Keystone XL tar sands pipeline still doesn't make sense -- forcing approval puts the cart before the horse

As Congress takes up legislation that would force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, there are countless reasons why this is a bad idea starting with the fact that there is still no established route for the pipeline.  This tar sands oil pipeline would allow some of the world’s dirtiest oil flows through the United States, threatening water supplies to hundreds of thousands of people.  And burning the additional tar sands oil would needlessly worsen climate change. By forcing the pipeline’s approval, the law would override presidential  authority and bypass the National Interest Determination process.  In the wake of new polling just released by the Pew Research Center demonstrating support for the pipeline is waning, a rush to force approval is disservice to the American public who deserves an a final assessment of whether the pipeline is truly in America’s national interest. 

In comments today, President Obama said he is not convinced of the value of the pipeline as a job creator or to provide America with energy security.

I have to constantly push back against the idea that Keystone is either a massive jobs bill for the U.S. or is somehow lowering gas prices. Understand what the project is, it will provide the ability for Canada to pump their oil and send it through their land down to the Gulf where it will be sold everywhere else.

Here is what we know:

  • On Jobs:  Operating Keystone XL will only require between 35 and 50 jobs. The State Department found that the construction of Keystone XL would generate 1,950 jobs for two years – giving the project the job creation potential of a medium sized mall.
  • On Climate: The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would enable a significant increase in carbon intensive tar sands production and undermine efforts to address climate change. At a time when decisive action on climate change is urgently needed, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would make the problem of carbon pollution worse – enabling the production of some of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels.
  • On Water: A spill of tar sands from Keystone XL would put nationally recognized water resources, such as the Ogallala aquifer, at unacceptable risks along the route.  We already know the terrible consequences of tar sands pipeline.  The tar sands spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan has become the most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history. After over four years and a billion dollars spent on clean up, large segments of the Kalamazoo River are still contaminated with tar sands.
  • On Energy Security: Keystone XL is an export pipeline through the United States, not to it

Over half of the crude from Keystone XL is forecast to be exported internationally after it is refined and the pipeline is not necessary to transport domestic crude.  With only small quantities of tar sands crude reaching the Gulf Coast, tar sands producers have already filled several tankers of raw tar sands crude in Texas ports and exported it to be refined internationally.

Tar sands crude is significantly more carbon intensive than conventional crude. Just the additional emissions from the tar sands in Keystone XL — above average emissions from producing non-tar sands oil — are equal to Americans driving more than 60 billion additional miles every year when we need to be reducing our carbon emissions.

The U.S. doesn’t need Keystone XL or tar sands.  Thanks to strong fuel economy standards, increasing access to alternative fuels and reduced vehicle miles traveled, U.S. demand has fallen by 4.5 million bpd relative to where it was projected to be in 2006.  Keystone XL would significantly add to carbon pollution that’s driving climate change, undermine the nation’s climate leadership and imperil the health and drinking water of millions of Americans.   With climate change already harming our communities and pocketbooks across America now is the time for clean energy, not expansion of dirty energy such as tar sands.  There is substantial evidence that Keystone XL is not in our national interest but is a profit scheme for big oil that needs to be rejected.

About the Authors

Danielle Droitsch

Senior Policy Analyst, Canada Project

Join Us