Keystone XL, the contentious TransCanada pipeline that would deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to Texas for refining and shipment, has met another challenge: the pipeline may actually increase gas prices rather than drive costs down. The reason? According to NRDC, Keystone XL is likely to “decrease the amount of gasoline produced in U.S. refineries for domestic markets, and increase the cost of producing it, leading to even higher prices at the pump.”
This is unwelcome news for proponents of the pipeline who apparently will stop at nothing to get the pipeline built. However, it’s very welcome news for environmental groups and concerned citizens alike who are fearful of the short and longterm ramifications of the pipeline. Groups like ForestEthics, 350.org, Tar Sands Action and Bold Nebraska have played key roles in the fight against the pipeline, citing environmental devastation and health concerns, but it’s still an uphill battle.
Last summer, in an effort to cease construction and draw national attention, Bill McKibben rallied more than 1,000 activists to sit in front of the White House in peaceful protest against the pipeline. Many attest this protest is the reason why President Obama continues to delay a final decision, but even though the President has pushed off any potential construction (now until 2013) until a more thorough environmental impact assessment can be made, construction of the southern portion of the pipeline, running from Cushing, Okla., to Port Arthur, Texas, has curiously already begun.
Whether or not Keystone XL is fully operational in the near future, however, will determine, on many levels, if we will live on a habitable planet. It’s been said that building the Keystone XL is equivalent to “game over” for our climate given tar sands oil is some of the most dirty and carbon-intense on the planet. Bitumen, a thick and sticky form of crude oil that’s found in the tar sands, is so viscous and difficult to work with that it must be heated with hydrocarbons in order to flow. This heating process only adds to the level of carbon that’s already being emitted into the atmosphere by the tar sands alone.
To make matters worse, the Boreal Forest, the region of Alberta where tar sands oil extraction currently takes place, is home to some of the most pristine and diverse land in the world. The Boreal Forest also acts as a significant global carbon sink. Clear-cutting trees and bulldozing tens of thousands of acres of land for oil underneath then makes little sense, particularly when the extraction process is one of the most damaging and costly that exists today.
In the end, the $7 billion, 1,700 mile pipeline would transport oil slated for export to Europe, China and Latin America — the United States would barely see a drop. This on top of a project that would carry “as much as 900,000 barrels of oil each day — oil with a carbon output 20% higher than conventional oil supplies.” The chance of an oil spill along the pipeline is enough to warrant immediate brakes on the project, but when you factor in climate change, there really is no question: tar sands oil needs to stay in the ground.
Photo Credit: Josh Lopez