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Keystone XL to put off Inevitable

How is burning natural gas to obtain oil from tar sands helping the United States’ goal of finding alternative sources of energy? Building the Keystone XL pipeline would only delay attempts to find a cleaner source of energy and would put many ecosystems and people in the United States at risk from spills. TransCanada’s pipeline should not be build if the U.S. wants to become independent of oil despite the claimed economic gains. On an environmental justice note, there are many injustices that will come with such a long and potentially hazardous pipeline, not just environmentally but it can be very dangerous to those around the pipeline.

It seems every few years the U.S. will start pushing for renewable energy due to rising “prices at the pump” or lack of access to oil. So money is given to find renewable energy until a new reserve of oil is found that will lower prices and everyone forgets about finding this renewable energy. The Keystone project is going to be just another obstacle for the U.S. in finding such a renewable resource.

Natural gas reserves found in North America are thought to be helping reduce the dependency of oil, but it turns out that burning off natural gas is the easiest way to extract bitumen, a form of petroleum otherwise known as unconventional oil. The bitumen at room temperature is similar to molasses, but when really heated up it can flow much faster.

Due to the extraction process and transport of the oil from tar sands it is calculated to cost as much as three times the carbon cost to conventional oil. Burning the same amount of oil from the tar sands as we do today is what some call a climate bomb to our atmosphere. This burning of carbon into the air creates a distributive injustice where people living closer to where the oil is being extracted or refined are suffering from poorer air quality and environmental pollution. More carbon intensive forms of energy are the opposite of what a developed country should be looking for.

Not if the oil used for its intended purpose is pollution enough, but adding a pipeline that would cover over 1100 miles that crosses at least 3 major rivers adds an enormous hazard risk. The pipeline would be cutting through the heartland of the U.S. and putting many at danger. The people living close to where the pipeline would be built would have no control over the situation and would be living with an environmental risk, raising recognition and procedural justices in the community. If history does repeat itself then pipelines do fail on occasion. The long length of the pipeline only adds to the potential of a leak. On top of that, TransCanada has already attempted to cut corners on safety. Proposing the use of pipe walls thinner than conventional use while using pressures higher than recommended, luckily for all it did not work.

Pipelines leak.  And bigger ones, like the Keystone XL will leak more than others. One example is the BTC pipeline that was build in the early 2000s and had its first major explosion within a decade. More recently there has been a tar sands bitumen pipeline build by ExxonMobil that has leaked in Arkansas on March 31, 2013. This Pegasus pipeline can transport 90,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen a day, nearly 10 times the amount that TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline will be transporting.

Early estimates of the pipeline promised nearly 120,000 jobs, including plenty of temporary and permanent jobs. Recent estimates from contractors claim that only 35 full-time jobs will be a result of the pipeline infrastructure while only 3,900 temporary jobs would be created. The U.S. State department claims the upwards of 40,000 temporary jobs lasting up to two years would be a result, both direct and indirect. Even with the most optimistic turnout of jobs it would still not be enough to cover the environmental risks and associated economic costs.

I do not see how increasing the amount dirtier oil used in our society will help the global oil crisis. Infrastructure that supports oil dependency will keep the world looking for more oil instead of looking for a permanent fix. We should instead take this time to find a more renewable energy with less pollution. The Keystone XL project would only endanger more of the environment if approved. Any potential leak could have serious repercussions. People that have no beneficial gain from the pipeline can be affected greatly by a leak in the pipeline. That idea must be the clearest form of distributive injustice to the people. We cannot allow ourselves to be convinced into believing that a new oil pipeline will create enough infrastructures to help the economy. The TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline will keep the United States in the past, while we as a country should be moving forward and being innovative.

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