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Next up for Keystone XL: the question of national interest will show that the tar sands pipeline must be rejected

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted January 31, 2014

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As the assessment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline enters the final stages with the release of the final environmental review, there are a lot of questions about what we can expect. Bottom line: the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a project that brings risk with no reward. The environmental review for the pipeline is one step and it has been contentious. But the decisive phase is the national interest determination over the coming months. Given the overwhelming evidence, a national interest determination will show that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would create few jobs, bring tar sands to the Gulf for export, and put farms, homes and fresh water at risk. Add to that the fact that Keystone XL will drive tar sands expansion, significantly worsening climate pollution, it is clear that there is no justification for allowing the project to go forward.  The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest and should be rejected.

The Executive Order under which decisions are made on transboundary energy projects such as Keystone XL requires this national interest determination which starts after the environmental review is completed. The national interest determination period is at least 90 days and the State Department has said it would also have a process for public input.

Let’s review how completely this dirty energy project fails the national interest test on a few critical points:

  • Keystone XL’s path to export means less economic and energy security for the US, not more: Keystone XL tar sands oil is mostly destined for export. This is not a pipeline for US economic or energy security, but a project to spur tar sands expansion, raise oil prices and help the oil industry. Why this push to export tar sands overseas? It is commonly acknowledged by the oil industry and financial analysts that tar sands expansion is currently stalled due to the low prices for this very expensive to extract fuel. Without avenues for overseas export, the tar sands market is primarily the US Midwest and Rockies and Canada where there is currently a glut that has depressed oil prices. What the oil industry wants is higher oil prices for its expensive to extract tar sands. Hardly a recipe for US economic security.
  • Climate change is not in our national interest: In the recent State of the Union speech, President Obama said, “And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” The United States broke one record after another for extreme weather in 2013. From deadly floods in Colorado to prolonged drought across the Southwest, Americans saw what unchecked climate change can do to our communities and we know that climate change is not in our national interest. The growing cost of climate change to US taxpayers is not in our national interest and this is a fact that even industry is increasingly recognizing as the financial risks of climate change increase. And it is clear that the Keystone XL project will make climate change worse by enabling expansion of the climate polluting tar sands in Canada. The growth path that the tar sands industry would like to see for itself is not inevitable. We can make more climate-friendly choices for North American energy.
  • We can do better with clean energy construction jobs without risk to farming jobs and water in America’s heartland. Although we are likely to continue to see reports of jobs exaggerated by pipeline supporters, the facts are that Keystone XL will mean approximately 35 permanent jobs and 3,900 construction jobs with only 10% of the workforce hired locally. What is more, the pipeline could hurt jobs along its path if there is a spill. Farming, ranching, and tourism are major sources of employment along the Keystone XL pipeline's proposed route - approximately 571,000 workers are directly employed in the agricultural sector in the states along the Keystone XL corridor. The unique risks associated with diluted bitumen tar sands spills are truly frightening in a pipeline that would cross more than 1000 water bodies, including 50 perennial rivers or streams, and several aquifers, including the Ogallala while also coming within a mile of approximately 2500 water wells. We can do better. As a result of our clean energy industry’s rapid growth and effective state and federal policies, clean energy projects and programs currently in progress are creating thousands of jobs in communities across the country without the risk of oil contamination.

The evidence will show that in order to fight climate change and move ahead in the national interest President Obama should reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. As the President noted in his State of the Union speech, clean energy is an area rich with energy resources and economic opportunities. The way to best serve our national interest is to continue to increase our energy and fuel efficiency, strengthen our renewable energy, use smarter growth, and electrify our vehicles. We have better choices for our national interest that the dirty energy Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

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Michael BerndtsonJan 31 2014 09:41 AM

Enough with the Keystone XL northern half already. Obama can table a decision for the rest of his term and tar sands will flow with or without it. Who wins in 2016 may be more important. There's already a sufficient workaround in the works for tar sands. The real issue for tar sands is the slowdown in surface mining production, which will be the limiting factor for the next five years of so. Who knows, maybe Alberta will just pipe it north to the Arctic Ocean and ship it directly to Asia or Europe through the Northwest Passage:

Back to the Keystone XL northern half workaround:

"Enbridge beats TransCanada on Keystone XL delay"

"Enbridge has a number of oil pipeline projects scheduled to come online between now and 2017 that face fewer threats, according to Formuziewich. This year, it’s targeting startup of a 600,000 barrel-a-day line that crosses the U.S. Midwest, called Flanagan South. The company also plans to double capacity to 850,000 barrels a day on the Seaway conduit that connects a Midwest oil hub with the Gulf Coast, which it owns with Enterprise Products Partners LP, according to Enbridge’s website."

There has been little to no discussion of this workaround on any of the environmental blogs. At least the ones I read. This Enbridge line will double the flow going through Illinois. Illinois has the best farmland in the country. The pipeline terminal and junction is located about 50 miles southwest of Chicago. Illinois is also very pro-business. Emmanuel, Obama, Durbin, Kirk, construction unions, the urban ministers and the gun rights downstaters are all very pro oil and gas development.

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