skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Rocky Kistner’s Blog

Report; Keystone XL Pipeline Economic Risks Ignored

Rocky Kistner

Posted March 13, 2012

, , , , ,
Share | | |

For all the pompous prognostications by Keystone XL tar sands pipeline boosters in Congress about jobs and economic impacts, you don’t have to look much further than the devastated communities of the Kalamazoo River to get to the truth about the dangers this project will pose to America’s heartland.  

That’s where an Enbridge Energy pipeline carrying toxic Canadian tar sands crude burst in July, 2010, spewing over a million gallons of a chemically-treated tar sands brew into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The result was the biggest oil pipeline spill in U.S. history, adding economic insult to a region wracked by recession and high unemployment.  About 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River are still closed as cleanup operations to try to remove huge submerged oil deposits sunk to the bottom.

That toxic nightmare is a perfect backdrop for a new economic report just released from Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute. The study shows the negative economic impacts and dangers of tar sands pipelines, largely ignored by politicians more interested in playing political games than solving the nation’s critical energy needs.  

Watch Michigan resident Deb Miller talk about the impact of the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill on her business.


The Cornell Report is a roadmap to how the Keystone XL pipeline will pose an unprecedented threat to America’s rivers, aquifers and agricultural and drinking water sources. Here’s how NRDC's Danielle Droitsch blogged about it today:

While there has been a lot of attention to the possible jobs created from the Keystone XL pipeline – far less than what proponents claim – there has been very little attention to jobs that could be lost from a tar sands spill. Keystone XL is expected experience up to 91 significant spills over a 50-year period.  Which jobs are at risk?  Hundreds of thousands of workers in the agricultural and tourism sectors contribute tens of billions of dollars to the economy in the Keystone XL pipeline states.  The Cornell report helps illustrate yet one more reason why the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline should be rejected.   

But Cornell isn’t the only academic institution to sound the alarm over the outsized risks of shipping corrosive tar sands oil through a 1,700-mile pipeline, a steel structure that has to be heated and pressurized to move the tar-like crude to its destination. Danielle Droitsch lays it out here in her blog:

An independent analysis conducted by the University of Nebraska concluded that Keystone XL over a 50-year period is expected to experience 91 significant spills (greater than 50 barrels).  In fact, the University of Nebraska study found Keystone XL could spill as much as 6.9 million gallons of raw tar sands crude oil at the Yellowstone River crossing.  In just its first year of operation, the first Keystone pipeline operated by TransCanada has spilled 35 times in the United States and Canada in 2010.  This spill frequency is 100 times higher than forecast by TransCanada.

Are we really comfortable shipping millions of barrels of this highly toxic stuff through the nation’s breadbasket when the pipeline operator has a track record like that? Put it this way; if TransCanada was in the airline business, would you jump on board? Not if you're a sane frequent flyer. Many business travelers would be worried about the risks too. Check out this letter from U.S. business leaders who implored President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline due to economic concerns about investing in a dirty, dangerous tar sands project.

Turtle in the oiled Kalamazoo River, July, 2010.  Photo: Michelle Barlond Smith

So let's get this straight. Americans are being told we need this $7 billion pipeline so a foreign corporation (TransCanada) can expand a massive environmental wasteland in the boreal forests of Alberta, ship highly toxic tar sands sludge through some of America’s most precious and important water resources and aquifers, creating one of the biggest land grabs in recent memory by using aggressive eminent domain tactics with U.S. landowners from the Dakotas to Texas, then transport this nasty crude to massive refineries in the Gulf so we can export gasoline and oil products overseas? Not to mention we would put the planet at greater risk since processing tar sands oil creates at least three times as many greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil.

Who really profits from this? Studies show the jobs created will be temporary, and even those are not even close to what oil industry boosters promise. Unfortunately, in this election season, it's hard to imagine many members of Congress making sane and rational decisions about protecting our health and environment. They will be too busy attending fat cat fundraisers and improving their golf scores.

The rest of us—like the residents along the Kalamazoo River—can only hope that voters across the country will read the Cornell report and learn the real facts about this Keystone XL pipeline boondoggle. When voters learn about the true dangers to their health and economic well-being, the politicians that risked people's livelihoods for oil industry profits may be forced to find new jobs of their own.

That’s not just a pipe dream either.

Share | | |


Steve SmithMar 14 2012 01:21 PM

2 Questions:

1) How do the environmental affects of Alberta's underground steaming practices compare to the alternatives (middle eastern and south american environmental practices)?

2) Blocking the pipeline means a lot of this oil will be transported into the USA by train cars, which are less energetically efficient than pipelines. Do the rail cars travel over sensitive areas also? Or do they travel over more benign routes?


Stefan DoeringMar 16 2012 10:49 AM

Evidently it is not relevant what the impact is or would be on people and the planet.

It would be a cost of doing business if any disaster were to happen with the pipeline.

Thanks for this NRDC!

Jo GibbsMar 16 2012 11:14 AM

Why is it cost effective to build and transport crude as opposed to building their own refineries in Canada? What happens when we have a hurricane and our (I am in Texas) refineries close down for weeks at a time? Think of the increased amount of shipping and the risks from shipping toxic crude to the Gulf. As I understand, we are now producing so much of our own oil now that we are beginning to export - if this is true then when will people realize that more oil doesn't correlate to lower gas prices, as evident in our high gas prices today?

robert steneckMar 16 2012 12:08 PM

take good care of water and seas an that god gave us all to drink is not anuff that we need repair the membrane are world need in space what haze are generations become

Farley AndrewsMar 16 2012 12:13 PM

I live in Ottawa, IL, where a precipitous increase in frack-sand mining, is threatening citizen health and safety, environmental and agricultural interests, as well as the financial viability of the entire county, not to mention the folks, in other parts of the country, whose quality of life and livelihoods are forever changed by the "fracking" process near their properties. What will it take to "spark" public realization of the fragile nature of our relationship with Earth, its growing number of human inhabitants, and finite resources presently controlled and exploited by the few, for great profit and little "payback" for the majority ? When and how will such a rebellion come about to change our ways of thinking ? - Farley Andrews

BSMar 19 2012 10:37 AM

Farley--Fracking has been used more than a million times since the 1940s. Recent EPA testing of wells that have supposedly been contaminated by fracking has turned up nothing:

I'm sure there have been a few unfortunate exceptions, but overall, fracking is a safe practice that is not contaminating groundwater.

This "crusade" against fracking is similar to the false "crusade" from a few years ago where vaccines were blamed for causing autism. Just like with fracking, those that blamed autism on vaccines had zero valid data to back up their claims. That false crusade set back legitimate autism research and also resulted in children getting serious illnesses that could have been prevented had they gotten their vaccinations.

Let's stick to science, not rumors, witch hunts, etc. OK?

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Rocky Kistner’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In