Objective Review of Keystone Pipeline


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I’m an old-fashioned politician. I believe issues should be decided on the merits rather than just supporting the viewpoint of a political party or friendly interest group. In my 17 years as a county legislator, when a new law is introduced and I’m asked “how are you going to vote,” I always say, “I don’t know yet. I need to hear from the proponents and opponents, as well as have discussions with my colleagues.”

I provide this introduction because this week we learned that both houses of Congress will finally be voting on the Keystone pipeline, and I wonder if the members of Congress and the public have performed such an independent review of the issue. I received emails in the past few years from environmental groups condemning this pipeline as if it would be an environmental nightmare.  For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council says, “The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would transport raw, toxic tar sands oil right through the American heartland . . . and threatens to wreak environmental havoc on both sides of the border.”  That is very strong language that sounds overly dramatic, but is it true?

The federal government’s review of the pipeline has now taken six years, which appears unreasonable. The company deserves a decision. Unfortunately, the issue has been locked in a political struggle as the House passed legislation approving the pipeline seven times, but it has been blocked by the Senate and opposed by the President.

As we watch this debate in Congress in the coming week(s), I thought you might appreciate some background on this issue and the arguments pro and con, which I located at this link:  http://www.buzzle.com/articles/keystone-xl-pipeline-project-pros-cons-and-other-facts.html

Let’s all objectively review the environmental, economic and other concerns related to this pipeline.


The original Keystone pipeline project is a 2,100 mile-long pipeline that transports crude oil extracted in Canada by a Canadian company called TransCanada Corp. While the Keystone project began in Canada in 2005, the US gave approval for the construction of a trans-border pipeline in March 2007 that stretched from Canada to Illinois and it began operations in 2010. In 2008, TransCanada submitted a request for a newer fourth phase of the pipeline – the Keystone XL project – a 1,179 mile-long crude oil pipeline across the US-Canada international border. The northern leg of the 36-inch wide pipeline plans to connect Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. The southern leg connects Steele City with Port Arthur, Texas. Since the northern leg passes through the international border, it is pending approval from the US Department of State since 2008, causing members of Congress to propose legislation for the approval.


1) TransCanada claims the project will provide 40,000 direct and indirect temporary jobs. However, the number of jobs is hotly debated and may be much less, while the number of permanent jobs will be in the hundreds.

2) The project expects to improve US energy security. Currently, the Gulf Coast region depends on oil imported from countries like Mexico and Venezuela and the amount available has been declining. Piped oil supplied from Canada, which is believed to be the world’s second most oil-rich region after the Middle East, will provide a stable oil source.

3) Besides energy security, the project will help ensure that North American will become energy independent by 2035. The US has been steadily increasing its oil production, and oil production in Canada has seen a similar rise, and linking the production of the two countries will confer independence from oil imports from distant, unfriendly countries.

4) The pipeline project will contribute more than $3 billion to the US with the largest contribution through property taxes collected at places the pipeline passes through.

5) Proponents of the project argue that it will have a positive environmental impact. The world-class technology used will minimize the emission of greenhouse gases. Also, independent analysts have found that the chemical composition of the oil from this project will be identical to oil sources from regions like Nigeria, Mexico, and Alaska, which are already piped inside the US. The US is also thought to have the tightest refinery regulations on the planet, and we are already refining Canadian oil.

6) If the project is not approved, then the US will still be dependent on its oil sources in the Middle East, and the transport of oil over long distances will definitely increase the carbon footprint, as compared to direct piping of oil from Canada.

7) It is much safer to transport crude oil by pipelines than by railroads or tankers, where the chance of explosions is higher. The chances of spillage with piping is minimal and any problems are usually controlled quickly. The Keystone XL project would have one of the safest pipelines equipped with sensors that send data to monitoring satellites every 5 seconds.  If this oil is not piped – it will certainly be transported in less safe ways.


1) Studies claim that utilizing the tar oil supplied by the pipeline will result in a large amount of greenhouse emissions, which will end up raising the Earth’s temperature. This will bring about a drop in the US GDP and have a negative impact on extreme weather conditions and the economy.

2) The pollution caused by extraction of tar oils is much higher than what is caused by conventional oils. Tar oils mixed with sand, water and clay have routinely been described as the ‘dirtiest fuel.’ Also, there are fears that by approving this project, US technology will become almost completely dependent on this polluting energy source.

3) Extracting the tar oil from the ground is messy and complicated, as it requires pumping steam directly into the ground, and this process will cause fragmentation of the pristine forest where the oil is located, besides killing many species of migratory birds and interfering in animal life cycles. The planned pipeline travels through very sensitive terrain which can’t afford any adverse impacts.

4) In case of spills and leaks, conventional oil-cleanup technologies may not work efficiently in this project, because the physical properties of tar oil differ from conventional oil. The main difference is that tar oils, rather than floating on water, sink to the bottom. Also, this acidic oil is corrosive in nature, which increases the chances of spills.

5) Oil spills can damage underground drinking water supplies. This can cause the spread of diseases, while affecting the crop yield of the land, since the pipeline will travel under mostly agricultural areas.

6) Previously, when oil companies extracted tar oil in Alberta, the waste was dumped in open ponds, which became so toxic that fish developed tumors and birds were killed there.

7) Approving the project will reduce investment in cleaner technologies that focus on minimizing environmental impacts.

Finally, an excellent review can be found in the US State Department’s executive summary of the final supplemental environmental impact statement: Keystone Final SEIS Exec Rep

Now you have the facts necessary to form an opinion on the Keystone pipeline. If you were a member of Congress, how would you vote?

Jim Maisano

3 thoughts on “Objective Review of Keystone Pipeline

  1. I believe that the pros outweigh the cons on this one. Some of the environmental issues are quite unproven. There are existing pipelines in this country that have and are operating safely for years. This project should go ahead. The less dependent we are on oil from the middle east, the less oil prices will affect our economy. Mickey

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  2. Lest you believe that this is the only pipeline carrying crude though this area here is a handy reference map of all crude oil pipelines in the U.S.

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  3. I am sure similar debates took place with other pipelines like the Alaskan Pipeline. I would like to see what were the points of the debate on all sides and what is reality.


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