By Connor Bevan
I’m an environmentalist. I subscribe to the indisputable fact that is climate change, despise fracking and am terrified of the earth’s future. Obviously, revolutionary changes need to be made to both international energy policy and individual consumption.
President Barack Obama has proven time and time again that he isn’t the leader to prompt these changes. His track record of environmental inaction and his perpetration of partisan politics continued with his Feb. 24 veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Likely trying to save face after six years of unfulfilled rhetoric, Obama chose an easy and largely insignificant piece of legislation to strike down.
The notions that Keystone is a “carbon bomb,” or that its construction would be “game over,” as some activists have put it, are false. Its contribution to the worldwide problem of global warming is relatively negligible. Also untrue is the myth that building Keystone would promote the unsafe practice of extracting tar sands from Alberta’s oil fields. Over 40% of the world’s tar sands are already mined and processed in the Canadian province, before being shipped by rail or by truck to ports.
America leans heavily on this fuel source. Well over 20% of total oil imports come from Canada, with an increased amount coming from tar sands extraction. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the tar sands industry is becoming more and more financially viable. Adding or subtracting Keystone XL won’t make much of an environmental difference. Keystone will temporarily lower gas prices, but, in the long run, as the price of and demand for fossil fuels increases, tar sands will be mined, processed and used in the same way that we burn through oil, coal and natural gas today.
Obama and Congress lack the authority to make a significant impact on the growing tar sands industry. However, new Canadian restrictions are making drilling substantially cleaner, and as new technologies are applied, studies are showing that tar sands mining represents a cleaner alternative to fracking (a heavily subsidized, nationwide phenomenon).
So what, specifically, is the environmental impact of the pipeline itself? Midwesterners, keeping in mind the BP oil spill, have voiced concerns over the pipeline’s potential to rupture and release its contents into the environment. These fears are misled. Canadian fuels shipped into the United States are almost always done so by rail or road, exponentially heightening the risk of a crash or spill. Last month, a train carrying oil derailed and exploded in West Virginia, leaking 26 cars’ worth of oil into a nearby river and water source. Last June, a train exploded in a small Quebecian town, killing 47 and all but decimating the village. Trucks carrying oil frequently crash and cause problems of their own on busy freeways.
Keystone represents a far safer alternative. The bill that reached the Oval Office called for heavy regulation, regular inspection and permanent positions dedicated to oversight. Furthermore, state-of-the-art technology, including highly durable steel, will compose the pipeline. Compared to the antiquated, decades-old pipelines still running through the Midwest or anywhere else in the United States, Keystone is not the most likely candidate to burst.
20,000 jobs will be created by the pipeline. Keystone’s detractors like to point out that these jobs will only be temporary, but fail to realize that all construction jobs are temporary. The long term effects will play out though the money in the workers’ pockets, and through the potential for other infrastructure projects to arise as a result of the mobilization of such a large workforce.
If President Obama and the Democratic Party want to the environment’s long term health, then they must address carbon emissions, pollution, drought, or any number of serious and pressing issues. Keystone is not among them.