The State Department is collecting the comments – 9,268 so far online – as a prerequisite to deciding whether the Obama Administration should permit the upper portion of the pipeline as being in the “best interests” of the US. The approval is needed because Keystone XL would cross the international border in northeastern Montana, before traveling 875 miles through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, linking up with a southern section of the pipeline, from Cushing, OK, to Port Arthur, TX, that has already been approved.
Opponents have been fighting the project vigorously for the past three years, saying it poses a risk to drinking water and will open the door to an avalanche of carbon emissions from extraction and burning of the heavy tar sands oil, which are strip mined in central Alberta. Proponents argue that the project would bring needed jobs and oil to the US.
One of the most contentious points has been who will be buying the tar sands oil. Initially, pipeline operator TransCanada and US State Department officials tasked with evaluating the project portrayed it as good for America’s energy security.
But critics of the pipeline have chipped away at this talking point, saying the tar sands oil is destined mainly for emerging foreign markets. This view is bolstered by the fact that Canada has sought to find a shorter route to China for the pipeline, by looking west toward British Columbia. This plan, though, has encountered significant opposition from Canadian environmentalists and would face a thicket of jurisdictions, as the pipeline would inevitably pass through First Nations territories.
If the oil is largely sold internationally, then the benefit-risk analysis for the US changes dramatically, say opponents of the pipeline, who’ve protested along its route and at the White House. As a conveyor of the oil, would bear the risks of spills and underground water contamination, while sharing in few of the benefits, they say.
This week, the Center for Media and Democracy released a closer look at what the pipeline’s construction would mean for the US. Here are the group’s main conclusions, with response and added background in brackets or below:
- KXL will not directly create 100,000+ jobs [as once reported] but 3,900 short-term and 50 longer ones. [This is based on an independent study by Cornell University researchers, completed after the State Department was exposed as taking inflated jobs figures on faith from TransCanada. TransCanada recently said the number of people who will be employed to complete the pipeline will include 9,000 Americans.]
- KXL will not produce billions in corporate tax revenues, due to tax loopholes.
- KXL will not be safe from disastrous leaks, but it will be exempt from a key disaster insurance fund, which puts taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars.
- KXL will not make America energy independent; and, in fact, most of the tar sands oil is planned for export from the Gulf via tankers to foreign countries.
- KXL will not be climate neutral — in spite of claims in an industry-linked report to the State Department — but it will speed climate change and global instability.
TransCanada notes that the pipeline is helping the US oil industry, by delivering crude oil from Cushing, OK, to the Texas Gulf Coast and relieving a bottleneck of supply that had occurred before the southern leg of the XL pipeline was built.
The Obama Administration approved that leg of the pipeline in 2012, but delayed construction of the northern leg, pending a re-routing through Nebraska to better protect the vital Ogallala Aquifer. The pipeline could be further delayed by a federal judge’s ruling last week that found Nebraska’s Gov. John Heineman wrongly pre-empted the state’s public works commission by endorsing a new route without their input.
In a video entitled Keystone PipeLIES Exposed, the group quotes one activist as saying that the pipeline poses a great threat to Midwestern agriculture, because an oil leak into the Ogallala Aquifer could poison waters needed for irrigation.
“It’s not out of the question we could see US agriculture destroyed by this tar sands pipeline,” says Kevin Zeese of ItsOurEconomy.org. “The risk is the end of the breadbasket.”
How serious is that risk? TransCanada says the chance of a spill is low, and describes its pipeline as having attained “a new bar for safety and design.”
But the Center for Media and Democracy report notes that serious pipeline breaks are never anticipated and do occur, such as the one that deluged a neighborhood in Mayflower, AK, last year and the 2010 tar sands leak into the Kalamazoo River, which has so far cost $1 billion to clean up.
One of the most concerning aspects of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to the report, is that it would be exempted from paying into a clean-up fund because it’s a carrier of “unconventional oil.” This loophole would mean that American taxpayers could be on the hook for the entire cost of any clean ups related to Keystone XL.