Sunday, May 11, 2014

Keystone Pipeline Issue Coming to a Head in Congress

By Joseph Farley

Map courtesy of Wikipedia
The Keystone Pipeline already exists; it has for a while now. The Keystone XL Pipeline is the real environmental powder keg that has riled up opposing sides. The proposed expansion is 1,700 miles of pipeline that would connect to two existing legs that stretch from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Texas. Once running, the proposed pipeline is expected to produce around 830,000 barrels of oil per day, according to The major problem is the heavy Canadian oil harvested from tar sands. Extracting this oil from the tar sands is a nightmare for the environment.

Tar sands are an unconventional petroleum deposit, meaning they aren’t extracted using traditional oil wells. A reason for the harvesting of these types of oils is that we are already running low on traditional oil methods, which should be reason enough to scour for alternate fuels. Making liquid fuels from tar sands requires additional energy for steam injection and refining. This process generates 12 percent more greenhouse gas per barrel of final product than extraction of conventional oil. Extracting the sands has toxic impact on the wildlife living in the region as well as possible health concerns for the workers doing the extracting.

The battle has been one of the most defining issues of the Obama Administration, which has been delaying the expansion for two years. Obama has come out recently saying that he will further delay the decision until after the November elections, enraging Canadians and oil industrialists. Supporters of the pipeline are denouncing his decision as “politics,” but opponents like former President Jimmy Carter thinks he should reject the plan outright.

Obama’s decision on the pipeline has been coming since 2011, when Obama spoke with Prime Minister Harper, and told him that there would be a delay while a study was done in order to protect the Sandhills and Ogallala aquifers. Frustration has since boiled over on the length of the study

Many in the United States Senate have begun trying to push through a bipartisan piece of legislation that would let work on the Keystone Pipeline begin without his approval. The legislation was introduced by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota.

The Obama Administration has cited the ongoing Nebraska court case as the major reason for the delay. The State Department’s studies have shown that the pipeline won’t have the “significant” environmental impacts it was once thought to have. But just what do they consider significant? We should be striving towards reducing our carbon emissions and this would drastically increase them.

It may not be “The fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet,” as activist and author Bill Mckibben once said. The Nebraska issue, though, has given environmental groups an issue to fight over. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the New York Times, “When we are able to grab hold of a visible issue, we usually win. When it’s more abstract and Congress needs to get involved things tend to stall.”

The  proposed Senate bill has all 45 Republicans and supposedly 11 Democrats; however, they still lack the 60 needed for its approval. “At this point we're still working to get 60," said Sen. John Hoeven.

The Obama Administration has not yet taken a formal position on the legislation, although Democratic officials in the Senate as well as Republican lawmakers say they expect Obama likely would veto it if it came across his desk.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is open to a possible vote in Congress, a change from his earlier position. “I'm open to anything that will move energy efficiency," Reid, a long-time foe, told reporters.

The proposed pipeline would carry oil from Canada to the United States, where it eventually would reach Gulf Coast refineries. Supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and help the United States get closer to a goal of energy independence. Opponents include environmentalists who say the project wouldn’t create much permanent employment once it was finished, and argue it would reinforce the nation’s use of an energy source that worsens global warming. Such a project will only increase our dependence on a limited resource.

Harry Reid, a Democrat, is likely posturing, as why would he put up for a vote a bill he doesn’t want to pass? With elections coming up, many conservative-state Democrats’ seats are up for re-election and this could make them seem bi-partisan and help them win votes. For them, it would seem to be a smart political move with no consequences to them, as any such bill will almost certainly be vetoed by Obama.

According to CBS News, the vote is likely to happen soon with the mechanics still being worked out. The vote will likely show where the country’s leaders have their heads--new and more sustainable energies or business as usual.

Joseph Farley is a Junior at Ramapo College from Emerson, New Jersey, with a concentration in Journalism. He has a passion for music and politics and hopes to someday cover both. His ideal job would be reporting for places such as Spin, Pitchfork, Vice or The Daily Beast

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