As the country readies for the first Presidential debate tonight, the campaigns are busy spinning the issues. One of the issues is the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a massive pipeline proposal that would cut through the heartland of America carrying toxic tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf coast. It has come to symbolize the choice we face today as a nation – deepen our dependence on fossil fuels or move to a clean energy future.
Governor Romney has said the pipeline is a top priority of his energy plan and he has gone so far as to say that he’ll build the pipeline with his own hands if he has to. His campaign has frequently mentioned Keystone XL as a potential debate topic.
Today, the Obama campaign put out a memo that mentions Keystone XL first in a list of failed policies underpinning Romney’s plan to make America energy independent.
So, why is this such an important issue?
First, this pipeline will accelerate the extraction of dirty tar sands oil in Alberta, Canada. Producing tar sands oil takes huge amounts of energy and leaves vast areas a wasteland. Increasing our reliance on this oil will make it extremely difficult to offset the worst of global warming. Filling the pipeline is equal to putting nearly 5 million more cars on the road or building 7 new coal fired power plants. More than 10, 000 people surrounded the White House last November asking the President to consider the climate impacts associated with the pipeline.
Second, this is a really massive proposal. The tar sands pipeline would carry bitumen, the dirtiest oil on the planet, under high pressure across over 2000 waterways, including one of our largest sources of drinking and irrigation water, the Ogallala aquifer. Farmers and ranchers across the Plain States are up in arms about spills into their water supplies.
Third, after travelling 1,700 miles, the bitumen would be refined and could be sent anywhere in the world. In other words, we get the risk but not the oil. Ironically, while Governor Romney says that if we don’t take this oil, China will, this pipeline could in fact be used to send oil to China. Military leaders, including General Petraeus’ right hand in Iraq, have said that this pipeline will do nothing to increase our energy security.
President Obama put it best when he said that doubling the fuel efficiency standards saves the equivalent of all the oil that would be pumped through the Keystone XL pipeline for 45 years. This is a clean energy future that relies on American ingenuity rather than destroying our lands.
What is the status of the pipeline?
The State Department is tasked with the permitting of the pipeline since it crosses an international border. For over two years, the risks of the pipeline have been debated with attention focused on potential catastrophic spills into the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska. Last fall, the President announced that a new route must be found and that additional safety and environmental issues needed to be considered before the pipeline could be approved.
House Republicans, incensed over the delay in permitting the pipeline, attached a rider to the tax holiday extension late in December forcing the President to make a decision by the end of February. In January, the President rejected the pipeline permit, saying that it would be irresponsible to permit a pipeline that had no route and for which the review was not concluded. A new proposal has been made but all the contentious issues still remain.
What about jobs and gas prices?
Yesterday, Congressman Ryan alluded to the jobs that would be created in building Keystone XL pipelinewill be created. But the pipeline company itself has estimated that there would be 6,000 jobs created and even those numbers are overstated. According to the pipeline company, only a few hundred jobs would be created for the long term. Studies by Cornell University find the risks of spills could wipe out many more jobs in agriculture, tourism and other sectors.
And as for gas prices, economists believe that the pipeline will actually increase gas prices by diverting oil from the Midwest to the Gulf. Right now, tar sands oil sells for less than lighter crudes in the Midwest because of the cost of refining it. By moving it to the Gulf, experts expect the price of gas will actually increase in the Midwest. And gas prices will not fall in the Gulf because the price for tar sands oil is expected to increase once it gets to an international port where highest bidder controls who gets the oil. In other words, savings in the pockets of Midwesterners today will be profits in the pockets of the oil industry tomorrow.
In sum –
Governor Romney’s position has always been clear – his energy plans relies on reckless development of Canadian tar sands oil rather than on reducing our demand for oil and developing new and cleaner energy sources right here in America.
Building the pipeline will not generate thousands of jobs. It will not put America back on the road to recovery. It will not make America more energy independent. Instead, it will put the American public at risk of a catastrophic spill and it will deepen our addiction to a very dirty oil at a time that we can ill afford to do so.
Governor Romney has stated that he would approve the pipeline in his first day in office. That would contravene decades of both Republican and Democratic Administrations that have followed the review process laid out in the governing Executive Order, and put at risk the health and safety of the American public.
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is for the benefit of Canadian industry and Big Oil. It will not benefit America.