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Robert Rapier

Robert Rapier

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Oil Pipelines Criss-Cross the United States: Why the Fuss Over Keystone XL?

Like many of you, I have been following the debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring crude from the oil sands of Canada to refineries in the U.S. I am on mailing lists covering both sides of the issue, and based on some of the e-mails I get it seems that many people don’t realize that we already have pipelines crisscrossing the U.S. I get the impression that some people feel that it would be unprecedented to lay an oil pipeline across the country. But below is a map showing the location of the major oil and gas pipelines in the U.S.:

Major Oil and Gas Pipelines in the U.S.
Figure 1: Major Oil and Gas Pipelines in the U.S.

If you include smaller regional pipelines, it becomes clear that the ground underneath our feet is saturated with pipelines:

Oil and Gas Pipelines in the U.S. (Source).
Figure 2: Oil and Gas Pipelines in the U.S. (Source).

The other morning I got an e-mail calling attention to a video op-ed by Robert Redford for the New York Times arguing against the pipeline. Redford said “Let’s be honest. The Keystone XL pipeline is an accident waiting to happen.” The truth is that all of the pipelines in that map are accidents waiting to happen, as are the power lines that crisscross the country. For that matter, the cars we drive are accidents waiting to happen. And accidents will happen. Oil and gas leaks occur every year. That is part of the price we pay for the energy we use. The fact that the Keystone pipeline could have a leak isn’t unique; it is just like all the other pipelines already running beneath our feet.

This essay is not meant to argue in favor of the pipeline; I may weigh in on that at a later time. I just wanted to comment on what seems like a total lack of knowledge about the way energy is currently moved around the country. I want to see us reduce our oil usage as much as anyone, but I predict that the pipeline will be approved. Obama is facing a tough reelection campaign, and he wants to point to job creation — and a lot of weight will be placed on that factor in this tough economy. (Ironically, some on the Canadian side are protesting because the pipeline would export refining jobs to the U.S.)

Obama could attempt to drag out the decision past the election, but doing that would have the same political impact as rejecting the pipeline. His political opponents would press the issue that his administration is standing in the way of energy development (even though as I have pointed out before, both domestic oil and natural gas production have increased since Obama has been in office). But I think Obama weighs his political options and approves the pipeline, just as he weighed his political options recently and decided against tougher ozone standards. After all, what’s the downside for him? That the protesters will throw their support behind Romney?

By. Robert Rapier

Source: R Squared Energy Blog

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  • Anonymous on October 24 2011 said:
    Comparing all the other oil pipelines to the Keystone XL is like comparing a drum stick to a baseball bat. First, the XL will transport much thicker oil plus toxic chemicals to push the oil through the line. Unlike other crude, tar sands oil sinks. So the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan, originally expected to take 2 months to clean up, hasn't yet been cleaned up after 14 months. Secondly, Obama may well approve the XL, but if there's a spill in Nebraska, expect your steak and corn prices to rise. Putting a pipeline where it can ruin an underground source of 30% of America's food is -- well, just plain dumb. How are you going to clean up a spill when you can't see the water? The environmental movement has 2 options:- stay home and let Obama lose, or support an internet candidate on americanselect.org. For a realistic assessment of the XL, read http://keystonepiper.blogspot.com/p/keystone-basics.html
  • Anonymous on October 24 2011 said:
    There are many pipelines in the US, and there have been many pipeline accidents as well:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pipeline_accidents#United_StatesNot all of these are due to someone digging into the pipeline, either.
  • jimpeel on February 16 2012 said:
    Singling out one pipeline out of thousands is ludicrous. All pipelines contain thinning chemicals to make the crude flow easier. Those which carry thinner components, like gasoline, do not need thinning.

    To say that there will be lasting damage in perpetuity, like some on the enviro side have claimed, is just plain silly. The "damage" in Prince William Sound is now non-existent. It cleaned itself up in 20 years. There is no permanent damage from WWII ships which were sunk. The BP spill did not cause permanent damage and even the most fervent environmentalists cannot point to the damage. The gasoline pipeline in San Bernardino which was ruptured by a train derailment and took out an entire neighborhood cannot be pointed to as an example of lasting damage.

    What most people do not realize is that most of the pipelines run along the railway rights of way. They are subterranean. Yet we do not see them leaking due to the vibration of the trains which run over them.

    Technology has improved the pipelines and they are now even better than the older ones which are not leaking. Many of those of you who are against the pipeline have been brainwashed into thinking all major companies are bad -- especially the ones at the top of the list which would be petroleum companies. If they all shut down tomorrow, you would be the first to sue for them to resume production.

    Find and download the Modern Marvels episode "Secrets of Oil" and see why you depend on oil every day and will NEVER be able to do without it.
  • Concerned on February 20 2012 said:
    Why pipe crude oil to Texas refineries that are already at 100 percent capacity and are exposed to hurricanes and ocean borne terrorist. With Shale Oil coming out of Montana and North Dakota, would it be wiser to build a refinery in North Dakota and pipe the refined gasoline ?
  • Shoppegirl on June 03 2012 said:
    Amazing. Even I never imagined there were so many already here, and no one was fussing.. But when it comes to the XL Pipeline, everyone makes a stink!


