There is growing pressure on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline extension, which, when complete, will transport crude oil from tar sands in Alberta down to various refineries in the United States. On February 17, 2013, there will be a rally in Washington, DC against the Keystone XL pipeline. In his inaugural address, President Obama said that “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” We must demand action to match the speech: actions speak louder than words, after all.
For the first time in Sierra Club’s 120-year history, they will participate in an act of civil disobedience in February against the tar sands pipeline, endorsed by their Board of Directors.
There are arguments out there in favor of the extension—primarily that it is for the good of the economy. But at what human and environmental cost will this “good” for the economy be achieved? President Obama may play a significant role in promoting economic growth, but it is unreasonable to do so in such a blatantly unsustainable fashion. Climate change is a reality: we’ve seen record heat, fires, and destructive storms in the past year.
While walking the Keystone XL route, Ken Ilgunas encountered all manner of people and opinions on the pipeline, including a belief that climate change is merely a government conspiracy. The Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman only recently approved a revised route for the Keystone XL. He rejected the initial route proposed that went directly through the Ogallala Aquifer.
Interviews with locals indicate that the tar sands do provide lucrative employment in Alberta, Canada, but also provoke unease at the resulting destruction of the landscape and decreased water quality. The health of people in areas near to either the tar sands themselves or the pipeline must be considered.
To get at the tar sands oil, boreal forests are clear-cut, and loss of those forests contributes further to the climate impact. Forests serve as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon and preventing it from accumulating further in the atmosphere. We need those forests to keep our world habitable. The environmental costs of digging the oil sands will become economic costs if we are not careful.
Photos of the tar sands are dramatic, and leave no doubt that they are destructive. For every two tons of dirt dug up, only one barrel of oil is extracted. Extracting the oil from the tar sands is one of the most carbon-intensive processes, and some studies have suggested that the associated destruction of peatlands will release even more carbon into the atmosphere. Extraction from tar sands creates three times the greenhouse gas emissions as standard oil, and requires a great deal of water for processing.
The CEO of TransCanada believes that they will receive approval “very soon” for the portion of the Keystone XL pipeline that crosses the U.S.-Canada border.
Let’s hope that Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama will look at the long-term calculations for people and the environment. We might get to have a few years of more jobs as they construct the pipeline, but it will take many more years for the land to recover. The risk of destroying drinking water supplies indefinitely is too high. We cannot risk faulty pipelines polluting our agricultural land and wild ecosystems.