This isn't your average oil pipeline. Keystone XL is a TAR SANDS pipeline

Yesterday and today, the offices of Congress are being flooded with messages from hundreds of thousands of Americans opposing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. After just 24 hours, almost 800,000 messages were sent to Senators from all across America decrying efforts to undo President Obama’s decision to deny the pipeline permit.  Americans oppose proposed legislation that would bypass the environmental review for this tar sands pipeline (even though a final route for the pipeline has not yet been set) reversing the decision to deny the permit.  So how can a recent poll released by Fox News find that 67 percent of Americans support the tar sands pipeline? The answer is that Fox News didn’t specify that this is a tar sands pipeline – different from regular oil pipelines in its risk of oil spills and in how much worse tar sands is for the climate than regular oil. In this, the Fox News poll differs markedly from another recent poll by Hart Research where respondents backed President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, 46 percent to 37 percent.   Once Americans understand the risks of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, they say no to this dirty energy project. We know that we can do better than tar sands to meet our energy needs.

The difference in these poll results comes down to one thing: whether the person being surveyed understands that Keystone XL is a tar sands pipeline – a very different thing than a conventional oil pipeline. There are significant environmental issues unique to tar sands including an increased risk of spills. The Keystone XL pipeline will carry tar sands, a uniquely corrosive and acidic mixture, more risky than most of the pipelines across the country.   This blend of tar sands bitumen makes pipes more susceptible to corrosion bringing a higher chance of oil spills that are more difficult to clean up once they happen. 

The poll by Fox News said that 67 percent of voters support the Keystone XL “oil pipeline.”  This question is fundamentally flawed because it fails to mention that Keystone XL is a tar sands pipeline.  This and other polls touting public support for generic “pipeline” questions deserve a second look including a Rasmussen released poll claiming that a majority of Americans in favor of the pipeline and the National Journal poll with similar findings.  These polls don’t give a fair assessment of where the public is because they asked about Keystone XL as a “pipeline” or an “oil pipeline,” which papers over the primary issue about Keystone XL – that it carries tar sands.     

It is when Americans learn the truth about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, that they grasp what a colossal mistake it would be to proceed with this project. The Hart Research poll takes a much closer look at public attitudes. The poll, conducted in the states of Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Colorado, found that respondents backed President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, 46 percent to 37 percent, once they heard the arguments for and against the pipeline.  (Even before hearing the arguments, 32 percent backed the President’s decision – significantly more than found in polling with highly unreliable and generic questions that had been conducted earlier.)

Once Americans learn the full story about the tar sands pipeline, their views of the project dramatically change.    First, they learned that this is not generic pipeline carrying conventional oil like so many pipelines that now exist.  The Canadian tar sands oil is now being pushed through U.S. pipelines that were built and designed for less abrasive conventional oil. And TransCanada – the proponent of Keystone XL – has a bad safety record,.  In fact,  Keystone One, (the existing sister pipeline to Keystone XL) spilled 14 times alone in the United States, and over 20 times in Canada, in its first year of operation.  President Obama made the decision to deny the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because the government was not given enough time to fully evaluate all of the pipeline’s health and safety issues (not to mention the full route was never scoped out).  It is no wonder that once poll respondents understood these key facts more clearly they found good reason to support the President’s denial of the pipeline.

Second, they learned that the pipeline is meant to meet the needs of foreign oil companies wanting access to an international port.  Keystone XL is a tar sands export pipeline through America – not for America.  Keystone XL would not increase U.S. energy security and would increase the price of oil in the Midwest. Essentially, Keystone XL would take oil from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast where it can be sold on the international market. Exporting Canadian tar sands oil at higher prices on the world market may increase profits for the tar sands industry, but does not offer the U.S. energy security and it jeopardizes our drinking water all while increasing prices for American consumers.

Failing to mention that Keystone XL is a tar sands pipeline carrying a very different and more dangerous substance than conventional oil is a significant omission from a poll question. Once Americans learn that with Keystone XL there are greater dangers of a toxic oil spill and that the pipeline itself is designed to take oil through America – not to America – their apparent support fades.  That is why so many people across the United States turned out in unprecedented numbers in a 24 hour period to tell Congress that they do not want the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.