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article imageAmerica’s largest foreign oil source and a controversial pipeline

By SarahJones     Apr 1, 2013 in World
America’s largest foreign oil source is proposing a controversial pipeline which would create thousands of jobs but also create a risk of contaminating 30% of America's irrigation water with cancer causing compounds if the pipeline ever were to leak.
For the first time in its 120-year history the environmental group known as the Sierra Club engaged in civil disobedience this year in effort to stop construction of a controversial tar sands pipeline crossing the US – Canadian Border. Environmentalists are saying this isn’t just another oil company capitalists vs. earth loving hippies fight because tar sand isn’t coal. and the health and environmental risks posed are frightening.
The 1,897-km (1,179-mile) trans-border Keystone XL Pipeline will be constructed by TransCanada. It will transport crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta’s tar sands to Steele City, Nebraska crossing through both North Dakota, South Dakota and Missouri and Oklahoma. TransCanada says it “anticipates approval of the Presidential Permit application - which is required as the pipeline will cross the Canada/U.S. border - in the first quarter of 2013, after which construction will quickly begin.” The pipeline is expected to deliver to markets in Wood River, Illinois; Patoka, Illinois; and Cushing, Oklahoma.
Transcanada
says Keystone XL “will create about 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs, which will increase the personal income of American workers by $6.5 billion, generate more than $585 million in new taxes for states and communities along the pipeline route (and that products) will be refined at U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast to meet American demand for petroleum products.”
Proposed route of Keystone XL pipeline.
Proposed route of Keystone XL pipeline.
Map courtesy US Department of State
Many activists who are against the pipeline say while the pipeline will create jobs, most of the oil will likely be exported primarily to China as opposed to being used by Americans. But TransCanada says “The crude oil Keystone XL will transport will not be shipped to China; it will be refined at U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast to meet American demand for petroleum products. This pipeline is not an export pipeline.” Keystone has always received overwhelming support “from American and Canadian producers and U.S. refiners who signed 17 to 18 year contracts to ship over hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day to meet the needs of American consumers.” Activists say they are worried about the global environmental and domestic health hazards Keystone XL could present.
Tar sand only becomes oil after going through a pollution causing process that is already infecting lakes within and up to 50 miles away from Albert’s oil sand sites with cancer causing compounds or carcinogens according to a study financed by the Canadian government published by the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
A serious health threat to downstream communities is posed if leaks to the surrounding soil and surface water occur. Keystone XL is proposed to go through the most heavily used groundwater area (aquifer) in the United States. The High Plains aquifer provides about 30% of America’s ground water used for re-vegetation, crop growth, landscape maintenance and other forms of irrigation according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).
The pipeline’s external coating makes corrosion highly unlikely say pipeline supporters. “Pipelines are the safest and most cost-effective means to transport the extraordinary volumes of natural gas and hazardous liquid products that fuel our economy,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Alberta tar sands tailing pond.
Alberta tar sands tailing pond.
NWFblogs/flickr
The U.S. State Department’s review of the pipeline’s potential hazards suggests Keystone XL would do very little to damage to the environment.
According to the US government’s Environment Protection Agency the pipeline will boost annual U.S. carbon emissions by up to 27.6 million metric tons (which is equal to the emission of about 6 million cars).
But research by Oil Change International (OCI) says the government is underestimating the full impact of Keystone XL’s carbon emissions. OCI says Keystone XL will be emitting 13% more carbon dioxide than the US state department had previously considered because a barrel of tar sands produces more petroleum coke (petcoke) then conventional crude.
Petcoke “is the coal hiding in North America’s tar sands oil boom” but it has even “higher carbon emissions than already carbon intensive coal,” says OCI. As a refinery byproduct “it’s about 25% cheaper” than real coal but much worse for the environment.
“To date, the impacts of petcoke on the local and global environment have not been considered by regulatory bodies in assessing the impacts of the tar sands. Petcoke’s full impacts must be considered by the European Union in its debate on the Fuel Quality Directive, by the U.S. State Department in its consideration of the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline, and by Canadian, American, and European governments in tar sands policies across the board,” says OCI.
More about keystone xl pipeline, Controversial, Oil, Pipeline, TransCanada
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