Keystone XL pipeline could double Canada's crude oil import to the U.S.

Posted: Dec 15, 2019

A proposed pipeline that could double the amount of oil brought into the United States from Canada has been met with significant opposition by environmental groups and has elicited closer examination from the EPA.

The $7 billion pipeline project is being led by the Alberta-based, TransCanada Corporation. The 36-inch diameter pipeline would span approximately 1,959 miles and carry crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, to the Gulf Coast, cutting through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The expansion of the Keystone Pipeline would include a binding contract that would require 910,000 barrels of crude be sent to the Gulf Coast, per-day, for approximately 18 years.

In a letter to the State Department, EPA is seeking more information about the chemical diluents that are added to crude oil from Canada. However, information concerning the composition of any diluents added to the oil sands crude has been regarded by TransCanada as proprietary and the corporation has resisted sharing it with the EPA. The agency is arguing that knowing what the diluents in the crude are is an essential factor in helping to establish the potential health and environmental impacts of any spilled oil. TransCanada argues that the diluents in the crude do not present an increased safety risk. In the Supplemental Draft Environmental Statement (SDEIS) submitted by TransCanada, an analysis was added, of the potential impact that the oil and the diluents would have if it came in contact with groundwater . The analysis stopped short of giving details of the diluents’ composition.

Environmental groups have petitioned the EPA arguing that the State Department’s investigation into the potential impacts of the construction and operation of the Keystone XL pipeline is insufficient. Opponents of the pipeline construction and operation point to the 2010 pipeline rupture in Michigan, in which 800,000 gallons of heavy crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River system. Although TransCanada was not connected to that specific pipeline, conservation groups point to the disastrous effects that diluents such as benzene had on the environment. Benzene is a highly volatile chemical that was added to the crude oil in order to lower the viscosity of the oil sands crude so that it could be sent through a pipeline. The high levels of benzene in the air caused the surrounding areas to be evacuated during the clean up.

Although TransCanada has responded to most of the concerns raised by both the State Department and the EPA, the corporation argues that it should not be prevented from obtaining a permit to build the pipeline because of their hesitation in sharing information that is pertinent to the intellectual property rights of the corporation’s operations.

The availability of oil from the north has often been discussed as a safer alternative to this country’s dependency on the oil reserves of the turbulent Middle East. The biggest issue with the Keystone XL pipeline is whether or not the State Department can justify the potential environmental risks of a leak for the benefit of more oil to the U.S., thereby lowering energy prices throughout the country. Obviously every safety measure needs to be taken in order to keep the pipeline as secure as possible, yet the longer the pipeline is postponed, the longer the U.S. will have to wait for relief from the current energy crisis.

However, as a society deep in debt and in the midst of energy price inflation, the nation needs to assess what is best for the country as a whole. This means balancing national security, national debt, and the protection of our natural resources. TransCanada, the State Department, and the EPA, need to work together to come up with a solution that will accomplish the nation’s goals, while being careful not to overlook the necessary precautions. What the EPA and conservation groups both need to acknowledge is the significant economic and employment growth that the pipeline will bring to the U.S.

In a media advisory, put out by TransCanada, an independent study conducted by the Perryman Group, found that the proposed pipeline would bring an estimated $5.2 billion in property taxes and $585 million in state and local taxes, for those states that the pipeline would cut through, during the operating life of the pipeline. The study also found that the pipeline project is expected to create 20,000 “high-wage” manufacturing and construction jobs in 2011-2012. The Keystone Pipeline System is projected to provide 5 percent of the current U.S. petroleum needs and would account for 9 percent of U.S. petroleum imports. Once the proposed pipeline system is completed, it is expected to provide approximately half the amount of oil that is imported to the U.S. from the Middle East or Venezuela. The Perryman study also estimated that the pipeline project would establish 250,000 permanent jobs for U.S. workers.

The volume of economic growth that the Keystone pipeline project would bring to the U.S. is hard to ignore. The plain truth is that crude oil is a pillar that the U.S. has built itself upon. Although the project should be carefully studied and regulated by the EPA, the government needs to make this project a priority and try to do what it can to help speed the process along. This is not to say that TransCanada should be allowed to skip any steps, or that the security and safety of the pipeline’s construction should be sacrificed. With the Keystone XL, the U.S. has the potential to jumpstart an economy that has yet to recover from the recession. The opportunity to employ a quarter-million people is something that needs to be part of the conversation, just as much as the intricacies of the actual pipeline.

The Keystone XL should be permitted to proceed following strict safety regulations. In regards to the disclosure of the diluents, the EPA seems to be taking a hard stance to appease certain environmental groups who feel the pipeline should not be built. The diluents overall do not represent any greater risk than the crude itself. The EPA’s analysis of the oil sands crude in the original Keystone pipeline shows that the composition of the oil is extremely similar to the crude coming from Venezuela and Nigeria, which currently being imported to the U.S.

The EPA needs to focus on the real issue of ramping up safety measures and steer away from politics. Overall, the nation needs to realize that despite the reservations that they might have about building a pipeline through the U.S., the Keystone XL is a good thing for our economy and for our national security. Recently the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed legislation requiring President Obama to make a decision on the permit by November 1, 2011. As the deadline approaches, environmental groups and TransCanada need to work together to find a way to make this pipeline work, for the good of the U.S. as a whole. You can read more news on the proposed project online.

Anthony Santos, University of Colorado Law Student

Read this counterpoint blog, opposing the pipeline. 

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