Issue Report: Keystone XL US-Canada oil pipeline

TransCanada Keystone Pipeline filed an application in 2008 for a Presidential Permit with the Department of State to build and operate the Keystone XL Project. The proposed Keystone XL Project would consist of a 1,700-mile crude oil pipeline and related facilities that would be used largely to transport Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin crude oil from an oil supply hub in Alberta, Canada to delivery points in Oklahoma and Texas. The project would also be capable of transporting U.S. crude from places like North Dakota and Montana to those delivery points. The project could transport up to 830,000 barrels per day and is estimated to cost $7 billion. If permitted, it would begin operation in 2013, with the actual date dependent on the necessary permits, approvals, and authorizations. The project has generated significant debate in the United States regarding the extraction and use of oil from Alberta’s tar sands, which generally results in greater environmental issues and greenhouse gas emissions than conventional reservoir extraction. Pipelines are also fairly vulnerable to spills. But, supporters argue it will create 100,000 jobs and strengthen US energy independence from sources in unstable and unfriendly regions of the world. While the Obama Administration did not approve the project, the Trump Administration has vowed to see it through. The pros and cons are considered below.

Environment: Is the Keystone XL pipeline tolerable for the environment?

Keystone XL will not appreciably add to global emissions.

A 2010 assessment of a US Energy Department study found that Keystone XL would “not appreciably increase” global life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. These findings were reinforced by the final Environmental Impact Statement from the State Department in August of 2011. Overall, it will simply be a drop in the bucket relative to global supply.

Climate targets could still be met with oil sands.

Brad Carson, the director of the National Energy Policy Institute, said to Living on Earth in June of 2011: “I have no doubt that if you look at the amount of resources that are talked about with the tar sands, or around the world, if we were simply to burn all of these oil reserves, we could probably still meet some of the climate targets of two degrees or three degrees Celsius. You know, scientists say that we can release only another 500 billion tons of carbon, and if you look at natural gas or oil, we can probably burn through most of that and still meet those numbers. We can’t do that plus burn all the coal in the world, of course.”

Keystone pipeline important as long as economy depends on oil.

Brad Carson, the director of the National Energy Policy Institute, said to Living on Earth in June of 2011: “The larger debate […] is whether we need to wean ourselves off of oil in the near term, period. And that is a debate worth having. But so long as we’re an oil addicted economy, the tar sands I think can play an important role in the world oil market.”

Pipeline oil spills are not so bad

Keystone XL will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions

Keystone taps Alberta tar sands, the world's dirtiest fuel.

"Keystone XL Pipeline." Friends of the Earth:

“Pollution from tar sands oil greatly eclipses that of conventional oil. During tar sands oil production alone, levels of carbon dioxide emissions are three times higher than those of conventional oil, due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into the United States daily, doubling our country’s reliance on it and resulting in climate-damaging emissions equal to adding more than six million new cars to U.S. roads.”

Keystone XL will emit more than other oil production

"Pros and Cons of US-Canada Oil Pipeline," Living on Earth, June 10th, 2011

“GELLERMAN: But this oil, while it might be good for national security and energy independence, it is also very, very polluting in terms of greenhouse gasses. CARSON: It is right now. It does release more greenhouse gasses than other forms of oil production, than more traditional forms of oil production. And that too is one of the issues that many of the environmentalists have raised in complaining about the Keystone XL. That, you know, they’re opposed to tar sands development for that very reason.”

Investing in tars sands delays transition to clean energy

Refining tar sands oil is more polluting to air quality

Keystone XL taps water-wasting tar sands

Safety: Is the Keystone XL pipeline safe for human communities?

Pipelines are the safest mode of transportation.

"The proposed Keystone XL pipeline will be built responsibly." TransCanada Corporation. July 13th, 2011:

“Pipelines remain the safest method of transporting oil – safer than tankers, trucks or rail. Each day in the U.S., more than 200,000 miles of pipelines move oil and other energy products safely to where they are needed. That’s enough pipe to circle the earth eight times.”

Pipeline spills are uncommon.

"The proposed Keystone XL pipeline will be built responsibly." TransCanada Corporation. July 13th, 2011:

“National pipeline statistics indicate that pipeline accidents are uncommon and that leaks tend to be small; most pipeline leaks involve three barrels or less, 80 percent of spills involve less than 50 barrels and less than 0.5 percent of spills total more than 10,000 barrels.”

Keystone XL would be one of the safest pipelines ever.

"The proposed Keystone XL pipeline will be built responsibly." TransCanada Corporation. July 13th, 2011:

“Using the most advanced technology, the pipeline will be monitored 24 hours a day through a centralized control centre. 16,000 sensors embedded in the pipeline provide data via satellite every five seconds. If the slightest drop in pipeline pressure is detected, remote valves are automatically closed, shutting off the flow of oil within minutes. Our pipeline would cross Montana’s Yellowstone River. As Governor Brian Schweitzer (D) pointed out, Keystone XL will use the most advanced construction techniques, including horizontal directional drilling that allows us to drill under the river a minimum of 25 feet. The pipe will be built with thicker steel, operate at a lower pressure and use advanced coatings to protect the surface from abrasion – all in an effort to further improve safety. To ensure the integrity of our pipelines longer term, they are cathodically protected, which means a low-voltage electric current runs through the pipeline, inhibiting external corrosion.”

The Keystone XL pipeline contains significant risk of spills

"Keystone XL Pipeline," Friends of the Earth:

“TransCanada already attempted to cut corners by seeking a safety waiver to build the pipeline with thinner-than-normal steel and to pump oil at higher-than-normal pressures. Thanks to the pressure exerted by Friends of the Earth and allies, the company withdrew its safety waiver application in August 2010. The threat of spills remains. In summer 2010, a million gallons of tar sands oil poured into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan from a pipeline run by another Canadian company, Enbridge. The spill exposed residents to toxic chemicals, coated wildlife and has caused long-term damage to the local economy and ecosystem. Heightening concerns, TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline has spilled a dozen times in less than a year of operation, prompting a corrective action order from the Department of Transportation. Experts warn that the more acidic and corrosive consistency of the type of tar sands oil being piped into the U.S. makes spills more likely, and have joined the EPA in calling on the State Department to conduct a thorough study of these risks. The Keystone XL pipeline would traverse six U.S. states and cross major rivers, including the Missouri River, Yellowstone, and Red Rivers, as well as key sources of drinking and agricultural water, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies two million Americans.”

Keystone XL crosses and jeopardizes sensitive environment.

Mark Bittman. "Profits before environment," The New York Times, August 30th, 2011

“XL is right: the 36-inch-wide pipeline, which will stretch from the Alberta tar sands across the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast, will cost $7 billion and run for 1,711 miles – more than twice as long as the Alaska pipeline. It will cross nearly 2,000 rivers, the huge wetlands ecosystem called the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer, the country’s biggest underground freshwater supply.”

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