The Freakout Over the Keystone XL Pipeline

Over on Osborne Ink, there’s a post about the freakout over the EPA smog regulations.   In the comments section, I had a back-and forth over another freakout that the Left has been having:  The Keystone XL pipeline.   You may have seen it in the news, as various celebrities get arrested in in protest in front of the White House, and Jane Hamsher indulged in paranoid fantasies about her arrest, all the while whining about how horrible jail was.  Various environmental groups have been screaming about it as well.   What’s the fuss about?  A pipeline stretching from Alberta Canada to Houston Texas.  It would bring oil from the Athabasca Oil Sands to the US.

What are the oil sands?

the largest reservoir of crude bitumen in the world and the largest of three major oil sands deposits in Alberta, along with the nearby Peace River and Cold Lake deposits. Together, these oil sand deposits lie under 141,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi) of sparsely populated boreal forest and muskeg (peat bogs) and contain about 1.7 trillion barrels (270×109 m3) of bitumen in-place, comparable in magnitude to the world’s total proven reserves of conventional petroleum

Unfortunately, to get the bitumen (tar) out and into a form that is able to be piped somewhere, a particularly dirty and environmentally damaging process is used.  The sands are mined using an open pit, and then mixed with hot water to liquefy the oil and remove it.  Another process would inject steam into bore holes, so the liquified bitumen can be pumped out.

In other words, besides creating gaping pits in a sensitive ecosystem, one which doesn’t recover rapidly, it also uses a huge amount of water and fuels to create the oil, along with spent products and waste water.  The proposed pipeline has a number of serious environmental concerns in itself:

Environmentalists and their supporters, including Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) and former Vice President Al Gore, say the pipeline will be a threat to national security because of its potential dangers and that it presents lasting harm to natural resources.

Bill Erasmus, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for the Northwest Territories told CBS News Saturday that the pipeline will likely harm the Ogallala Aquifer, which covers 450,000 square kilometers and includes portions of Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.

All of which are matters of serious concern.  But, remember, I said “freakout” in the title?  Why would I used that term?  A couple of reasons.  First, this letter:

That, for example, this administration is considering the XL pipeline and thus supporting the destruction of the vast forests of Canada to satisfy the quest for more unsustainable oil – is heartbreaking. A pipeline across our farmland, forests and atop our magnificent Ogallala aquifer – how is this the green economy we were promised?

And this comment over at Osborne Ink:

I don’t have the ability to influence the Canadian government, but Obama does–  he could raise a huge fuss about the proposed pipeline, and refuse to allow passage through the USA. Permitting the Keystone project to run through the western United States makes our nation a party to that environmental crime.

This is where I part company with the protestors.  There’s serious beating of strawmen going on, and it’s irritating.   It’s not aimed at stopping the development of the oil sands.  It’s turned into a feel good measure, designed to gain attention for them, while giving the various Professional Left types the opportunity to once again attack the President.   In other words, they don’t really care that much about what is happening or is going to happen, they just want to feel morally superior by “not being a party” to it.

Why do I say that? You see, here’s the problem:  Those oil sands have been worked since 1967.  They’ve been in higher production since 2003.  Currently, they’re producing 1.3 million barrels a day.   There already are pipelines (Keystone and Alberta Clipper) bringing some of that to the United States.  I note that while there were protests in Canada over the lines, mainly because they didn’t want it exported to the US,  there wasn’t a lot of attention on the blogs or massive protests in front of the White House when those were approved during the Bush Administration.  There are a number of companies lined up to further exploit the sands with the full approval of Canada, among them the Chinese, who are busily ponying up money to develop the field and build a pipeline from the sands to British Columbia, for export to China and the Asian market.

There are real reasons to be against building the pipeline as it stands.  The pipeline company doesn’t have a terrific record of safety, the route takes it along a number of sensitive environments – although I note that no one bothers to talk about the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer as a much bigger threat –  and very few assurances that any oil pumped will make into the supply line for this country.   Any and all of which are things that need to either be addressed, or put a stop to the building.  So the result of refusing the permit to build the pipeline will be to make the environmental activists feel good, giving them a chance to declare victory.  It even does some good in preserving various environments that might be damaged or at risk in the construction of the pipeline as proposed.    But don’t think  it will  stop the development of the oil sands.    Don’t think that it will speed the shift away from oil.   Making believe that it does is just fooling yourself.  It may make you feel morally superior, but it did nothing for the real problems.

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2 responses to “The Freakout Over the Keystone XL Pipeline

  1. Why don’t they just build refineries in Canada?