Photo by Will Wysong | flickr.com

The Keystone XL pipeline has been one of the most hotly debated environmental issues of the last year. The proposed 13 billion dollar pipeline would link the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta to numerous locations in the United States, stretching as far as refineries in Texas along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  Proponents of the pipeline claim that the environmental impact would be minimal, as the majority of the proposed route would be buried four feet under the ground.  However, Environmentalist groups have been up in arms concerning Keystone since its announcement and initial proposal in Canada in 2008. Most recently James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies was quoted as saying that the overall environmental impact that Keystone and its related operations would have on the planet would be devastating, going so far as to suggest that it would be “game over for the planet.”

A statement on January 18th from US President Barack Obama explaining his decision to reject TransCanada’s application to build the pipeline has been interpreted as a short-term environmental victory. This victory truly has a real chance of turning into a defeat in the long run.

The proposal was rejected on the grounds of a few key issues, including the pipeline’s proximity to the High Plains Aquifer, which spans across eight different states. An underground rupture would result in large portions of this aquifer becoming contaminated. While this attempt at garnering approval to build Keystone was rejected by the Americans, TransCanada is by no means admitting defeat and plans to redraft their proposal. A statement issued by TransCanada shortly after the announcement of the rejection stated that although the company was disappointed with the decision, that they remain fully committed to the construction of the pipeline.

In commenting on the rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline, TransCanada CEO Russ Girling also added that until Keystone was built, the US “would continue to import millions of barrels of conflict oil from the Middle East and Venezuela and other foreign countries who do not share democratic values Canadians and Americans are privileged to have.” Ideological grandstanding aside, Mr. Girling’s comments are proving to be increasingly irrelevant and illustrate the short-sightedness and indoctrination that has become all too common within the energy sector.  

While the US may still be perceived by many as an energy hog, a monumental shift has occurred over the last few years, making arguments like Mr Girling’s increasingly moot. In 2011, the United States exported more gasoline, diesel and jet fuel than any other commodity, making fuel the number one export in the country for the first time in over sixty years. Considering that fuel was not even on the list of the top 25 exports a decade ago, this shift is considerable. Other economic studies have concluded that the pipeline market in the region is already somewhat saturated and that Keystone XL would only ever run at half capacity, causing one to question whether the pipeline is actually of such vital importance to meet demand.

However, optimistic the rejection may have made environmentalist groups this past week, the US Congress may have found a way to continue with Keystone XL despite the President’s rejection of the project. On January 22nd, the Congressional Research Service released a study concluding that congress has the constitutional right to legislate permits for oil pipelines that travel across international borders. This development essentially permits American lawmakers to overturn the President’s decision to deny the proposal.  Should Congress decide to move ahead with this course of action, President Obama does still have ultimate veto power.

The Keystone XL controversy as a whole encapsulates how crippling our addiction to oil and gas has become. Even when presented with hard proof that a project such as this would be at the cost of monumental environmental destruction, our leaders (both in politics and in business) continue to try and patch the proverbial hole in the sinking ship that is our reliance on fossil fuels, instead of investing in sustainable energy alternatives. One can only hope that conscientious and sustainable decisions and policies are put in to place before it really is game over.

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AuthorSebastian Miller