skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz’s Blog

Keystone XL tar sands pipeline: House once again holds transportation jobs hostage to Big Oil giveaways

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted April 17, 2012

, , , , , ,
Share | | |

Construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be a tragic mistake. Every day the pipeline would pump the world’s dirtiest oil through the fertile heart of America’s breadbasket. The Obama administration in January 2012 denied the permit for this pipeline. But as Republicans in the House attach a provision to approve the project to their Surface Transportation extension bill, we have to ask whether they are trying to kill our national transportation program with an unnecessary extension loaded with unrelated provisions. Not only is the approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline completely unrelated to the transportation bill, it will undermine the good that would come from strengthening clean transportation policies by increasing our infrastructure for a dirty, expensive and risky form of oil. The Keystone XL pipeline threatens American homes, farms, and ranches with tar sands oil spills and the extreme weather effects of worsening climate change. It raises oil prices. It derails continued growth in clean energy jobs. It funnels money to foreign oil corporations. Clean transportation solutions and fuel efficiency – not another tar sands pipeline – is the only way to protect America’s economy, energy security, health, and environment. Congress should pass the bi-partisan Senate transportation bill and stop playing politics with our transportation future.

World’s dirtiest oil

It takes two tons of tar sands – strip-mined or pumped up from pipes drilled deep down into the forest’s soil – to produce just one barrel of low-grade crude. This tar sands oil must then be extensively refined to become fuel. Producing tar sands oil generates three times the greenhouse gas pollution as producing conventional North American crude.

Threatening America’s breadbasket and waterways

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would bisect the Great Plains and its 250,000 ranches and farms. Keystone XL would also cross more than 1,500 waterways, including major aquifers, from the Yellowstone River in Montana to Pine Island Bayou in Texas. It would threaten these waterways with the kind of spills that in 2010 gushed 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River – a spill is still not fully cleaned up.

Raising oil prices

Tar sands pipeline backers have cited high U.S. gas prices as a reason to approve Keystone XL. There is no credible evidence, however, that gas prices would decline if Keystone XL was constructed. The truth is, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline could actually add to our nation’s pain at the pump. TransCanada, the oil company proposing the construction of Keystone XL, admits that, “The resultant increase in the price of heavy crude is estimated to provide an increase in annual revenue to the Canadian producing industry of US $2 billion to US $3.9 billion.”

A real job-killer

Pipeline proponents claim the project will create tens of thousands of jobs. This is false. According to the U.S. State Department, no more than 6,500 construction jobs will be created. Few of these would be local hires. A Cornell University study concluded that by reducing investment in a clean energy economy that already employs 2.7 million people, the pipeline would actually kill more American jobs than it creates.

Making us more oil-dependent, not more secure

From refineries and ports along the Gulf of Mexico, tar sands crude oil could leave the U.S. and be exported globally. Military experts warn the Keystone XL pipeline would just perpetuate our deadly oil dependence. “The Keystone XL pipeline will not reduce America’s dependence on Middle East oil, or do anything to get us off oil completely, which is the key to America’s national security future,” said retired Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson.

Why should we assume a risk Canadians themselves don’t want?

Proposed tar sands pipelines to both coasts in Canada (the Northern Gateway to the west and the Trailbreaker to the east) have stalled because the public there wants to address legitimate safety concerns.

Clean solutions cut oil dependence, create jobs, lower gas prices

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a conduit to the past. Let’s not deepen our fossil fuel addiction. Let’s instead do what presidents dating back to Richard Nixon have called upon us to do – reduce our oil dependence. We can free our economy from unpredictable oil price fluctuations by encouraging fuel efficiency and smart growth. Adopting oil-savings policies would in just 20 years cut U.S. oil consumption and imports by 5.7 million barrels per day.

The House should stop playing games with our transportation future and pass the bi-partisan Senate transportation bill, without any giveaways to Big Oil. Tell your representative to stop trying to pass a tar sands pipeline that will take us backwards and instead moving forward with the Senate transportation bill. Go to to take action.

Share | | |


Mike H.Apr 17 2012 08:43 PM

One other angle of Keystone XL that needs more focus is the use of diluting light petroleum to allow that think tar sands oil to be pumped (dilbit). That diluent will come from US refineries. So, will that cause the price for gasoline, fuel oil, diesel, etc., to rise as well, since it uses natural gas condensates? Condensates are not free, it's used to make fuel & chemicals.

