April 22, 2012
One of the most passionately discussed issues in the media is TransCanada’s KeystoneXLPipeline proposal, which would allow the Canadian oil and gas company TransCanada to build a pipeline tar sand products from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, where they would then be refined and exported. The Keystone XL Pipeline is an extension to the already existing Keystone Pipeline that currently reaches from Alberta to Oklahoma and Illinois. While many Republicans support the expansion of the pipeline, others point to the risks of expansion.
Republicans would point to the economic benefits that development would provide. Construction of the pipeline would create many jobs and increase energy supplies. They believe that the benefits of Keystone XL outweigh the risks to the environment. Opponents to the pipeline are numerous. Many refute the Environmental Impact Statement on the project, and believe that the risk to American water resources is too high compared to the benefits.
On January 18, President Obama rejected the proposal to build the extension, saying that Congress hadn’t given him enough time to make a well-thought-out decision. It seems as if Republicans are using Obama’s decision as proof that he isn’t doing enough to increase the number of jobs for Americans. Democrats claim that Obama’s decision is proof that he wants to think through the benefits and risks associated with the project. In either case, Obama is taking the time to assess whether the project is in national interest. These legislative battles highlight the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties, a political move by Republicans to damage Obama’s re-election campaign.
Although the project may result in the creation of construction jobs and economic benefits through oil exports, it could also end in environmental disaster. Most concerns are centered on the proposed route through the Sand Hills in Nebraska, and over the Ogallala Aquifer. Alternative routes have been proposed, but risk assessments for the new routes may take up to a year. If the pipeline were to leak, the Ogallala Aquifer would be vulnerable to extensive contamination, which would be costly to remediate.
Natural Resources Defense Council staffer, attorney Anthony Swift said, “TransCanada has admitted that Keystone XL’s real time leak detection system… can’t be relied upon to detect leaks smaller than 700,000 gallons a day.” 700,000 gallons a day is a significant amount, as Swift also estimates that an undiscovered spill from Keystone XL could contaminate a large chunk of the Ogallala, “nearly half a mile long.” Such a spill would be a disaster, as remediation would be extremely difficult. Farmers in the Midwest rely on the Ogallala Aquifer’s water to grow their crops, and a spill would greatly affect the farming and food economy.
The Keystone XL Pipeline remains a hot topic, as Congress continues to send bills with addons to the President. As Congress does so, real bills are being rejected because of Keystone addons. This undermines the legislative branch’s power, and wastes time and taxpayer money. The risks posed by the pipeline certainly seem to outweigh the short-term reward.
Christopher Miranda is an undergraduate in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.