It’s been a long time coming for opponents of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline — public comments, rallies of over 50,000 people in D.C., petitions from all corners of the globe, and 72-year-old women U-locking their necks to pipeline equipment. The proposed pipeline (with various possible routes) will be used for transporting tar sands from Alberta, Canada, down to Texas for refining. There are two issues with this statement: “Tar sands” and “pipeline.” Let’s go over the usual retorts for why this pipeline is “good”:
“It’ll boost our economy!” they say. “It’ll create jobs!” “It will give the U.S. energy security!” “It will make our gas cheaper!” The list goes on and on. Now I want you to think about these statements as I delve deeper into our two root issues: tar sands and pipelines.
Tar sands. It already sounds gross. Tar, as we know it, is a black, gooey substance that our roads are made with. Sand is the stuff we find on beaches that is composed of ground-up rocks, seashells and coral. Now let’s put the two together, and what do we get? The Alberta Tar Sands. But how does that make oil? Well, the process is quite simple, actually:
Step 1: Clear cut the precious Boreal Forest that represents more than half of Canada’s land area, sustains countless plants and animals, and plays a critical role in mitigating global climate change.
Step 2: Start digging. And by digging, we mean use some of the largest mechanical machines known to man that are capable of gouging out 16,000 cubic meters of earth per hour, filling up dump trucks that are 22 feet high and nearly 50 feet long, then hauling 400 tons of sand per load.
Step 3: Crush the sand into tiny particles using crushers. Mix the crushed sand with hot water with added chemicals to draw out the sludge (known as bitumen). This tar is so thick that you have to cut it with solvents in order to transport it in the pipeline.
Step 4: So you added solvents. This makes it difficult to process, but there is a solution: just hydrotreat your sludge (use a lot of water, natural gas and oil) to get rid of those solvents like nitrogen, sulfur and other metals. Now heat it again to remove the carbon and add hydrogen. No big deal, we fixed it, guys!
Step 5: Now we’re ready to send it through another pipeline to refine it, but because most of our refineries aren’t built to handle the task of the heavy bitumen, we’ll have to build new ones. We got this.
That’s a lot, but what else? It takes as much as four tons of sand and four barrels of fresh water to make a barrel of synthetic oil, which is good for about 42 gallons of gas, or one fill-up for a 1997 Chevrolet Suburban. This process of extracting tar from sand to feed our fossil fuel dependence is just absolutely ridiculous. In addition, the greenhouse gas emissions are 19 percent higher than traditional fossil fuels. The European Union attempted to single out tar sands as “highly polluting,” and Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the British Liberal Democrats, compared them to land mines, blood diamonds and cluster bombs. Sounds great, right?
So then, let’s talk about the pipeline. There are obvious issues with it like leaking, explosions, damage to wildlife, imposing on people’s property, etc. (We’ve seen about five pipeline issues in the past few weeks not relevant to the Keystone XL Pipeline, which are signs of what’s to come), but there’s also a lot of false information about the benefits created by the pipeline that the U.S. State Department has put in its State Impact Report of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The U.S. State Department stated that the pipeline would create many jobs. In reality, it will create 35 permanent jobs and 3,900 construction jobs (for one year), and only 10 percent of those jobs will be filled by local people living in communities along the route.
But we won’t be dependent on foreign fossil fuels, right? The State Department found that the purpose of the pipeline will likely be to export Canadian crude from the U.S. after it’s refined. An estimated 60 percent of crude oil will be exported after it’s refined. Well, that does us a lot of good, especially because it will not lower gas prices for Americans by a single cent!
So the State Department got a few things right, but there are also some things they missed, like the fact that the Keystone XL Pipeline will drastically expand the tar sands industry and increase carbon pollution. The pipeline will also be a major threat to fresh water. The total carbon pollution impacts of Keystone XL increase to the equivalent of over 9 million cars on the road when considering the total emissions to produce tar sands and the combustion of the crude oil. Despite alterations in the route of the Keystone XL Pipeline, it will still cross more than 1,000 water bodies across three states and 875 miles, threatening fresh water for millions of people if there is a bitumen spill. Tar sands oil is almost impossible to clean up because it sinks in water, costing billions of dollars to recover. TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline has spilled 14 times in the U.S. within one year of operation, including the spill in Kalamazoo, Mich., where 40 miles are still contaminated and may never be recovered.
I’ve had the privilege of attending both anti-Keystone XL Pipeline rallies on the National Mall in Washington. This past year in February, I gathered with over 50,000 like-minded friends and individuals to stand up to Big Oil and the government that it chokes with money. The Keystone XL Pipeline is not our future — in fact, it’s the end of the future. Please take a stand.
Nicole Koedyker is the president of the Drexel Sierra Club. She can be contacted at [email protected].
The Drexel Sierra Club contributes weekly.