Canada-to-Texas Pipeline Plans Draw Criticism

Activists and residents along the 2,000-mile proposed route fear damage to farming, ecosystems, and water from the transport of what has been called the world's dirtiest source of transportation energy.
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Citizen groups, members of Congress, and the Environmental Protection Agency are voicing concern over a proposal to build a three-foot-diameter crude oil pipeline that would stretch nearly 2,000 miles from Canada to Texas.

55 SOL pipeline

Friends of the Earth activists end a march from the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., to the White House to tell President Obama not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pipe dirty, dangerous, and energy-intensive tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Texas refineries.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Earth

The Keystone XL Pipeline Project, proposed by TransCanada Corp, would pump up to 900,000 barrels of crude oil per day across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Montana Governor Brian ­Schweitzer, one of the project’s supporters, claims that the pipeline could establish an “on-ramp” for Montana oil producers, generate tax revenue, create jobs, and reduce dependency on other parts of the world for oil.
Because the pipeline crosses the Canadian border, the U.S. State Department is charged with the project’s approval.

The pipeline would carry oil extracted from Canada’s oil sands, using a process that emits high amounts of greenhouse gases, destroys boreal forests, consumes large quantities of water, and leaves behind toxic tailings lagoons, according to a University of Toronto report.

People living along the pipeline’s planned route are worried about its effects. Dakota Rural Action, a grassroots family agriculture and conservation group, sent a letter to the State Department expressing concern about “the disruption of farming and ranching operations, the damage to roads, the risk of water contamination, and the risk of leaks and spills to the environment.” Many also wonder how the pipeline will impact fragile ecosystems such as the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies 174,000 square miles and is an important regional source of potable water.

Grassroots groups aren’t alone in questioning the project. In June, 50 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting more information and stating, “Building this pipeline has the potential to undermine America’s clean energy future and international leadership on climate change.”

Henry Waxman, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, expressed his opposition to the project in a separate letter to Clinton: “This pipeline is a multibillion dollar investment to expand our reliance on the dirtiest source of transportation fuel currently available.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has stated that the draft environmental impact statement, published by the State Department in April, does not adequately address the pipeline’s potential greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions at refineries, safety and spill response, and impacts on communities, wetlands, and migratory birds.

The State Department is expected to respond to comments received on the draft environmental impact statement and release a final environmental impact statement before issuing or denying a permit for the project. No timeline has been given, but the decision is expected to come no earlier than the end of this year.

—Laura Kaliebe wrote this article for A Resilient Community, the Fall 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Laura is a journalist living in Seattle.

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