Energy / Politics

The Keystone XL Pipeline, really in our interest?

The current crisis in Crimea symbolizes a world where energy security became, more than ever, a key aspect of a nation’s economy. Here in the USA, the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is currently the most animated debate related to the energy issues. Most Americans are in favor of its construction, as they see in the project an opportunity to create jobs, guarantee energy security and strengthen relationships with an ally nation (Canada). But a deeper analysis of this project may reveal that the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL)  is actually not so much in favor of the American interest.

The first reason is the fact that, in reality, KXL will not create as many jobs as many may think. “Short term, there will be jobs for everyone around here. Then, not many at all,” said Jeremy Rippe, a Kansas pipeline worker. He witnessed a similar scenario four years ago when TransCanada (the same company who will eventually build the controversial fourth phase of the pipeline) built a new section of the already existing Keystone pipeline, hence creating many jobs. However, these jobs dried up over the months, leaving only about 60 full time job positions. In the particular case of the KXL, a recent State Department study reported that after completion of the pipeline, only about 35 positions would remain as full-time.

From an environmental point of view, the same study from the State Department showed that the construction of the pipeline would not have a significant impact on the environment. However, just like Mr. Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club mentioned during the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Hearing that took place on March 15, the pipeline would go through highly sensitive terrain and would have catastrophic impacts on the environment if spills occur: air pollution, pollution of critical water supplies, harm on migratory birds and wildlife in general. Let’s not forget that we are dealing with tar sand oil, which is one of the most corrosive and toxic oil in the market.

Another important aspect that tends to be forgotten is the formation of Petroleum Coke (Petcoke) as a byproduct of the refinery of tar sand oil. From data recorded by the EIA, the U.S. is already the biggest producer of Petcoke. Petcoke can be used as a fuel, very similarly to coal. Nevertheless, it is a major concern because even though Petcoke is cheap, it produces significant amount of CO2 emissions and contains vanadium, a metal that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (a France-based organization that coordinates cancer research between nations) suspects to cause human cancer in prolonged or elevated exposure. Furthermore, small particles of pollution can easily lodge in people’s lungs and can lead to respiratory problems or worsen asthma, ecology Center research director Jeff Gearhart said. Last year in Detroit, several households noticed Petcoke dust on their doors, windows and other furniture, all coming from the piles of Petcoke stocked at the neighboring tar sand oil refineries. Who knows what will consequences on their health be?

Proponents of the KXL project argue that it is in Americans best interest.. The term “ Americans” may be too generic. During the Senate Committee of Foreign Affairs that took place this past March 15, Mr. Brune mentioned how thousands miles of farms and ranges will be cut from the pipeline. Sen. Barbara Boxer firmly rejected the KXL project, claiming that she had the support of 185,000 nurses who have witnessed more and more children suffering from respiratory problems due to air pollution. Also, let’s not forget that this Canadian tar sand oil will be exported. Consequently, it will not benefit in satisfying the energy needs of the American population. On top of that, can we really talk about improvement of the energy security when the energy source is aimed towards exportation?

In a world in which we are facing the threat of climate change, the United States, a land of leadership and innovation, should focus more on developing cleaner energetic systems as well as renewable energies. In doing so, many Americans will find jobs, it will diversify the energy sources Americans depend on, hence improving the Energy Security of the nation. Most importantly, it will give our beloved children the chance to live a healthy life.