On September 19, 2008, The TransCanada Corporation submitted an application to the U.S. State Department to begin building the Keystone XL (XL standing for eXport Limited) pipeline in the United States. More than six years later, the pipeline is still under debate. The project, though generating little controversy when first submitted, began receiving attention in 2011 after an environmental impact study was released by the State Department (Hansen). Major newspapers and online sites picked up the report. Numerous pro- and anti- pipeline groups and websites sprang up soon afterwards. Major news networks such as Fox and MSNBC began extensively reporting on the Keystone XL pipeline. Politicians also began speaking in favor of or against the project. On February 17, 2013, nearly 40,000 people descended on Washington, D.C. to protest the pipeline (Meyer and Burch). Why is the Keystone XL pipeline so controversial?
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline will transport tar sands oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Baker, Montana, and finally to Steele City, Nebraska. It will be over 1,700 miles long when it is completed (that is, if it is ever even built). It will be able to carry nearly 830,000 barrels of oil a day when it becomes operational (Eilperin). However, the Keystone XL pipeline will not be the first pipeline TransCanada will build in the US. It is, in fact, the fourth and final phase of the Keystone Pipeline system, a $12.2 billion oil-transporting network. The Keystone XL pipeline is expected to be the most expensive part of the pipeline system, costing an estimated $7 billion (Mufson). Once the pipeline reaches Steele city, it will be connected to an existing oil pipeline, and that oil will then be transported to refineries near Houston, Texas. From there, some of the oil will be exported out of the country, while the rest is diverted to refineries and then shipped to other parts of the US (Hargreaves).
The project has been the subject of much controversy because of its planned route over the Ogallala aquifer. The Ogallala aquifer is the largest known aquifer in the world at over 174,000 square miles. It stretches from South Dakota to Texas, touching parts of Oklahoma and five other states (Mufson). There are fears that oil from the pipeline will leak into the aquifer and contaminate it for years to come. There is also protest against the transporting of oil, because of its role in increasing global warming. Environmental activists have argued that the billions of dollars invested in the Keystone XL pipeline should instead be used to support green technologies such as solar and wind power (Eilperin and Mufson).
Many scientists and experts have come down on both sides of the issue. One of the most outspoken critics of the Keystone XL pipeline is Dr. James E. Hansen, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, and NASA’s chief climate scientist. Hansen has stated that, if Canada exploits its tar...