Stop the Keystone Pipeline

In my first week at Georgetown last semester (as a freshman in a pre-orientation program), we took the required tour of DC which, as all DC tours do, stopped at the White House. I’d been to the White House several times before, and the most interesting part of the experience is usually seeing the 24/7 anti-war stall, but this time, it was entirely different. A line of protestors, from young teenagers to senior citizens, stretched out on the sidewalk in front of the gate. In their hands, they held a thick black plastic tarp fashioned to look like a pipeline with the words “Stop the XL Pipeline” emblazoned boldly across the front. Other protestors were handing out pamphlets and chatting up the large crowd gathered outside the blockade set up by the police. After a few minutes, the police began to arrest the protestors, all of whom went willingly and none of whom seemed the slightest bit daunted. This was my first taste of understanding what living in DC really meant (a front row seat to all the major political action), but also my first view of an issue of unprecedented importance.

The Keystone Pipeline is an oil pipeline that runs crude oil from Canada to Illinois. Built in 2008, the pipeline was fully operational by 2010. However, long before that date, the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, was already lobbying for two further extensions of the pipeline, known as the Keystone XL extensions. The difference? The new extensions would transfer dirty fuel from tar sands instead of crude oil.

This may sound like an insignificant difference, but the actual impact is vast. A report by the National Resources Defense Council elucidates the varied concerns over the pipeline. The process used to extract fuel from tar sands is immensely more destructive for the environment than other methods used to extract crude oil and leaves behind a toxic waste that must be stored in giant manmade dams. These dams invariably leak and are already threatening precious conservatories in Canada.

Additionally, the pipeline would be transporting the dirty fuel both over and through various American aquifers, most notably the giant Ogallala Aquifer. Within months of becoming operational, the original Keystone Pipeline had already had three significant leakages. As harmful as that may be, having such leaks occur inside an aquifer which spans eight states, provides drinking water for millions of Americans, and serves as the source of 30% of the US’ irrigation water would be absolutely devastating. Even after finally reaching its destination in the Gulf, the dirty fuel would then have to be refined, a process which releases pollutants that have been linked to diseases as varied as heart disease and cancer. The effects are so threatening that tar sands oil production has not been attempted on this kind of scale; in fact, the XL pipeline would essentially “create the first international market for tar sands oil.”

Regardless of the multitude of environmental and health concerns, Republicans pushed the pipeline as a necessary measure for economic reasons. Let’s examine those economic reasons for a moment. The first claim was that the pipeline would lead to thousands of new American jobs. However, such claims were wildly overstated  as most of the jobs created would be Canadian and at most, there would be only a few hundred US jobs created by 2035. The second claim was that the pipeline would secure US energy security. However, not only has gas and fuel become the US’ top export in 2011, raising doubt as to the validity of the energy security claims, but regardless, the pipeline will not transfer enough fuel to make a significant dent in our imports, either.

To reiterate, this is a project that has devastatingly negative environmental and health effects at every stage of the process from extraction to transportation to refining. Its economic impacts are completely negligible.

In November 2011, President Obama rejected the initial building permit and delayed a decision on the pipeline extensions until at least 2013, pending “further environmental review.” However, Congressional Republicans are not willing to allow for the time to properly analyze such a volatile situation that impacts the entire nation. Instead, they want to be able to use it as a political victory in the upcoming elections. As of two days ago, a group of 44 Republican Senators introduced new legislation that attempts to bypass the President’s approval for building the pipeline, hoping that in doing so, they can push the bill through using brute force.

Republicans may not care about polluting our environment, contaminating our water supply, or protecting our national health, but you should. Sign the official petition to lend your support to stop the XL Pipeline from becoming a politically-fueled reality.

Medha Chandorkar

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