Are water sources at risk with the Keystone Pipeline XL?

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One issue that seems to take the back burner to the emissions cause by the pipeline is the threat to water quality along the conduits route.The pipeline, which would transport the tar sands material to refineries near Houston, would cross one of America’s largest underground water reserves, the Ogallala Aquifer, which stretches across 174,000 square miles and underlies eight Great Plains states. To remove the thick black oil from the sand, they heat it using natural gas and wash it using huge amounts of freshwater. In this process, they create toxic lakes large enough to be visible from space. In order to produce one barrel of tar sands they contaminate two to four barrels of freshwater to separate the oil from the sand. 

The U.S. State Department said in an environmental review that the project would have “no significant impacts to most resources” during “normal operation.” But the big worry is what happens if those normal operations fail.

TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline, already runs one pipeline. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups have argued that the pipelines are dangerous because they carry a watered-down version of the sticky tar sands deposits known as diluted bitumen, or “dilbit.” Dilbit bears hazardous chemicals including cancer .causing  benzene and toxic heavy metals such as arsenic. Because it also contains particles of sand, the environmental groups say, dilbit is much more corrosive than oil alone, making it more likely to cause leaks.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a co-author of a recent report by the Defense Council, said that piping dilbit is “like sandblasting the inside of the pipe,” making pipes 16 times more likely to leak than when they are carrying regular crude oil.

Keystone XL would pass over the heart of the aquifer, cutting through the Sand Hills of Nebraska, a region of grass-covered dunes that contains one of the largest wetlands ecosystems in the United States. The regions ground acts as a thick sponge, allowing oil to soak into the aquifer more easily than it would if the soil were more solid.

If a spill were to occur it would happen fast, and given that the pipeline would be buried in trench, it would make it very difficult to spot leaks. 

The pipeline needs the approval of the U.S. State Department in order to more forward. “I am not opposed to pipelines in Nebraska,” U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, said in a statement. But he faults the environmental review and wants the U.S. government to explore other options. “We have only one Ogallala Aquifer,” he said, “and we must take seriously our obligation to protect it.”

 

 

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Breaking down the claims made by pro-pipeline entities

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Without exception, all arguments in favor of the installment of the pipeline deal with economic benefit. Keystone XL has been labeled as a domestic solution that would curb our dependence on the Middle East and other oil-producing nations, bring thousands of jobs to low-income areas with high unemployment and rake in billions of dollars in revenue. Sounds like a miracle cure, right?

Before we answer that, let’s look at the facts. TransCanada is the major backing organization behind the project. They’ve made some huge claims about job creation, which if true, could have a substantially positive affect on US employment. What they’ve said:

  • “The project would support more than 42,000 direct and indirect jobs nationwide.”
  • “The project is expected to create over seven million hours of labor.”

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Okay, so we’ve seen a few statements from them. But there are a lot of numbers floating around from a lot of different sources. To get what we hope is an objective breakdown of the facts, we turn to a study conducted by Cornell University and the Global Labor Institute. Together, the two entities looked into TransCanada and other pro-Keystone corporations and organizations’ claims about job creation. What they found:

  • The jobs counted are not all new jobs. They include existing Keystone employees and contractors.
  • Only 10-15% of the workforce would be hired locally.”
  • “Estimates do not consider the jobs that might be destroyed as a result of the pipeline and the expanded use of Tar Sands oil.” There have already been 14 oil spills during Phase 1 of construction. Spills threaten water sources that are vital to the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers and some tourism industries.

It never hurts to pull from multiple sources. The US State Department conducted a comprehensive investigation into the pipeline project. What they determined:

  • Construction supports about 42,100 jobs for the 2-year construction period. Per their definition, “A job consists of one position that is filled for one year.” Also important, “the termsupport means jobs ranging from new jobs to the continuity of existing jobs in current or new locations” (Sec. 4.3.3) Jobs would be temporary.
  • “Once the proposed Project enters service, operations would require approximately 50 total employees in the United States: 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.” (Sec. 4.3.4)Only about 50 persons would remain employed after the two-year construction period is complete.
  • Building off the above finding, “This small number would result in negligible impacts on population, housing, and public services in the proposed Project area” (Sec. 4.3.4) The people who would migrate to the site to work on the pipeline would be left jobless, creating burdens for the project area after the pipeline is completed.

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When you hold up TransCanada’s claims next to actual findings, the discrepancies are apparent. The numbers that do match up, like the 42,000 related jobs claim aren’t put into the context or applied to the timeline of the actual project. Bottom line is, the claims made by TransCanada and other pro-pipeline entities don’t consider a realistic application of these claims. Keystone XL’s construction, as planned, would last only 2 years. With the end of the construction would come the end of nearly all the jobs it put in place. It’s a temporary fix, a band-aid to cover a wound that really needs stitching, not to mention some serious care post-trauma.

Meet the Bloggers Pt. 4

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Hey everybody, my name is Kevin Gomez, a junior Communications major from New Jersey attending the University of Maryland. To start off, I like some of you readers, did not know very much about the Keystone XL Pipeline Project when I started writing the blog.  After further research, I have found that implementing the pipeline would cause more harm than good to the citizens of the United States. This is due to the increase in greenhouse emissions the pipeline will give off, and the fear of a possible oil spill that could prove harmful for the terrain that the pipeline would run through.

Now that we have gotten my point out of the way, my goal for this blog is to provide the arguments for both parties in the debate about the Keystone XL project. I hope that you the reader, will take the evidence provided to you in order to make your own educated judgement on the matter. With that said, after following my future posts,  I hope that you all will be more informed about the project, and why it would be so devastating for our country to allow.