Contrary to the Journal’s Contention, Keystone XL Decision Should NOT Be Easy

March 18th, 2014 · No Comments · energy policy

By Denise Tessier

On Feb. 27, while I was away from New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal ran an editorial whose headline summarized the leading daily’s official position: “Keystone XL approval should be easy decision.”

In terms of laying out the Journal’s position, it was a well-written editorial. But its premise is arguable. Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline should not be an easy decision. Considering where we are at this point in planetary history, it cannot be an easy decision. I will attempt to make the case as to why.

As fodder for its argument, the Journal editorial said a State Department review of the project, released in January, “found the pipeline would not have a significant effect on global warming.”

The effect of the pipeline itself might be negligible, but once the pipeline is in place, Canada has the incentive to extract more oil from tar sands and oil shale – and that extraction process will have a significant effect on the environment in terms of carbon release and global warming.

The editorial argued that Canadian officials say most of the Keystone XL oil “would be for U.S. consumption, with a small portion – mainly diesel – going to other markets.” This is contrary to other reports that say the pipeline would carry the oil to Houston ports for export.

“Even without Keystone XL, Canada will move some of its oil through the United States on trains and trucks, a far more dangerous and carbon-exhaust-producing method than a pipeline,” the editorial added.

The danger from trains is indisputable. Canada has experienced train explosions and forced evacuations. An oil tanker train derailed and exploded in December on the North Dakota prairie. The volunteer fire department in the area could not fight the fire with water or foam; they had to let it burn. The temperature the day of the explosion reportedly was -20F. And if it had happened just two miles distant on the same track, it would have destroyed the North Dakota city of Casselton.

Joel C. Heitkamp, host of Clear Channel’s “News and Views” and a former member of the North Dakota Legislature, told radio host and former Fargo resident Ed Schultz on Dec. 31, just after the explosion, that the people of North Dakota favor the Keystone XL, not only because they hope it will provide relief from the constant ferrying of oil by train, and also by truck.

Heitkamp said North Dakota’s rural roads used to be the perfect place to teach young people how to drive, but now – with 270 oil companies operating in North Dakota – oil traffic is bumper to bumper and nearly round the clock, and you wouldn’t want your teenagers anywhere near those roads. “It is the Wild West,” he said. “Semis are beating the heck out of our township roads.”

To visualize this, view The New York Times Jan. 13 Op-Doc entitled, “Running on Fumes in North Dakota,” a video documentary about “a young woman, lured to North Dakota for a truck-driving job in the oil industry, (who) shares her agonizing existence in an isolated boomtown.”

I confess that I empathize to a more-than-usual extent about what is going on in North Dakota because I once lived there, just outside of Bismark, and remember its lack of crime, its quaint wholesomeness, its beauty, its excellent schools. Everything I’ve heard about North Dakota since the tar sands boom and fracking has provided a stark contrast.

So I began to wonder if the pipeline would help the people of North Dakota. After hearing Heitkamp say that he, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (his sister), and the people of North Dakota want the pipeline, it was easy to start thinking that the pipeline might be the lesser of two evils.

Then I caught myself.

Easy, yes.

But no, the antidote to this domestic destruction is to stop relying on oil. Some Third World cultures have completely skipped the oil addiction, moving directly into solar and other new technologies.

The Journal editorial, however, dismisses this, saying (my emphasis added):

Some opponents seem to be hanging onto the pipe dream that stopping Keystone XL will somehow boost the nascent renewable energy industry, but like it or not the United States remains reliant on oil and will for decades.

Approval of the Keystone XL is the easy decision. It is the kind of decision policymakers have been making all along with regard to oil. Go with what we’ve got, the future be damned.

It is not the right decision, and – as the Journal editorial and its headline inadvertently illustrate – the right decision is the more difficult one to make.

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