Encyclopedia of Canadian pipelines: Keystone XL and Northern Gateway
The Keystone debate:
The “anti-Keystone” contingent has convinced an increasing proportion of the public that the environmental impacts of the proposed pipeline vastly outweigh the potential benefits.
The fact that the pipeline would transport oil to the U.S. from Canada’s “dirty” tar sands is perhaps most detrimental to its cause. Scientists and environmental advocates all over the world have attacked the Alberta tar sands because the process for extracting the oil has a much higher carbon footprint than other methods.
Tar sands oil is also said to be heavier and more corrosive than other types of crude, meaning it could be more likely to cause pipeline leaks. And many protesters have focused on TransCanada’s poor track record when it comes to leaks; an infographic from the Huffington Post shows at least 12 reported incidents since the first Keystone pipeline went into operation.
Environmentalists in the U.S. also note the danger that the expansion poses in crossing over 1,900 waterways, including the Ogallala Aquifer, the country’s largest freshwater source.
Widespread opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline included a signed letterto the President from the Dalai Lama and a number of other Nobel prize winners.
"What they’ve been using to force this on the American people are two lies. One of them is that it was going to create 250,000 jobs. Well, that was an industry talking point. When we started to really look into those numbers, when we started to do the work that the media should be doing before they start repeating these bogus claims, we found out that it’s really 5,000 jobs.
- Mark Ruffalo; Actor
"Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and the potential impacts are understood."
- U.S. President Barack Obama
"By ordering additional environmental review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama has made it clear that he has heard the concerns of Americans about environmental protection, climate change, and the need for the United States to create a clean energy future."
- Dan Woynillowicz; Spokesperson, The Pembina Institute
The most significant potential advantages of the Keystone XL project would be the thousands of union jobs it could bring to the U.S. economy. TransCanada claims the expansion would directly create more than 20,000 high-wage manufacturing jobs during construction, and up to 250,000 permanent jobs in the States due to the increase in stable oil supply. Keystone supporters also point to the $5.2 billion in property taxes that would eventually be paid to states along the route.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the Keystone decision in the U.S. should be a “no-brainer”, noting that on top of the job creation aspect, “the need for the energy in the United States is enormous.”
And that need for energy is key to another major talking point – reducing American dependence on foreign oil currently imported from outside North America. An early press release from TransCanada stated, “Once permitted and completed, the Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion project will supply roughly half the amount of oil that the U.S. currently imports from the Middle East or Venezuela”.
Canadian Environmental Minister Peter Kent famously used the term “ethical oil” to describe the tar sands product, suggesting that it’s guilt-free since it comes from a friendly North American neighbour. One surprising voice coming to Keystone’s defense was Patrick Moore, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace who later wrote the book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout.
"There has been a demonizing of a legitimate resource. It is ethical oil.
It is regulated oil. And it’s secure oil in a world where many of the free
world’s oil sources are somewhat less secure."
- Canadian Environmental Minister Peter Kent
"I have a suggestion for the president …Take a pen and sign one order and let the Keystone XL pipeline go through. He will create 120,000 jobs. No money on the part of the taxpayers and it is private industry that will do it, and why in God’s name is he not doing that?"
- Bernie Marcus; Co-founder, Home Depot
"Our oil is probably more ethically produced than just about any other country in the world, and we are a friendly country to the United States….The reason I support it is that it’s the safest way to transport oil. It’s not like there’s going to be a blowout in the oil sands like there was in the Gulf, there’s no pressure. This oil is just on sand, and it’s being taken off the sand in a kind of steam-cleaning process."
- Patrick Moore; Co-founder, Greenpeace