EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a guest post about the perils of dirty tar sands oil and a new pipeline project in the works to carry the oil through a number of U.S. states. It comes to you from the good people over at Friends of Earth. Check it out and see how you can help.
By Christian Freymeyer, Dirty Fuels Research and Advocacy Intern
A new oil pipeline project threatens to deepen America’s addiction, not simply to oil, but to the world’s dirtiest kind — from Canada’s tar sands. The proposed pipeline, called the Keystone XL, would begin in Alberta, Canada, and wind through six plains states, pumping 900,000 gallons of oil daily to refineries in Texas.
Thankfully, the Canadian oil and gas company pushing the project, TransCanada, can’t start construction without a permit from the U.S. State Department. And before issuing a permit, the State Department is required by law to listen, not to oil companies and their lobbyists, but to the American public.
April 16th marked the beginning of the public comment period on the pipeline, a 60-day window in which the State Department accepts citizen input on the project. State Department officials are also holding a series of public hearings in the six states that would be directly affected. Submitting comments and attending a local hearing are important ways the public can urge the Obama administration to reject this pipeline.
There are plenty of reasons to worry. Since 1973, Canadian pipelines have spilled more than four million gallons of hazardous material. The Keystone XL pipeline would cross some of the plains states’ most precious resources, such as the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers and the Ogallala Aquifer, and put them at risk of contamination.
The Ogallala Aquifer is the most important water source in the Great Plains. If the aquifer were polluted by a spill, the impact on drinking water supplies would be widespread, affecting people far from the proposed path of the pipeline.
Despite these obvious risks, TransCanada is petitioning the Department of Transportation for a special permit that would allow it to use weaker pipes made with less steel than is normally permitted. Then, the company wants to pump oil at pressures higher than the legal limit. This recipe for disaster can be stopped, but not without your voice.
Pipeline ruptures aren’t the only thing to be concerned about. The Keystone XL would contribute to the proliferation of the world’s dirtiest oil. Tar sands oil is worse for the climate than conventional oil. During the production process alone, three times more greenhouse gases are emitted.
On top of this, the tar sands oil industry is devastating local populations and the environment in Canada with its massive extraction projects. In northern Alberta, the heart of the Boreal forest, oil companies clear cut massive swaths of forest, drain wetlands, and haul away tons of living matter and soil to set up strip mines.
The region is home to a number of indigenous communities, whose livelihoods depend on its natural resources.
Since the invasion of Big Oil, water has been contaminated by toxic sludge, a byproduct of tar sands production. As a result, villages like Fort Chipewyan have seen soaring cancer rates. One hundred of the town’s 1,200 residents have died from rare cancers. Spikes in renal failure, lupus and hyperthyroidism are becoming commonplace as well.
The race to make a profit in the tar sands is taking a heavy toll on the planet and its inhabitants. The Keystone XL pipeline would allow oil companies to increase production of tar sands oil, paving the way for even more destruction.
President Obama is being presented with a choice: he can let oil companies feed our addiction and expand their dirty profits by approving a pipeline for the world’s dirtiest oil, or he can lead us to cleaner alternatives.
Issuing a permit for the Keystone XL would be an investment in a dirty energy future that we don’t need and can’t afford.
Instead, we must look towards low-carbon alternatives, such as better fuel economy requirements, plug-in electric cars fueled by solar power, and smart growth and public transportation infrastructure that give Americans choices other than cars.
Help us urge the Obama administration to take the side of clean energy, not Big Oil.
photo credit: thanks to Jungbim via wikimedia for the tar sands collage