The Fight Against Keystone XL

As the yearly budget circus continues in Washington, another more important issue’s missed the limelight: It’s “Climate Week” on Capitol Hill, and there may be a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline soon. The Pipeline has been opposed by true liberals due to environmental concerns, and by true conservatives because of the use of eminent domain, where the government takes private property to build a government project. In fact, even Obama came into office in 2008 on an environmentalist platform, which meant that he promised to stop the Keystone Pipeline. In 2012, he took a 180-degree turn, and said he wanted to “cut through the red tape” for Keystone XL.

If we want to keep tumbling toward climate change, then we can go ahead with the project. But if we even remotely care about our planet, then we have to stop the Keystone Pipeline, and refute the awful arguments that have been made in support of it. First, let’s briefly see why environmentalists must oppose the Pipeline.

Do You Care About the Planet?

The Keystone Pipeline will be carrying in tar sands oil from Canada, and it’s much dirtier than conventional oil (which isn’t environmentally friendly itself). Tar sands oil would produce 3 times the CO2 emissions as regular oil. That’s estimated to be the equivalent of adding 5.6 million cars on U.S. roads. At a time when we’ve crossed the dangerous threshold of 400 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, do we want to continue to endanger the planet?

What About Health Issues Suffered by Communities?

Communities that live downstream from the extraction sites suffer many health problems as well. For example, in a small town downstream from oil sands extraction called Fort Chipeywan, 100 people out of a population of 1,200 died from cancer.  Refining the tar sands oil is another environmental problem. The refineries emit sulfur dioxide in the air, which leads to smog, acid rain, and eventually, a higher prevalence of asthma in the community. Where the oil is refined, people have reportedly choked on toxic fumes and suffered nausea, along with other respiratory problems. Of course, in the face of millions of profits, these health problems are simply an “externality” for Trans Canada.

Should We Put Our Water At Risk?

The water pollution from oil sands production is well-documented. The water near these industrial sites is toxic, and as a result, aquatic life suffers. It takes 3 barrels of water to produce 1 barrel of tar sands, and most of this waste water is then either dumped into landfills or injected underground, where it contaminates the groundwater. This Pipeline is proposed to cross the Ogalalla Aquifer, which provides 2 million people with drinking water, sustains 15% of domestic corn and wheat production, and supports 25% of domestic cotton production. The Pipeline’s been projected to have 13 major spills over its 50 year life. Just one major spill would jeopardize this essential freshwater resource and American agriculture.

Trans Canada, the company who’s building the Keystone Pipeline, has come up with a variety of arguments for the Pipeline. Unfortunately, conservatives have been parroting the same claims, even though they hold no water. These claims are easily debunked with a few minutes of research.

“It Will Create Jobs”

This one’s probably the most repeated argument, and one of the most deceptive ones. Trans Canada claims that it would create 20,000 jobs. I did some simple math with the government’s unemployed and labor force figures, and found that if 20,000 people who were previously unemployed got jobs, that would lower the unemployment rate by a whopping 0.075%.

But there’s more. Trans Canada got their number by looking at years of jobs created, so if one person got a 2-year job, that would count as 2 jobs. An independent study at Cornell University found that only 500-1,400 jobs would be created. This makes sense, considering that most of the steel needed will be produced in India or China, which will consequently create jobs there, not in the US.

“It Will Generate Tax Revenue”

We just realized it won’t create many jobs here, so it can’t possibly generate much in income or payroll taxes. Trans Canada is, predictably, a Canadian company, so they’re not paying any corporate income tax here. As for property taxes, the Keystone Pipeline hasn’t delivered even half the revenue it had promised. In some states, like Kansas, they’re exempt from property taxes for 10 years.

“It’ll Lower the Price of Energy”

This claim is probably the most laughable and untrue we’ve seen. Keystone XL will actually raise prices. There’s a glut of oil supply in the Midwest, which allows it to have some of the lowest oil prices in America. Keystone XL would relieve this glut by shipping oil to Gulf of Mexico ports, where it could be re-priced and sold at international market prices. Remember, companies work to increase profit. It would not be in their interest to reduce prices, considering that consumer demand for oil is inelastic, i.e. lower oil prices wouldn’t increase consumption.

“It’ll Make Us More ‘Energy-Independent'”

This can be debunked in a number of ways. I’ll try to briefly go over them. Firstly, Canada sends more than 99% of its oil exports to the US, so even without the Keystone Pipeline, most of their oil would come here anyways.

Secondly, most of the oil coming from Keystone XL is being exported. As I mentioned, the oil would get higher prices internationally than in Midwestern America, where oil prices are traditionally low. Most of the oil isn’t coming for American consumption.

Third, why do we need to endanger the health of communities and our water supply to attain “energy independence?” We waste 40% of our food and the 350 million barrels of oil that goes into producing it. Traffic congestion wastes more than 60 million barrels of oil. Here’s another crazy idea: Why don’t we turn to renewable energy?

Then Why is the Pipeline Being Built?

Of course, ideas like these aren’t entertained by influential people in the government, who are drowning in money from oil and gas interests, who’ve found numerous ways to subvert our democracy. Obama said in his last speech on climate change that he would wait for the State Department to evaluate the effect of Keystone XL on climate change. But environmental groups have found a number of conflicts of interest in the State Dept.

The firm hired to do the environmental review, ERM, has financial ties to Trans Canada. Moreover, Trans Canada has hired lobbyists to maintain close ties to the Obama administration and the State Dept. In fact, State Department officials have been caught e-mailing and coaching Trans Canada lobbyists on how to build support for the Pipeline. The EPA’s condemned the State Dept’s report, but their concerns have largely been ignored.

What Can We Do About It?

The environmentalist group,, has launched a massive campaign against the Pipeline. Rallies and protests are happening periodically. It’s in our hands to expose the lies about the Pipeline and share the real facts. It’s in our hands to actively oppose the Pipeline in any way possible. As Frederick Douglass reminded us, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”



Author: Edwin Jain

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