack on to its record, and is utterly dependent on foreign countries to meet its energy needs.


By. Kevin Scarpati of Energy Digital

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Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on October 11 2011 said:
    Far more oil is spilled routinely above the Ogallala aquifer than could possibly spill from an XL pipeline accidental spill. The aquifer contains about as much water as Lake Huron. It sits hundreds of feet below the ground surface -- so we are talking about potential soil contamination, for the most part, not water. These faux environmental activists you mention need to do a bit more research on the actual source of most spilled oil, and the modern art of rapid soil remediation using microbes and fungus.An intentional spill is a different matter, say, if Greenpeace took over the pipeline's operation and conducted some overt ecoterrorism. :sad: The modern big-money green movement seems oriented toward bringing about a great human die-off, to "save the planet." With such a mindset driving them, they are capable of doing or saying just about anything to meet their goals. Starving advanced societies of energy is just the beginning.
  • Anonymous on October 12 2011 said:
    I dont concern myself with oil spills because I dont know enough about them, but I cant understand how the pipeline being discussed can get Uncle Sam out of the oil corner.However I am thinking about appointing myself to Director of the USDOE, instead of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. If I elect to go through with this I won't hesitate to initiate the pipeline being mentioned in this interesting article. Then I would run for president and ....
  • Anonymous on October 16 2011 said:
    Scarpati is ignorant of the technologies used in "OILSANDS" SAGD is used v/s surface mining because it is more economical. SAGD operations are used to "THIN" Tarsands,and do some primary separation from the sands where high overburden prevents economical recovery.IF he had EVER been on sites, he would see that reclamation leaves surface mined sites in far better shape than the original. As far as XL pipeline-How many miles of OIL pipelines are currently buried within the continental U.S.? How many catastrophic spills? HULLO?
  • Mike on January 17 2012 said:
    "How many catastrophic spills?" Enbridge is still not finished cleaning up their Michigan spill over a year later. Residents in Wellington Ohio are still out their homes days after a 117,000 gallon gasoline pipeline spill there. There still a number of other places in the US with legacy pipeline pollution years afterwards. Here's an incomplete listing of US pipeline accidents:


    A graphic of 2 decades of US pipeline spills:


    There's always the NTSB Reports:


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