Malcolm Radio Show

The beginnings of something great…

Understanding Keystone XL

Posted by Malcolm on September 22, 2013

5 years ago, TransCanada Corp first sought approval for the 1,179-mile, $5.3-billion pipeline that would start in Alberta, where the vast tar (oil) sands are located, and end in the Gulf Coast of Texas, where the bitumen would be refined, loaded on ships, and shipped all over the world. Unfortunately, an area the size of Florida is already set for extraction in Alberta and the pipeline is just a means to transport the refined oil out of the country. Right now, everyone is waiting on a decision from the State Department to approve the pipeline, or not. The decision has been postponed many times before, mostly due to the blotched report created by conflicting interests. So what is the big deal with the Keystone XL pipeline? Won’t it create some well needed jobs? What about lowering oil prices? I’ll try to answer a few of these questions now, but be sure to check out the Green Rant tomorrow where the discussion will cover every aspect of the KXL.

A Big Old F.U. to the Environment: (Courtesy to Friends of the Earth)

GRAPHIC: Laris Karklis - The Washington Post.

Keystone XL pipeline map

  • Tar sands oil is dirty, really dirty. “Levels of carbon dioxide emissions are three to four times higher than those of conventional oil, due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into the United States daily, and result in climate-damaging emissions equal to adding more than 5.6 million new cars to U.S. roads.” With rising oil prices, the tar sands have become economically viable for oil companies. This is because the externalities are not currently included in oil prices. As long as we don’t include externalities in our pricing, the tar sands, offshore drilling, and fracking are all possibilities.
  • Where is all the water? Oh, it’s waste now. “Vast amounts of heat, water and chemicals are needed to separate the tarry substance (known as bitumen) from sand, silt, and clay and to flow up the pipeline. The water used in the process comes from rivers and underground aquifers. It takes three barrels of water to extract each single barrel of oil.” And at about 2.4 million barrels per day, that is quite a bit of water. If you didn’t notice the United States (particularly Kansas) and the rest of the world are beginning to face water scarcity issues. So it makes perfect sense to use potable water to extract oil, to burn, contribute to climate change, and increase droughts, right?
  • Here’s to a few more trees, and species. “The tar sands oil are underneath the world’s largest intact ecosystem, the Boreal forests of Alberta. The forests not only serve as an important carbon sink, but its biodiversity and unspoiled bodies of water support large populations of many different species.” With the impact that the tar sands will have on the environment, it may surprise some that Alberta has quite a few environmental laws in place. Unfortunately, the permitting process holds a much higher weight for economic benefits than environmental. Maybe a proper ecosystem valuation of the tar sands would have more appropriate in this case? “The net present value of oil sands wealth net of GHG cost is thus $1,413.3 billion.”
  • Indigenous communities say what. What? “Not only have indigenous communities been forced off of their land, but also those living downstream from tailing ponds have seen spikes in rates of rare cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism. In the lakeside village of Fort Chipewyan, for example, 100 of the town’s 1,200 residents have died from cancer.” The US EPA is currently working on their own Indigenous Peoples Environmental Justice Policy, in order to help the tribal people who tend to suffer the most from environmental injustices. Alberta also has an Aboriginal People and the Alberta Human Rights Act, I wonder how many complaints have been ignored concerning the KXL? Indigenous groups are being pretty clear, they DO NOT WANT A PIPELINE.
  • These are not the spills you are looking for. “The probability of spills from this pipeline is high and more threatening than conventional spills, because tar sands oil sinks rather than floats, making clean ups more difficult and costly. Experts warn that the more acidic and corrosive consistency of the type of tar sands oil being piped into the U.S. as well as the risk of external corrosion from higher pipeline  temperatures makes spills more likely.” In 2010, the Enbridge Kalamazoo Spill resulted in over 1 million gallons of spilled oil and cost over $1 billion. Earlier this year, the Exxon pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas spilled up to 420,000 gallons of oil, ruined an entire neighborhood, and serves as an example of things to come. Pipelines break and spills happen, as long as we continue to rely on them, or more importantly, as long as we rely on oil.
  • It takes carbon (and other toxic chemicals) to make carbon, duh. “Refining tar sands oil is dirtier than refining conventional oil, and results in higher emissions of toxic sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide.These emissions cause smog and acid rain and contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma. Communities near the refineries where the Keystone XL pipeline terminates, many of them low-income and communities of color, already live with dangerously high levels of air pollution.” Similar to the injustices that the indigenous people are facing in Alberta, minority communities in Texas will face increased pollution and higher healthcare costs (and likely death). In fact, the pollution would reach levels that are higher than the legal allowable limits.
  • 2°C is more than just a number. “In order to avoid devastating effects on the climate from a global rise of 2 degrees Celsius, such as the melting of the Arctic ice, sea level rise, and more extreme tornados and hurricanes and more floods and heat waves, the International Energy Association says that up to two-thirds of known fossil reserves must remain untouched.” I don’t even need to tell you why 4°C of global temperature rise needs to be avoided, but this report does a great job of painting a terrifying future for humanity.

Thanks Obama: (use sarcasm in case of KXL approval)