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Suffer The Short Term; Appreciate The Long Term

1818 words - 8 pages

Surrounded with controversy about environmental impact, cost of construction, and cronyism, constructing a new oil pipeline from Canada to the United States is proving to be much more complicated than proponents originally assumes. On a fundamental level, the pipeline will only ease the transport of fuel from tar sands from the source in Alberta, Canada to the refinement plants in the United States. There are already several such pipelines constructed, so why is Keystone XL such a big issue? For some, the pipeline serves a symbolic role, and a win against the construction of the pipeline would serve as a win against tar sands, petroleum products, and nonrenewable power sources as a whole. ...view middle of the document...

Some suggest the Keystone XL pipeline will provide the United States with an economic stimulus and a boost to the energy security at a time when both are needed. In an editorial in Science, former head of the United States Geological Survey Marcia McNutt threw in her support of the pipeline, despite environmental concerns. She argues that “the absence of Keystone XL has not stopped development of the Canadian oil sands” (McNutt). TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone Pipeline System (which includes the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as well as three others), claims on their website that the proposed pipeline will “Create jobs and stimulate the U.S. economy”, “support U.S. manufacturing”, “support energy independence”, and “enhance energy security” (Matthew). Clearly, the primary goal of this pipeline is to generate profit for all parties involved, seeing as the pipeline is a private undertaking instead of a public work.
TransCanada continues to claim that the environmental impact of the Keystone XL pipeline will be negligible in almost all areas, and actually positive in certain areas. The pipeline is more environmentally friendly than the alternatives. In a letter to the US State Department, vice-president of regulatory affairs at TransCanada Kristine Delkus contends “Global crude oil demand is static. The world will not consume incremental volumes of crude oil because Keystone XL is constructed” (Delkus 1). Instead, it is expected that the bitumen will displace similar heavy crude oil from Venezuela and Mexico, which pose similar threats to the environment. Then, the main concern with the environmental impact of the pipeline should not be with the merits and demerits of tar sands, but instead with the actual transport of bitumen to the United States. Because the pipeline will be powered by electric motors, the “pipeline itself has little or no direct emissions when in operation” (Delkus 5). The pipeline would be an improvement to the current method of trains and trucks, reducing the impact of transportation. It would seem upon first glance that the controversy surrounding the pipeline is more of an issue of uninformed environmentalists than a legitimate issue, seeing as the pipeline is better than the alternatives. Unfortunately it is not this simple, because the benefits of the pipeline are generally rooted in the near future as opposed to long-term thinking. Even if the pipeline will displace other equally dirty energy sources with environmentally friendly transportation, it still promotes the usage of one of the worst environment-offending energy sources.
Assuming the pipeline actually is perfectly environmentally sound in terms of transportation, the technologies surrounding the exploitation of tar sands contain some great causes for environmental concern. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Thomas Homer-Dixon argues against the Keystone XL pipeline on the basis of environmental concerns surrounding tar sands in general....

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