The Mark UP

What’s Representative Upton thinking?

Representative Fred Upton, Chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, has been promoting the Keystone XL pipeline for months.   But why is he making it a priority when it will raise gas prices in his district and endanger the environment?

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf coast of Texas, carries diluted bitumen, a petroleum product that is more corrosive, acidic, and abrasive than crude oil. In less than one year of operation, the existing Keystone pipeline has already had 12 leaks or spills. Not only would the building of the new pipeline expose more of the country to the risk of oil spills, it would expand the market for polluting tar sands crude and actually increase gas prices by as much as 15 cents a gallon in the Midwest (including Upton’s district in Southwest Michigan).

Upton says he supports the project because of job creation, but his estimate of 20,000 jobs being created by the project is a huge exaggeration. The State Department estimates that number to be between 1,700-2,800 temporary jobs for three years during construction – and hardly any of those jobs would be in Upton’s district. For comparison, the construction of two proposed solar panel facilities in Colorado and Indiana will create more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs. Upton should explain why he told his constituents that the proposed pipeline would be “one of the largest construction projects ever done in this country”.

Upton’s constituents are familiar with the dangers of transporting tar sands crude: last year, the Enbridge Pipeline (an existing pipeline that carries tar sands oil), spilled 840,000 barrels of diluted bitumen into a local river’s watershed. Enbridge has spent more than $550 million so far to clean up the resulting mess. A report filed by the Michigan Department of Community Health found that nearly 60 percent of individuals living in the vicinity of the river spill have experienced respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms consistent with acute exposure to benzene and other petroleum related chemicals.

We simply can’t afford spills from the proposed pipeline since it crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest freshwater aquifers that provides 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the United States, and drinking water for millions of Americans. This aquifer covers areas in South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.

When promoting the pipeline, Upton claims that the pipeline will deliver “1.3 million barrels of oil per day” and “virtually eliminate our oil imports from the Middle East.” But according to one estimate from the State Department, the pipeline would only deliver about 700,000 barrels per day – and we import 2.3 million barrels every single day from the Middle East. There are a number of other solutions that would better address gas prices and our dependence on oil - but Upton has been comparatively silent on those.

So we’ve established that the pipeline would raise gas prices for Upton’s constituents, pollute the environment, and not really address our dependence on foreign oil.  So why is Upton being such a vocal champion?  And who stands to benefit from the pipeline?

The major refineries in Texas would be expected to benefit from the new tar sands crude.  The refining companies with facilities in Port Arthur or the Houston area that might benefit from the pipeline include:

  • Valero (has given Upton $20,000 over last 5 years)
  • Koch Industries (has given Upton $22,500 over last 5 years)
  • BASF/Funa (gave Upton $5,000 last year)
  • Exxon Mobil (has given Upton $15,000 over last 5 years)
  • BP (has given Upton $9,000 over last 5 years)
  • Marathon (has given Upton $8,500 over last 5 years)

When Upton is talking about “20,000 jobs”, is he talking about jobs at Texas refineries?

There are so many ways that we can address the energy challenges facing our country.  But to do so we need real leadership and unfortunately Rep. Upton’s record lately has been more in line with the views of his big donors than with those of his constituents.

Please consider writing a Letter to the Editor to the Kalamazoo Gazette about Upton’s actions.