ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS CAUSED BY THE KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE

BACKGROUND ON THE KEYSTONE PIPELINE

The Keystone XL pipeline is a pipeline proposed by the TransCanada Company approximately 1600 miles in length that will go from Hardisty, Alberta to Nederland, Texas. If all goes according to plan, the pipeline will carry 900,000 barrels a day of a mixture of crude oil and bitumen. As promising as this idea sounds for America's oil industry, it has significant negative effects on the environment. However, supporters argue that the creation of the pipeline will open up many engineering jobs that boost the productivity of the oil industry in America while strengthening our relationship with Canada and providing a means to be self sufficient instead of relying on other countries for oil. These are all reputable claims but I personally believe that the environmental damage done by the pipeline outweighs the possibility of benefits. I think that environmental safety is key to a bright future and that by building the pipeline we are acting shortsightedly.


THE PIPELINE: POSITIVE IMPACTS

The pipeline is harmful to the environment, but the ideas and innovation the pipeline brings to the American oil industry in terms of the number of jobs created, and the creation of a sufficient source of energy should still be expressed. The pipeline will create numerous jobs on American soil that will stimulate the U.S. economy. It is approximated that 42,000 jobs would be created by the pipeline project [1]. Coupled with the fact that the pipeline aids the economy, the promise of measures to reduce the impacts on wildlife during construction will be taken is encouraging [2].


POSSIBLE DANGERS OF CONSTRUCTING THE PIPELINE

Nevertheless, the environmental hazards the project would cause outweigh any possible benefit it could have. Many environmentalists are wary of the dangers present when constructing the pipeline. If the project goes by plan, it would destroy many ecological areas, including grasslands in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The equipment used during construction would affect the air quality and cause harm to many animals living in these areas [2]. This will result in habitat loss that will eventually upset the ecosystem. It is estimated that there are 23 species protected by the Endangered Species Act in the areas of proposed construction. Of these 23 species present, approximately 10 will be severely affected [2].


LEAKS AND SPILLS

It is also believed that there is an appreciable scope for error when operating a pipeline of such magnitude. Many people who question the creation of the pipeline cite the idea of spills and leaks as the main reason for their caution. The TransCanada Company's first line of safety is identical to the technology that failed to stop an oil spill in Michigan in 2010. Additionally, even if it were improved, two percent of the pipeline's daily volume (approximately 8,300 barrels) would leak [3]. It is estimated that the maximum spill volume of the pipeline would be roughly 2.8 million gallons, which would be a concern because spills and leaks through the pipeline will most likely be in areas where there is abundance in wildlife [2]. Given the gravity of the environmental harm the pipeline could cause, I believe constructing this pipeline to be environmentally reckless.


HAZARD TO HUMAN HEALTH

Many critics also assert that the pipeline is hazardous to human health. Based on the plan for construction, the pipeline would run straight through the Ogallala Aquifer, a major source for drinking water across the country that also provides an abundant supply of water for irrigation [4]. If the pipeline leaks anywhere near the aquifer, a majority of the nation’s water supply would be contaminated. Furthermore, the crude-oil transported by the pipeline contains more amounts of dangerous elements for the human lungs than oil imported from other countries. For example, the excessive sulfur and nitrogen present could contribute to lung diseases, asthma, and cancer. [4]. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Keystone XL pipeline is more likely to fail than any other pipeline in the world because the bitumen mixture it carries is extra corrosive [4]. If these reports are true, the implementation of the pipeline should not be contested because the possibility of failure means that people's lives are in danger. The health hazard of the pipeline is clearly greater than the scope of profit for the Nation's petroleum industry.


ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS CAUSED BY THE PIPELINE

Aside from the possibility of leaks and spills, the danger present in constructing the pipeline, and its effect on human health many people object to the environmental harm it causes when properly functioning. Some believe that the pipeline will increase the America's dependence on fossil fuels and its greenhouse gas emission by increasing the oil supply present in the country [4]. If the building of the pipeline is successful, its implementation will probably be short lived because sooner or later, we will run out of resources. The idea of short-term compared to long-term effects also brings into question the idea of greenhouse gas emission. It is estimated that by using tar sands, a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen instead of conventional oil, the Nation’s greenhouse emission will increase from 27 to 125 million tons by 2015 [1]. Also, the production of the oil transported through the pipeline requires the oil to be mined with strip mining or open-pit techniques and has a severe environmental impact [4]. The environmental hazards caused by the pipeline has become a main component when dealing with its implementation so greatly that President Obama said "the net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward" [1]. When talking about the current status of the project. Given all the environmental issues that arise when utilizing the pipeline, building such a pipeline is not ideal especially given that there are numerous new ideas about alternative energy.


ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF ENERGY

Alternatively, there are many environmental hazards that could be avoided by using alternative energy, specifically renewable resources like solar power, and the wind. Wind turbines especially could be used to generate wind power instead of relying on the pipeline. Developing wind turbines across the nation may be more expensive than fossil fuels, but it does not harm the environment. Instead, wind turbines take advantage of the resources that are present in the world. In short term view, wind energy may be less cost-effective but after a long period of time using wind as an energy source will provide a lucrative profit. There is also solar power that can be harnessed as an energy source. Advances in technology and engineering have created many innovative methods of converting solar power to energy. The most common method is the utilization of solar shingles that are quiet and don't pollute the environment (5). In her article titled Alternatives to the Keystone XL Pipeline, Carolyn Roederer explains that the world's energy supply could be filled up to 20,000 its current threshold with the use of solar power. Despite the fact that it has potential to generate multitudes of energy, solar power has its drawbacks in that we rely on the weather and sunny days in order to generate energy and that the current process to produce solar panels releases potentially harmful chemicals. However, it is estimated that if proper methods are used when producing solar cells, they can reduce emission by 89% when compared to fossil fuels (5). Overall, wind and solar power are better alternatives to building the Keystone XL pipeline despite the fact that it may take more effort initially to utilize them.


CONCLUSION: THE KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE IS DETRIMENTAL TO THE ENVIRONMENT

In general, it is important to protect the environment for the well being of society as a whole. It is my strong opinion that the aesthetic value that nature brings about cannot outweighed and that there are alternative sources of energy that have high potential. I want to ensure that there is a sustainable world for the future generation and through the construction of the pipeline, many endangered species are being destroyed, greenhouse gasses are being emitted, human health is being jeopardized and the environment as a whole is being sacrificed for corporate gain. The Keystone XL pipeline may be good for the nation in terms of providing and efficient source of energy and creating many jobs but its" environmental impact should not be overlooked.


References

  1. (2013). "Even Obama's State Department Knows Keystone XL Is Not An Environmental Hazard." Forbes. (Online Article). http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/07/31/even-obamas-state-department-knows-keystone-xl-is-not-an-environmental-hazard/
  2. J. Palliser. (2012). "The Keystone XL Pipeline." Science Scope. (Online article). http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?action=interpret&id=GALE%7CA294830152&v=2.1&u=upitt_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&authCount=1
  3. E. Schor. (2013). "Are Environmentalists Getting it wrong on the Keystone XL Pipeline." The Atlantic. (Online article). http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/02/are-environmentalists-getting-it-wrong-on-the-keystone-xl-pipeline/273149/
  4. (2011). "Keystone XL Pipeline Overview." Congressional Digest. (Online Article). http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=01b04f32-7ac3-4bce-b487-3797f0eef626%40sessionmgr115&hid=124
  5. C. Roederer. (2013). "Alternatives to the Keystone XL Pipeline." Harvard Model Congress 2013. (Online Article). http://harvardmodelcongress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/EPA-Alternatives-to-the-Keystone-XL-Pipeline-.pdf

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my writing instructor, the librarians, and my parents for motivating and encouraging me to write this paper to my best potential.