Keystone XL tar sands pipeline: House once again holds transportation jobs hostage to Big Oil giveaways

Construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be a tragic mistake. Every day the pipeline would pump the world’s dirtiest oil through the fertile heart of America’s breadbasket. The Obama administration in January 2012 denied the permit for this pipeline. But as Republicans in the House attach a provision to approve the project to their Surface Transportation extension bill, we have to ask whether they are trying to kill our national transportation program with an unnecessary extension loaded with unrelated provisions. Not only is the approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline completely unrelated to the transportation bill, it will undermine the good that would come from strengthening clean transportation policies by increasing our infrastructure for a dirty, expensive and risky form of oil. The Keystone XL pipeline threatens American homes, farms, and ranches with tar sands oil spills and the extreme weather effects of worsening climate change. It raises oil prices. It derails continued growth in clean energy jobs. It funnels money to foreign oil corporations. Clean transportation solutions and fuel efficiency – not another tar sands pipeline – is the only way to protect America’s economy, energy security, health, and environment. Congress should pass the bi-partisan Senate transportation bill and stop playing politics with our transportation future.

World’s dirtiest oil

It takes two tons of tar sands – strip-mined or pumped up from pipes drilled deep down into the forest’s soil – to produce just one barrel of low-grade crude. This tar sands oil must then be extensively refined to become fuel. Producing tar sands oil generates three times the greenhouse gas pollution as producing conventional North American crude.

Threatening America’s breadbasket and waterways

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would bisect the Great Plains and its 250,000 ranches and farms. Keystone XL would also cross more than 1,500 waterways, including major aquifers, from the Yellowstone River in Montana to Pine Island Bayou in Texas. It would threaten these waterways with the kind of spills that in 2010 gushed 840,000 gallons of tar sands oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River – a spill is still not fully cleaned up.

Raising oil prices

Tar sands pipeline backers have cited high U.S. gas prices as a reason to approve Keystone XL. There is no credible evidence, however, that gas prices would decline if Keystone XL was constructed. The truth is, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline could actually add to our nation’s pain at the pump. TransCanada, the oil company proposing the construction of Keystone XL, admits that, “The resultant increase in the price of heavy crude is estimated to provide an increase in annual revenue to the Canadian producing industry of US $2 billion to US $3.9 billion.”

A real job-killer

Pipeline proponents claim the project will create tens of thousands of jobs. This is false. According to the U.S. State Department, no more than 6,500 construction jobs will be created. Few of these would be local hires. A Cornell University study concluded that by reducing investment in a clean energy economy that already employs 2.7 million people, the pipeline would actually kill more American jobs than it creates.

Making us more oil-dependent, not more secure

From refineries and ports along the Gulf of Mexico, tar sands crude oil could leave the U.S. and be exported globally. Military experts warn the Keystone XL pipeline would just perpetuate our deadly oil dependence. “The Keystone XL pipeline will not reduce America’s dependence on Middle East oil, or do anything to get us off oil completely, which is the key to America’s national security future,” said retired Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson.

Why should we assume a risk Canadians themselves don’t want?

Proposed tar sands pipelines to both coasts in Canada (the Northern Gateway to the west and the Trailbreaker to the east) have stalled because the public there wants to address legitimate safety concerns.

Clean solutions cut oil dependence, create jobs, lower gas prices

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a conduit to the past. Let’s not deepen our fossil fuel addiction. Let’s instead do what presidents dating back to Richard Nixon have called upon us to do – reduce our oil dependence. We can free our economy from unpredictable oil price fluctuations by encouraging fuel efficiency and smart growth. Adopting oil-savings policies would in just 20 years cut U.S. oil consumption and imports by 5.7 million barrels per day.

The House should stop playing games with our transportation future and pass the bi-partisan Senate transportation bill, without any giveaways to Big Oil. Tell your representative to stop trying to pass a tar sands pipeline that will take us backwards and instead moving forward with the Senate transportation bill. Go to to take action.

About the Authors

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Chief Program Officer

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