Corporations and politicians say a lot of stupid things. Sometimes people can swallow them, but often they’re so unabashedly fictitious it takes only the slightest of research to disprove them. Some of the more notable claims have been made recently in reference to the disputed Keystone XL pipeline project, but the one that really stands out is “energy independence.” The more one studies the pipeline and its backers’ arguments, the easier it is to notice the irony of that phrase; irony that would only be humorous if it wasn’t so potentially destructive.
First, a look at the facts. The Keystone XL is actually an extension on the existing Canadian Keystone Pipeline, which transports crude oil produced from tar sands in Alberta to a refinery in Illinois. TransCanada Oil and Exxon Mobil are the two oil corporations primarily responsible for the financing and construction of the pipeline, and TransCanada is also a major producer the Albertan tar sands oil it would transport. The XL extension would expand the pipeline to the Texas gulf coast and to a refinery in Nebraska.The pipeline is, according to TransCanada’s own presentations to investors, an export pipeline. Its main purpose is to transport cheaply produced Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast, where it would be refined and then shipped to Europe and Latin America.
But why is this so bad? There are a number of reasons. Purely from an economic standpoint, the Keystone XL would negatively impact the American economy. According to Corporate Ethics International, “by draining Midwestern refineries of cheap Canadian crude into export-oriented refineries in the Gulf Coast, Keystone XL will increase the cost of gas for Americans.” This directly contrasts the argument by TransCanada and their congressional backers that the pipeline would stimulate economic growth. Because the price of gas would artificially increase, so too would the price of production for American farmers and industries, from $12.4 billion now to nearly $15 billion in farming fuel costs alone. It takes some twisted logic to equate bankrupting American businesses and exporting oil to foreign buyers with the country being more “independent.”
And the jobs numbers that TransCanada touts around for the pipeline? According to the company’s own employment records, only 11% of construction jobs in South Dakota actually went to South Dakotans when the Keystone Pipeline was being built; and even those were only temporary, low-wage positions. Overall the pipeline will only permanently employ a few hundred people, but the various fuel-related costs will likely impact the employment of thousands. What’s more, there are more jobs for infrastructure-related projects overdue for completion in the Midwest (where the pipeline would be built) than multiple Keystone pipelines could accommodate.
However, all of the social and economic arguments against the pipeline pale in comparison to the vast environmental damage it will cause. The pipeline’s route travels over some of the most ecologically sensitive land in the country, including the Ogallala Aquifer, the primary water source for some 2 million people in the Midwest. TransCanada claimed that there would only be one spill every seven years on the Keystone Pipeline; so far, there’s been twelve in just one. If there was to be a major spill on the XL pipeline, it could contaminate millions of acres of farmland, rivers, habitat, and towns in the Midwest. The oil that it’s transporting is even worse; crude produced from tar sands burns dirtier and releases more carbon than conventional oil. The Albertan tar sands are the second largest reserve of oil on the planet, and according to a NASA climate scientist, if they were completed burned through the carbon released would be “essentially game over for the climate.” The Keystone XL would be the fuse for that time bomb, if allowed. Energy independence means nothing if the country is literally underwater.
With all these compelling arguments against it, there shouldn’t be much support for Keystone XL. But if one turns on C-SPAN, he or she is bound to see numerous Republican (and a few Democratic) congresspeople extolling the virtues of the pipeline. The reason for this governmental support lies, once again, in the numbers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, oil corporations have donated more than $238.7 million dollars to candidates and parties in the last twenty years. Last year’s biggest donor? None other than Exxon Mobil, which has nearly a 50% stake in the pipeline. These congressional recipients have responded by giving oil companies (many of which they own shares in) a whopping $41 billion each year in subsidies. Out of everybody in the country, it appears Congress is most dependent on energy.
Unless popular resistance to Keystone XL can gain more influence, Republican lawmakers will attempt to overturn President Obama’s recent ruling that suspended decision on the pipeline until 2013 and continue pushing for dirty energy. Becoming truly energy independent will start with becoming independent of energy’s lies.
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of the Astor Post, Astoria High School’s student newspaper.