Archives For January 2012

Pipe Dreams

January 19, 2012 — 2 Comments

It should come as no surprise that with Obama’s rejection yesterday of the Keystone XL pipeline that there would be a lot of disingenuous wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth from his political opponents. Much of the claims being made are blatantly false and misleading. For example, the pipeline would never have created many jobs. The original 2008 permit application TransCanada submitted to the State Department stated that no more than 4,200 temporary American jobs would be created. According to an independent study done by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute, the keystone pipeline would not create any more than 6,500 temporary jobs at most and a maximum of 50 permanent jobs. The State Department’s estimate was 20 permanent jobs. Claims by politicians that this would have created tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of jobs are flat out lies.

Of course, there are political reasons why politicians are lying about this. By forcing the president’s hand and then grossly exaggerating the number of jobs that would have been created, they have turned this into an election issue. There may though be other reasons for the misinformation. Take Speaker of the House John Boehner for example. According to the Washington Post, Boehner invested between $10,000 to $50,000 each in seven firms that had stake in the oil sands, including BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and Exxon.

Most of the oil was never intended for American use. The pipeline would end in New Orleans where it would be refined and then make its way to the Gulf of Mexico for export. Most of it would end up on the global market. Another popular criticism is that Obama’s rejection of the pipeline will force us to continue to be reliant upon foreign oil. However, the last time I checked, Canada was a foreign country so we would still be dependent on foreign oil even if it was all to remain in the US.

There are other serious problems with the pipeline. One, oil from the tar sands is incredibly energy inefficient as it takes more energy to convert bitumen into usable oil. Here’s an analogy for you, with extracting oil by the old fashioned way via wells, it would take about a quarter cup of oil to retrieve one gallon of oil. With the tar sands, it will take approximately half a gallon of oil just to produce one gallon. Retrieving the oil also requires the clear cutting of thousands of acres of boreal forest which threatens several species with extinction and will demolish the lands of indigenous peoples.

One of the main reasons the State Department needed more time to consider the pipeline was because the Republican governor of Nebraska insisted that the pipeline be rerouted. He was supported by a good number of Midwestern farmers and ranchers. The reason for this was because the original route would cut through the very sensitive Sandhills region of Nebraska and the Ogallala aquifer, which provides drinking and agricultural water to eight states, which accounts for thirty percent of the nation’s agricultural water. The pipeline in Canada has already had 12 leaks in one year. In May of 2011 over 20,000 gallons of oil spilled. If an oil leak made its way into the Ogallala it could be catastrophic. So the president is being criticized for rejecting a pipeline that at this point in time doesn’t even have a set route. The Republicans knew this when they added the Keystone provision to the payroll tax extension.

Finally, as NASA climate scientist James Hansen observed, if the pipeline went through, it would essentially be “game over” in regards to battling climate change. What we do not need to be doing right now is committing ourselves to the most inefficient and dirtiest of fuels. If politicians are really concerned about getting us off of foreign oil and creating jobs then maybe they might want to consider supporting research and development in green technologies and a public works program that will build more energy efficient infrastructure. That has been documented to have created jobs, far more than the Keystone pipeline ever would.