A day before our Spring Break began here at Penn State, the U.S. State Department released a 2,000-page document which dealt with the projected environmental impacts of constructing the proposed $7 billion 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta Canada to Port Arthur, Texas, in order to tap the massive oil reserves housed in the tar sands of the Canadian Northwest.
The document — which at a great shock to many made no recommendation as to whether or not President Barack Obama should go ahead and approve the pipeline’s construction based on the economic and energy interests of the United States — called the environmental effects that could be potentially caused by the pipeline “manageable,” according to the New York Times. This statement easily succeeded in outraging the large pool of activists who have been opposed to the pipeline’s creation from the beginning of the debate, as well as those who feel the pipeline’s existence would be a massive step backwards in the battle for a cleaner, greener American future as far as its energy is concerned.
Being less than knowledgeable about the issues surrounding this topic myself, I took to reading up about this year-old debate over the break, and to listening to my self-righteously environmental brother’s panderings about just how big of a deal this pipeline has become.
What I learned was that despite the State Department’s findings, as well as my own objections to my brother’s preposterous looking tree-hugging beard, I myself cannot help but agree with him and with the rest of the people who feel that this pipeline is just a plain old bad idea.
For a little background, here’s what the experts are saying: The crude oil trapped within the tar sands of Alberta is considered to be one of the largest and most plentiful oil reserves left in the world today, according to PBS NewsHour, second only to those found in the Middle East, namely within Saudi Arabia. If tapped, it could provide the United States with roughly 800,000 barrels of oil per day.
However, the extraction of crude oil from tar sand, which involves mining the sand with massive trucks and subsequently applying heat to the sand to separate it from the bitumen — the scientific term for the petroleum within these sands — is far more damaging to the environment than the extraction procedure for conventional oil, as explained on the Huffington Post by Christopher F. Jones, a Ciriacy-Wantrup Fellow at the University of California-Berkeley. Just how much worse? According to the State Department report, tar sand oil produces 5 to 19 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than regular crude oil.
Additionally, there is worry that the pipeline could spring a leak, as similar lines have in the past, wreaking havoc on the ecosystems and environments it has been built across, according to the New York Times. Such objections have already caused the route of the proposed pipeline to be changed once before, as President Obama rejected the lines initial route last year because it passed through fragile grasslands and a major aquifer in the state of Nebraska, according to the New York Times.
Yet, the State Department report concluded that there is just as much, if not a greater risk for spills in the transportation of the oil using more conventional methods such as trucks, barges and rail, according to the New York Times. And that these spills could potentially be just as much a threat to the environment as the pipeline is.
Supporters of the pipeline argue that its construction and refinement would create jobs in the American economy, and lessen our dependence on foreign oil from countries that we have far worse relations with compared to Canada.
Also many, including those within the State Department, feel that the creation of this pipeline will not ultimately determine whether or not this oil is mined, and dispute the idea that it will remain untouched should the president disapprove the pipelines construction.
Basically, another country will come knocking on Canada’s door eventually, and the pollution from the tar sand oil will be let out into the atmosphere anyway — so why not just do it now under the more environmentally regulated jurisdiction of the United States?
It’s just the principal of the thing.
When Obama was elected in 2008, he ran on the platform that he would promote the gradual decrease of American dependence on fossil fuels and promote increased research on green energy and environmentally friendly engineering. This campaigning was a large contributor to his courtship of the younger demographic, many of whom care deeply about these issues.
Additionally, in his recent State of the Union address Obama pledged that he would protect future generations by reducing pollution and speeding the transition to more sustainable sources of energy now and in the future — things he would be directly combating by allowing the construction of this pipeline to go through.
Now, politics is rarely played out as pretty as it sounds at speeches and rallies. Most of the country — especially the younger demographic — is certainly cynical enough to understand that.
But the traditional insincerity, or at least assumed exaggeration of our partisan leaders that is alive and working within the public discourse, should not give the president an excuse to go back so directly against his own word.
The Keystone Pipeline, despite whatever the State Department and whatever else anybody else says, is bad for the environment — just read about it. Denying its creation may only postpone the release and refinement of the oil within the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, but at least we will not have the pollution inevitably caused by this event on our conscience.
And that is reason enough to halt its creation.
Anthony Bellafiore is a junior majoring in English and economics and is The Daily Collegian’s Thursday columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.