USA Today: Proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not necessary for U.S. energy security

USA Today published an important story about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would bring tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The article outlines the debate being fueled by this pipeline in a time of turmoil in the Middle East and concern about our energy future.  However, by the end of the article, it is clear that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not the answer to our energy security needs – the way to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil is to reduce our dependence on oil altogether and build a clean energy future.

Starting with the concerns of landowners in the proposed pipeline’s path, the article sets the stage for the David versus Goliath debate that this has become. The oil companies with their vast financial resources are pushing hard to have the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline built, despite concerns from farmers, ranchers, land owners and local communities in the path about impacts on the freshwater and other natural resources on which their livelihoods depend.

The article asks the critical question of whether the United States really needs another pipeline that would drive an expansion of tar sands oil strip-mining and drilling from under Canada’s Boreal forests and wetlands. The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would shift oil from the Midwest to the Gulf, even raising oil prices in the Midwest. It is not a critical piece of infrastructure for U.S. energy security – especially not when we are in the midst of building clean energy options in the U.S. including renewable energy to fuel electric vehicles, fuel efficiency standards, smart growth and transit, and environmentally sustainable biofuels.

The article also raises the environmental risks of the pipeline based on a report of the safety risks of transporting raw tar sands oil or diluted bitumen that was published recently by NRDC and our partners. With the cleanup of the 840,000 gallon tar sands oil spill from an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan last August still going on, this is the time to be cautious when it comes to pipeline safety. New regulations for pipeline safety are being debated in the United States and hopefully will result in specific oversight of diluted bitumen pipelines such as the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

As the article notes, the State Department, which is responsible for the main federal permit for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline recently agreed to redo their environmental review making up for the many inadequacies of the first draft environmental impact statement that was issued last April. The State Department has said that it will issue the new draft supplemental environmental impact statement for public review in mid-April and hopefully they are doing the in depth analysis that is needed of the many issues they missed the first time around. This includes greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands production, impacts on migratory birds, health impacts in U.S. communities around refineries, consideration of alternate routes that would not take the pipeline across the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer, impacts on the endangered American burying beetle, pipeline safety concerns, the purpose and need for the pipeline and many other issues.

If this next round of analysis is done right, it will show that America does not need the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and that the pipeline is not worth the high cost in environmental, health and safety risks. We can do better with our clean energy alternatives.