As a new proposal is being submitted to try and revive the Keystone Pipeline XL we again need to look at this project to determine how wise it would be to proceed. I care deeply about the protection of our planet so I have major concerns about this project. However, I also am aware that, with the current problems with the US economy, people need jobs and have to feed their families. So when something like this comes around it’s important to look at the big picture to see if this is something worth doing. We have to look at the risks involved and the potential rewards that could be gained by building it. It would take hundreds of pages to go through all the different risks and rewards involved with this project so let’s just take a look at the main points on both sides. The two most obvious are the risks of spills and the reward of badly needed jobs. First let’s look at the risk of spills.
TransCanada says that the pipeline will be safe and that their Keystone pipelines are the safest on the continent. The numbers disagree. TransCanada predicted their Keystone I pipeline would have 1 spill in 7 years. In fact, they had 12 spills in 1 year. The company was ordered to dig up 10 sections of pipeline after government ordered tests indicated that defective steel may have been used. Some of this same steel, that is manufactured outside of the US so there is limited oversight on the quality of its production, will be used for the new pipeline. This pipeline damage is also partly due to the more corrosive nature of tar sands oil. It is a heavy, tar-like sludge called ‘bitumen’ that is chemically treated, diluted and forced through the pipeline under high pressure. The Global Labor Institute of Cornell University (GLI), who did an independent study on the pipeline project, concluded that spills are 3 times more likely per mile with tar sands derived oil than conventional oil. And when they occur, the damage is greater, the public health risks are larger, the clean-up harder and the costs higher (much higher). We see evidence of this in Michigan where the clean-up of the Talmadge Creek/Kalamazoo River oil spill (from tar sands oil) was originally estimated to take 30-60 days and cost $5 million. After a year, 35 miles of river were still closed and the cost had passed $585 million. One of the reasons for the increase in cost and difficulty of clean-up besides the chemical factor is that tar sands oil sinks in water unlike conventional oil, which makes oil cleaning skimmers useless. We can also take lessons from the oil spill that dumped 42,000 gallons in the Yellowstone River just weeks after a company inspection and federal review had found nothing wrong. According to GLI, in 2010 US pipeline spills and explosions killed 22 people, released over 170,000 barrels of petroleum into the environment and caused $1 billion worth of damage in the US. High risk when you consider that the oil going through the new pipeline is not even going to be sold to US customers, but sold overseas (and not subject to US taxes).
But what about creating jobs that are so badly need right now in the US. This is another interesting area as I have seen predictions that say the pipeline will produce upwards of 20,000, 50,000 and even 100,000 jobs. After doing some research I found it very interesting how people figure some of these numbers. For instance, in some predictions a temporary job that is projected to possibly last for 3 years is considered 3 jobs. Well, you just tripled your job projection using that technique. Others use ‘possible’ job increases with other industries associated with oil production. These are totally subjective as you can attach just about any industry if you try hard enough, you can use any number you want as far as ‘possible’ increases and you can use very short-term temporary jobs in your numbers. So let’s go to a third-party that has to use real numbers. The GLI independent study, using information from TransCanada supplied to the State Department, says the project will produce no more than 2500-4650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years. Even maxed out, that is less than 5,000 jobs and they are all TEMPORARY, lasting no more than 2 years. This is not a huge impact on our job market. Speaking of jobs, let’s look at how invested money in the energy market translates into jobs. According to GLI, for every $1 million invested in renewable and clean energy, 16.7 jobs are created. For every $1 million invested in the fossil fuel industry, 5.3 jobs are created. That’s a 3 to 1 ratio. Renewable energy is growing at twice the rate of the overall economy. The clean energy economy currently employs 2.7 million workers overall. Between, 2003-2010, a time when many industries were cutting jobs, clean energy economy employers added 500,000 jobs. In contrast, the top five oil companies generated $546 billion (yes, billion with a B) in profits between 2005-2010, but reduced their combined US workforce by 11,200. The new pipeline will not reduce the cost of gas. In fact, it is expected to increase gas prices in the Midwest by 10 to 20 cents a gallon by diverting tar sands oil from the Midwest to be sold overseas. Midwest farmers that are already struggling could see the amount of money they have to spend on fuel increase from $12.4 billion in 2009 to $15 billion in 2013 if the pipeline goes through.
There are many other factors to consider that can’t be fully addressed here concerning the new pipeline. The massive impact of CO2 gasses it produces, the impact on protected wilderness and wildlife in Canada, the consumption of drinking water and natural gas for the production of tar sands oil are just a few. Consider that threatened woodland caribou have declined by nearly 50% over the past 10 years in the tar sands region. Certain bird species have already declined by as much as 80% in areas heavily affected by tar sands development. One barrel of tar sands oil generates 3 to 5 times the global warming emissions that producing the same amount of conventional oil would. By 2015, the oil sands industry in Canada could emit more greenhouse gases than the nation of Denmark. Everyday 3 million barrels of drinking water are lost to tar sands production. The area used for oil sands production could spread to an area the size of Florida. So is the reward worth the risk? The answer is pretty obvious to me. It’s time to put the Keystone XL pipeline project in the trash bin and focus on helping the clean energy economy. We have to get realistic about how we produce and use energy. The planet is dying and we have to change our ways of operating. That will mean sacrificing. A lot of sacrificing, but the cost of doing business the same as we have been is just too high. For once, we need to stop being short-sighted and look to the future. Too much depends on it.
May 6, 2012