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President Obama: Just Say “No” to Keystone XL Pipeline

Posted by Jessica Meeder on Dec 27, 2011 in Legal

Last month Congress approved a two-month payroll tax and unemployment extension bill. One of the provisions hidden deep inside the bill forces President Obama to make a decision within the next 60 days on whether to allow construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. While Republicans should be condemned for having forced the President to make such a monumental decision within such a short timeframe, the choice should nonetheless be clear. Investing in the Keystone XL pipeline would be a drastic step backwards—away from a cleaner and more secure energy future.

The debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline is not a typical debate about whether to allow a U.S. company to build a pipeline carrying conventional oil to U.S. markets. Instead, the Keystone pipeline would allow a Canadian oil company to build a 1,700-mile pipeline to ship the dirtiest oil on the planet—tar sands oil—from Alberta, Canada, across the U.S. Heartland, to the Gulf Coast. From there the oil would be shipped to foreign markets.

Mining Tar Sands Oil Creates Toxic Pools

Mining tar sands oil is one of the most environmentally destructive practices on Earth. In order to produce a single barrel of oil, approximately four tons of earth must be destroyed and removed. First, operators must remove all the trees, grasses, and wildlife, and then they dig down up to 250 feet in order to access the tar sands. Once they reach the sand, only 10 to 15 percent contains bitumen—a tar-like substance that can be processed into gasoline. The remaining 85 to 90 percent of the unearthed tar sand is dumped into unlined tailings “ponds.” Some of these “ponds” are already so large that they can be seen from space. Workers must use propane canons to scare away birds, since the sludge is so toxic that landing in the “pond” would be a death sentence. And since the “ponds” are unlined, it is estimated that three million gallons of this toxic sludge has already leaked into Canadian groundwater.

In addition to devastating the landscape and contaminating groundwater, extracting and processing tar sands oil requires significantly more energy than conventional oil drilling. In fact, tar sands oil production generates 82% more greenhouse gas emissions, mercury, and arsenic than does conventional oil production. Already tar sands fields are the single greatest source of Canadian CO2 emissions, and the Keystone Pipeline would put Canada along a path toward doubling its tar sands oil production.

Pipeline’s Path Still Unknown

Tar sands oil is also more corrosive than conventional oil and so must be pumped under extremely high temperature and pressure, which can lead to the weakening of pipelines and the increased potential for catastrophic oil spills. Last summer, a tar sands oil pipeline in Michigan ruptured and created one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history.

The Keystone XL Pipeline would carry tar sands oil across six U.S. states and would place American people and wildlife at risk from toxic oil spills, polluted water and more. A primary reason that President Obama requested extra time to review this project is that to this day we still do not know the exact path of the pipeline, and so we do not know exactly which sources of drinking water, wildlife habitats, and communities might be most affected by a potential spill. By forcing a decision within 60 days, the Republicans have left the President with no choice but to reject plans to build the Keystone XL Pipeline.

All of us concerned about human health and the environment must tell the President to reject the Keystone Pipeline. Increasing tar sands oil production, and allowing it to be carried across the entire length of the U.S. Heartland, is a step in the wrong direction—away from a cleaner and more secure energy future.

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