Why can't they refine some of that tar sands crude in Canada to make the diluents there, instead of piping it in from the US? To say nothing of the extra costs to make fuels from tar sands crude will be more expensive than refining conventional crude.

Max Horst PowerApr 18 2012 03:19 AM

as a Canadian who actually reads Canadian publications,60% of Canadians actually do want to see a pipeline built to transport tar sands oil,but not the Keystone,we want the pipeline built to the west coast.The Chinese will pay us 15% more/bbl than America.

BSApr 18 2012 12:39 PM

The diluent generally doesn't come from refineries. And even if it does, it all goes right back to a refinery. There is no reduction in supply.

If they built refineries up north, they would then likely have to build multiple pipelines instead of one. And it would also likely put some Gulf Coast refineries out of business. So the billions of dollars spent to do that would not be a good investment (i.e. your fuel prices would go up).

Thomas SpencerApr 19 2012 03:37 PM

To start with, the six states through which the Keystone-XL pipeline is planned, Kansas, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, have all given TransCanada the power of eminent domain! Some of the states have a modicum of private protection, but in Texas, if TransCanada wants your land, it's theirs.

They have given a foreign private company... transporting foreign private goods... to be exported to foreign markets... through U.S. territory... the power to take private U.S. land!! And our courts will probably bow down and not consider this an "unreasonable seizure", as prohibited by our constitution.

It's more than outrageous. It's thievery by TransCanada and the politicians and courts who bent to money.

Just some facts on the pipeline

"What's the advantage of sending Canadian crude to refineries way down in Port Arthur, Texas? Aha - because it's a port, and duty free (no export taxes). What the pushers of Keystone want to keep secret from you and me is that this oil will not be made into gasoline for our vehicles. Most of it will be refined into diesel and jet fuel and exported to Europe, China, and Latin America. The claim that the pipeline will reduce our reliance on OPEC is an outright lie."

It will provide only a few hundred temporary construction jobs, and a few dozen maintenance/monitoring jobs.

Why not run it straight west through all that unspoiled Canadian wilderness to the coast? It couldn't be that they're afraid of a spill, could it? Or, maybe just tearing through the unspoiled tundra into the biggest salmon fishery on the coast might offend someone (not be politically survivable). The Canadian government itself has delayed any approval of a pipeline on Canadian soil for over a year. Environmental and property ownership factors are a major concern for them, as they should be for us.

The Keystone XL pipeline would be an enormous physical structure, spanning almost two thousand miles, requiring special engineering almost every few yards of the way as it crosses mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, farmland, transmission lines and roads. It will have numerous pumping stations and "should" have a sophisticated electronic monitoring and control system, which itself would be subject to multiple failures.

There will be "several" spills/year. As an engineer, I can tell you that such a structure cannot be built to be spill proof, and there is a statistical certainty that it cannot operate flawlessly. It follows there is a statistical certainty of spills. Trans Canada itself "guessed" it would suffer a spill every seven years...but their own pipeline experience is a dozen spills in a year.

After it's useful life, the structure bisecting the United States will remain as an enormous, silent, ugly monument to corporate greed and political corruption.

“The Keystone XL pipeline is probably the single most environmentally destructive project in North America threatening millions of trees and thousands of miles of rivers, lakes and streams as it snakes its way across the nation’s heartland." This is not an idle concern.

A little looking on the Internet about the pipeline shows the only real beneficiaries would be the oil companies, and state governments that will receive some transit tax, at great cost to the public well being.

The pipeline is a political boondoggle at the behest of big oil. Altogether, the company paid $1.33 million on lobbying (read bribes) in D.C. last year. Senators voting for the pipeline have received $27,552,302 from fossil fuel industries, on average, 3 times more than those voting against it. John Boehner (R-Ohio) had “folks from Keystone management as his guests at the State of the Union speech.

The fact that the payroll tax cut for American families had been held hostage to this environmental train wreck is unbelievable. And now the thieving crooked Republicans in D.C. are holding a critical transportation bill hostage to the approval of this farce. This whole deal is just rotten from the tar sands to the stinking refineries in Texas, that have already ruined our air, and all so that the pathetically clueless fundamentalists morons can "win one".

Just as a footnote, the biggest U.S. export last year was...fuel! Think about that until you come up with a clue about why oil interests want the pipeline.

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: Susan Casey-Lefkowitz’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In