December 19, 2011

What's up with the Keystone pipeline?

And why is it so contentious?
This proposed 1700 mile oil pipeline from Canadian tar sand fields to our Gulf coast has been in political crosshairs for some time. The Canadian pipeline company, TransCanada, is hot to trot to get it installed. They have a LOT of oil waiting for some market, any market. If it doesn't go through the U.S., they say they'll take the pipeline west to Vancouver and sell the oil to China. That gets the attention of a lot of folks.

TransCanada has also bandied around a tantalizing number of jobs they claim this huge project will create--6500 jobs each year. Even the State Separtment agrees that 6500 jobs could be created, many of them temporary. After a pipeline goes down, it doesn't need a lot of babysitting. Perhaps only 50 permanent jobs will remain after the oil gets pumping.

So why the hubbub? There's this little aquifer (no actually HUGE aquifer) that's along the proposed route. The Ogallala Aquifer (also called the High Plains Aquifer) is one of the world's largest aquifers and it provides drinking water to 80 percent of the folks who live in Nebraska, and parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It's also used for irrigating crops in this "breadbasket of America" area that has suffered greatly from recent drought. It's not an especially deep aquifer either, so a nearby pipeline seems a real threat. Kinda like putting an open can of oil next to a pitcher of iced tea in your fridge and hoping the kids don't knock it over.

Some hydrologists say that the pipeline would be far enough west of the aquifer to not be a problem. Hydrologists also say that aquifers are replenished slowly, if at all. Many may dry up in 25 years. Oops, that's a mighty big problem.

Robert Redford stated this on Huffington Post today: "Keystone XL would cross more than 1,500 waterways, threatening them with the kind of accident that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River last summer and put 20 times that much tar sands in Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010, in a spill that hasn't been cleaned up yet." Robert always gets my attention when he talks like that.
And the crude oil that the pipeline would carry may not end up for domestic use anyway. The Gulf Coast refineries have existing contracts to export much of it. So that argument of "getting us"off foreign oil" doesn't hold water.

President Obama recently put the project on indefinite hold by deciding that no decision would take place until after the fall 2012 elections. "Unlikely to have significant environmental impact" was not good enough for many protesters who recently encircled the White House.

But Congress had to deal with the expiration of the payroll tax deduction--about $1000 to most Americans. So why not demand that in return for extending that cut for two months, the President make the Keystone pipeline decision before those two months are over? Only a disfunctional Congress can think like this, but that's what's going on. Only electoral politics can be as crude as this oil.

Click here to see a map of U.S. aquifers. Then take a cold sip of water and pray that the environmental oversight on this project will be tight if it proceeds, as it certainly might.