Environmental Awareness Leading to Environmental Change
By: Rachel Knight
The Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline if passed, will run from the country of Canada to Mexico cutting through the United States. You may wonder why you should care about this new pipeline that is being debated. I mean at first glance you may think, “oh new ways to obtain oil, no more having to rely on foreign exports” or “ more job opportunities” or even “ COOL lower gas prices!” but what you may not know about are the vast environmental and health risks associated with building and operating such a pipeline. If this pipeline is approved we will all experience increases in global warming, permanent climate change, habitat destruction, and will greatly affect the quality of our water and air! Also, this pipeline can actually INCREASE gas prices rather than lower them!
What are Tar Sands?
Nicknamed “dirty oil” this product poses a great threat to our environment and planet. This form of oil emits higher green house gas emissions than oil or gas! Tar sands is a combination of clay, sand, water and bitumen (a black viscous oil). The bitumen is extracted through an extremely complex process and then used as oil. Hence, why it must be processed through refineries thousands of miles away from where it is found.
What’s with the “XL”?
Unfortunately, this would not be the first pipeline to be made within the United States. There are actually already two that have been in use, which both start in Canada and run through the United States. One of those pipelines, named “Keystone I Pipeline” has already experienced 12 spills in its first year of production; which is funny considering Transcanda predicted the Keystone I pipeline would see only one oil spill every seven years. Clearly, these companies are not accurate in their predictions. The Keystone XL pipeline would not be much different.
What the Pipeline Would Do:
The pipeline would carry up to 900,000 barrels per day of tar sand oil from Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast, about a 2,000-mile trip. It would have to run through multiple states within the U.S including: Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the states which the pipeline would cross through harbor “America’s agricultural heartland, the Missouri and Niobrara Rivers, the Ogallala aquifer, sage grouse habitat, sandhill crane habitat, walleye fisheries and more”. What does this mean? Our public water supply, crop lands, wildlife habitats, air quality, etc. will all be at risk if a tar sands oil leak would occur. The proposed pipeline will be cutting through some of the most sensitive habitats in America’s heartland, and it’s just not worth the risk.
Pipeline leaks are not simply being assumed, they are almost inevitable. This is because those proposing the pipeline have previously used “safety” shortcuts ( which ended up not being so safe) and participate in unsafe practices with other pipelines, which creates an extremely high risk of pipeline ruptures. All of us are very aware of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill. It’s scary to think it’s possible we could be experiencing something similar to that right in the middle of our country and on a much more regular basis.
Communities near the already in use pipelines have experienced health problems linked to pollution. When the tar sands are refined in U.S facilities, the pollution directly affects our air and water. The form of oil being extracted from the tar sands, bitumen, is very thick and when it spills or leaks into water it sinks instantly. This would make it extremely difficult if not impossible to remove it completely from water. If this pipeline is built it will affect over 633 bodies of water in the state of Texas alone, only one of the many states the pipeline will cross through.
Further, wildlife species are at risk, such as the millions of migrating cranes, and other birds. If the Pipeline is approved we can almost guarantee to see destruction of ecosystems, production of lake-sized reservoirs of toxic waste, and large quantities of toxic chemicals released into our environment. Due to the fact that this “cheap oil” creates such a ridiculous level of green house gas emissions we will be changing our climate forever. If we fully develop the tar sands in Canada, we can guarantee game over for the climate according to NASA’s top climate scientist.
There has been talk about building a refinery near Canada that would allow the United States to not have another Keystone pipeline built. Although this would reduce multiple risks related to possible leaks, ruptures or spills, it still does not solve the problem of global warming, high levels of green house gas emissions, or pollution to air and water quality.
The current status of the pipeline is still being debated, but the truth is, with each tar sands pipeline our government approves, we only increase our dependence on this dirty fuel. Staying informed on this controversial topic, and informing others can be a tremendous help to putting a stop to a pipeline that ultimately will do more harm than good to our planet, our environment, and our health.