Is the Keystone XL pipeline worth the environmental cost?
The Senate is set to vote on the Keystone XL in the next few days. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), fighting an uphill battle to win the Louisiana senatorial runoff on December 6, is trying to champion the bill through the Senate (it passed the House earlier this week). She has the support of all 45 Senate Republicans and the tentative support of another 14 Democrats, but she may be lacking the necessary 60th vote for the bill to pass. The quick movement of the Keystone XL bill has brought the proposed pipeline back into the forefront of national attention. Should the Democrats adjust their view and support the bill and should President Obama, should the bill pass the Senate, sign it?
What is the Keystone XL pipeline?
The Keystone XL pipeline is the 1,200 mile final piece of TransCanada’s 3,800 mile Keystone Pipeline system. Keystone XL is the final third of a pipeline system that already ships hundreds of thousands of barrels of Canadian oil into the United States. This final segment would run the Keystone pipeline through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
What’s controversial about it?
There are two controversial elements to the Keystone XL pipeline: greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands and the effect on the pipeline on Native American tribes in the Midwest.
Environmentalists are right to worry about Keystone XL’s impact on the environment. The State Department estimated that the pipeline would emit some 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually; a separate peer-reviewed report by the scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute found that emissions could be as high 110 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. That’s a lot of greenhouse gasses.
However, these estimates are dependent upon oil production. Greenhouse gas emissions would only increase if the construction of the pipeline leads to an increase in the supply of oil, which would be attained through oil sands. Both the SEI and State Department reports found that should the Keystone XL not increase oil production, emissions would remain the same. The question, then, is whether the pipeline will increase production, the answer to which cannot be determined as it depends upon global supply and the actions of other oil producers.
The proposed pipeline would “run through the sovereign lands of some [Native American] tribes.” Native Americans worry about the effects of an influx of workers near their communities. Namely, tribes fear an increase in the rate of sexual assaults. Native American sovereignty is also an issue; the Rosebud Sioux Tribe that passage of the Keystone XL pipeline would be akin to a declaration of war.
What are the benefits?
Conservatives hang their hats on the Keystone XL’s ability to create jobs and generate economic growth. The State Department’s report found that construction of the pipeline would create 42,000 jobs (both directly and indirectly). However, the pipeline will create just 50 permanent jobs – the number needed to maintain the pipeline. Building the pipeline would contribute $2 billion to the economy.
Will it lower domestic gas prices?
The State Department report estimates the Keystone XL would have “little impact” on gas prices.
Is it worth it?
No. Progressives for Prosperity stands in opposition of the pipeline. There is too little lasting economic benefit to justify the potential to greatly increase greenhouse gas pollutants. Republicans like to point out that the pipeline will create jobs and provide a mini stimulus to the region. That’s true – but only in the short run. After construction, all but 50 of the created jobs will quickly disappear and there will be little economic benefit after the initial injection of $2 billion. Meanwhile, it is likely that the pipeline will lead to increased oil sand extraction, hurting the environment in a time when we are truly beginning to realize the eminent catastrophe caused by global warming. The Keystone XL pipeline is a pretty ideal supported by good Republican framing, but when one delves deeper into the proposal, one will see the negative long-term effects of constructing the pipeline.
UPDATE: KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE DIES IN SENATE
Senator Mary Landrieu was unable to sway enough Democrats for the Keystone XL to pass its Senate vote. The bill received 59 votes in favor, 1 shy of the 60-vote majority needed. This defeat represents a huge setback for Landrieu’s reelection bid. Landrieu hoped that by pushing the bill through Congress she would gain support leading up to Louisiana’s runoff election. She is expected to lose the election and the DCCC has halted ad buying in the state. The Keystone XL was likely Landrieu’s best lifeline in her race.