The New Tar Sands Oil Pipeline: A Junkie's Last Fix

Having recently returned from the extensive tar sands oil fields of Alberta, I was alarmed to learn that our State Department just approved a new pipeline for funneling tar sands fuel straight into the U.S. Midwest. This decision locks us into years of reliance on a dirty fuel--one that has no place in the clean energy future the Obama administration is trying to build.

Al Gore has said, "Junkies find veins in their toes when the veins in their arms collapse. Developing tars sands is the equivalent." It is our last desperate effort to feed our oil addiction, no matter how dangerous the process is.

If that is the case, then this pipeline is the equivalent of a junkie sneaking drugs into rehab.

Why? Because sooner rather than later, America is going to pass a national climate law that will favor low-carbon fuels over polluting tar sands oil. But oil companies are betting on the fact that if their pipeline is already in place before these new provisions take affect, the U.S. will keep buying their dirty tar sands fuel.

The companies are focused on their best interests, not ours: This pipeline may be good for their bottom line, but it will damage our environment and constrain our economic growth.

Not only do the tar sands fields devour massive amounts of boreal forest and fresh water, but they also consume enormous amounts of energy. Tar sands operations use enough natural gas every day to heat more than 3 million homes.

This is why producing tar sands oil releases 3 times as much global warming pollution as conventional oil--which is already a dirty climate culprit.

As I wrote in a recent post, I was astonished to see for myself just how destructive the process of preparing tar sands oil is. But what really struck me as I flew over the rapidly growing oil sands fields was the realization that we don't need to do any of this.

We have cleaner, more sustainable options for powering our cars. Instead of demolishing the boreal forest and spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the air, we can improve the fuel efficiency of our cars and shift to plug-in hybrids.

These cleaner technologies will create 3 to 4 times as many jobs as the oil industry and will put America at the forefront of the global energy market.

This is the future we should be building. Rather than laying pipeline for outdated, polluting fuels, we should be constructing the infrastructure of the 21st century--wind farms, solar plants, and the transmissions lines that will power our cars with clean energy and employ workers here in America.

We need to get this clean energy future started now--for the health of the planet and the health of our economy. We can do that by passing a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill to give companies the signal they need to invest in low-carbon technologies.

Traveling around Fort McMurray, I could see that every major energy company has a stake in the tar sands business. Tar sands production is a long-term investment. It is capital intensive because it requires so much expensive infrastructure. Even though oil prices dipped this year, oil companies are not reevaluating their stake in tar sands. They are simply using the slow time to renegotiate labor contracts and prepare for the next wave of growth. Alberta produces 1.3 million barrels of tar sands fuel a day but expects to produce from four times to five times that amount in the next 10 to 20 years.

Imagine if all that investment and all those workers were focused on making more efficient cars, building hybrid batteries, and developing renewable energy instead? Then the pipeline the State Department just approved would run dry.