With just a single vote, Senate Democrats recently defeated the Keystone XL Pipeline Bill, stopping TransCanada Company’s proposed $7 billion Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project (Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline) in its tracks. The pipeline was slated to transport 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf’s oil refineries. While hailed as a victory for environmentalists, this triumph may be short lived when the new Congress convenes in January 2015. With Republicans in the driver’s seat, both the House and Senate will most likely approve it. Then again, the president will likely veto it – and so its future is still uncertain.
For those of you unfamiliar with the pipeline, it already exists. The pipeline is not a new source of oil. The US has been the #1 recipient of this oil from Canada for a while now. The current pipeline reaches to Cushing, OK, Wood River and Patoka, IL, and Texas’ Gulf Coast. The proposed Phase IV, Keystone XL, would begin in Alberta and extend to Steele City, NE, thereby replacing Phase I of the existing pipeline with a more direct route. The political uproar has occurred because the proposed expansion will cut through America’s heartland.
Senate proponents argue the pipeline will keep fossil fuel prices low, create jobs, decrease dependence on hostile and politically unstable suppliers and continue to keep the US riding on the crest of the energy boom wave. In addition, it is argued that petroleum refinement on US soil (where it is subject to stricter controls), is preferable to refinement in unregulated China. Those against argue it will lengthen our dependence on fossil fuels and this is bad news for the environment because the proven corrosive nature of the oil makes us vulnerable to catastrophic spills. In addition, whole communities of people living with the pipeline will worry about the potential health and environmental impacts. Both sides have produced anecdotal evidence and compelling studies.
But, one undeniable truth is that if the pipeline is not built through the United States, the oil will still be sent somewhere and sold. Quite possibly, Canada will move to plan B and build a pipeline to its west coast and sell the 830,000 barrels of oil a day to China with the rest transported by rail or truck to the Gulf refineries. Since this trade will continue regardless, one has to ask if, by comparison, the method currently being used is more favorable one. Trains and trucks hands down pollute more than pipelines do both in the severity and frequency of occurrences. Unable to stop expansion in Alberta and given the oil is going to flow in any case; surely it makes more sense to have the oil refined in the USA than China? And, do we really want to thwart developing a trading relationship with Canada? Isn’t it better for energy security to trade with Canada rather than Gulf refineries processing oil from Venezuela, Nigeria or the Middle East? Ultimately if we build the pipeline here or not the Canadian tar sands industry will continue to prosper. The question is do we want to pass the chance to prosper alongside it to anyone else?