    Obama doesn't want it.. He wants the vote of his environomentalist wackos..


    Mitt 2012, he promised to sign the Pipeline.
  • thorshammer on September 07 2012 said:
    To do justice to the discussion about "accidents waiting to happen", you have to weigh the CONSEQUENCES of the accident. If an accident takes down a power line, you lose power - pretty much the extent of it. An oil pipeline accident? Can wreck ecosystems. Hardly the same thing...

    To say nothing of TAR SANDS: heavy, toxic up the wazoo, laden with flow-enhancing agents that are carcinogenic.

    If you want to even pretend to be on the fence, some PERSPECTIVE please.

    And by the way: already having tons and tons of pipelines, is not of itself justification for more. That's like, "you've already got 3 bullet wounds - so go ahead and shoot yourself again (never mind the surgeon...)". No, every new pipeline proposal should face sober and deliberate review, having nothing whatever to do with what has gone before and how much is already in place.

    As for the apologetics proffered in another comment - about improved pipeline technology and the impermanence of oil-spill damage - keep in mind:

    1. According to Enbridge company data collected by the Polaris Institute (a Canadian think tank), Enbridge pipelines have spilled 804 times since 1999 (more than once a week) and leaked 6.8 million gallons of oil. As horrendous as the 800,000+ gallons spilled at Talmudge Creek sounds, it is only 12% of what one pipeline company alone has spilled in the last 12 years alone.

    2. Tar Sands spawn vast quantities of tailings ponds, toxic leftovers that can kill a bird in minutes. (One such pond killed 1606, admitted Syncrude). Industry proponents argue that the 40-year cycle of restoration has been improved to 10 years. As debatable as that claim is, at best that still means at least 60 years of that toxicity level for a project with a 50-year lifespan like Alberta Tar Sands. That so-called impermanence is still way-unacceptable, examining the harm it does in the meantime.

    PLEASE: don't patronize with statements about our need for energy and how fossil fuels development benefits us in jobs etc. It boggles the mind to think about what could be done with clean renewable energy sources using the $218 billion in capital expenditure earmarked for Alberta Tar Sands alone.

    All the logic behind further oil-patch propagation distills to one statement: I WANT my goddamn money!
    (And that's not the rank-and-file oil patch worker talking...)
  • Barcelona Bill on September 09 2012 said:
    Most of the pipelines shown in your map are natural gas pipelines, a much different animal from an oil pipeline and an entirely different genre from an oil sands pipeline.
  • Raven on April 24 2014 said:
    IT all boils down to a few fat cats going to get rich on the backs of AMERICANS most of that TAR SANDS oil will be refined in Texas and then shipped to CHINA,INDIA and such places we take the risk and the pollution and they get the oil Have you herd any of these fat cats offer cheaper gas for America? NO and you will not don't be fooled we have more oil then we can refine now its all about country's like China willing to pay big bucks for oil that drives our prices up WAKE UP AMERICA!
  • Montie on November 15 2014 said:
    Reading the leftists (Liberals, Socialists, Communists) posters here is like reading the ones about Global warmi,,,uh, Climate chang,,,uh, Climate disrupti,,,uh, Climate devistati,,,Climate Chaos . How many other adjectives and adverbs can they use? Being Luddites I don't think they would use a Dictionary or Thesaurus.
  • Mike Scarborough on December 06 2014 said:
    As long as any new pipelines run through red states, I don't see what the problem is. If anti-environmentalist want benzene in their ground water, who am I to stop them?
  • Lisa on January 30 2015 said:
    You're comparing a car accident or downed electrical wires to the scale of devastation an XL pipeline spill would cause? Seriously? Redford is referring to a catastrophic accident waiting to happen-- something that could cost billions to clean up not to mention the decades of environmental destruction in the aftermath-- totaling a Beemer isn't quite the same scale. An idiotic statement in my book if there ever was one. I know, let's build a nuclear power plant on a known fault line-- I mean after all, no matter where you put it, its all an accident waiting to happen, right? Now if you'd compared the 'accident' that GM had with their ignition switch that caused the death of 74 people and resulted in over 10 million cars recalled-- at least it would have had some teeth in it. But then again-- that should never had happened either, right? If you're going to imply that your statements are unbiased then at least give us comparisons that show some intelligent thought. And stating "accidents will happen" as if we must accept the inevitability of it is ridiculous. You're suggesting that we have NO responsibilities to keeping our resources, our environment, our food supply and our people safe. It's not a left of right thing, all Americans should be concerned about the preservation of our natural resources. Disappointing commentary. Sorry =(
  • Red Elk Boy on February 25 2015 said:
    Look at South Dakota, This is Lakota Land By Treaty! We will not let BIG MONEY Take Control Of Our Treaty Lands! Our Families and lives are here PAST,
  • Scott on February 01 2017 said:
    If there are already so many - why is it so important to build another? face it, the security of these pipes is always failing - as is obvious if you research leking pipelines in the US

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