Editors Note: This article was re-featured after its publication in September following the Senate's payroll tax extension which includes a provision to force Obama to approve or deny the construction of the XL Pipeline within 60 days.
Trying to rid the United States of its oil addiction is a noble goal, but one that should not be carried out so zealously as to hinder growth. Building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport synthetic crude oil from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, will allow the U.S. to develop a much more secure energy source, improve our economy, and would have a diminutive environmental impact.
To start, the size of Canada’s oil fields are too large to ignore. There are around 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves in the Athabasca oil sands and other deposits in Alberta. This means that Canada’s proven oil reserves are the second largest in the world, only behind Saudi Arabia’s 260 billion barrels. In fact, many believe that the true oil reserves of Canada are much higher, numbering in the trillions of barrels. For Canada, the exploitation of this source is a no-brainer. Canada has made it clear, regardless of the decision the United States makes about the pipeline, that it will continue to pump oil from the tar sands. China, India, Brazil, and other developing nations have a ravenous thirst for oil and would gladly pay to have it shipped to them. By building the pipeline, we can now depend on obtaining one of our most critical resources from one of America’s greatest allies. With the choice of having a greater dependence on Canada or on questionable nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Venezuela, the option is an easy one for the national energy security of the U.S.
Furthermore, building this pipeline could create tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs. There are not only the jobs constructing the pipeline, but also those of building the pieces of the pipeline, transporting those pieces, and supplying the workers and companies constructing the pipeline. The transportation of this oil to Port Arthur would allow this oil to be directly fed into the existing U.S. oil infrastructure, hopefully reducing the price of oil now, but almost certainly helping to prevent an increase in oil prices in the future.
Yes, turning tar sands into usable oil does release more CO2 than drilling in Saudi Arabia or Texas, but what is forgotten is that the vast majority of CO2 emissions occur during combustion and not during the procurement process. In fact, there are already several areas of the world, such as California, where oil is drilled and releases more CO2. Moreover, knowing that this oil is going to be procured and shipped out around the world, regardless of our decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, the argument can be made that building a pipeline would be better for global warming. Pipelines are a cheaper means of shipping oil that produces a miniscule amount of CO2 when compared to the shipping of oil via tankers or trains.
There are obviously environmental concerns about the effect of a pipeline and the potential for spills, but this can be easily overstated. The U.S. has quite a bit of experience in safely building a pipeline in a much harsher climate and geography. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline travels several hundred miles across the harsh Alaskan frontier and has been successfully operated with minimal environmental damage from the pipeline itself. In fact, over 75% of spilled oil that came from this pipeline was from the Exxon Valdez incident, after the oil had been successfully transported via pipeline. All of the other large leaks occurred before 1990, suggesting that the environmental safety record of this pipeline since the Exxon Valdez incident has been remarkable. For the Keystone pipeline that exists today, the average oil spill is fixed before it is a whopping five gallons.
The U.S. must be realistic and recognize that we are going to rely on foreign oil for the foreseeable future. As of now, no viable energy source is available to replace oil en masse. Of course, there are dangers to building a pipeline, but none are issues that cannot be overcome with tough regulation and inspection. The economic and national security benefits easily outweigh the small environmental risk, and as a result the U.S. should embrace the opportunities offered by our great ally to the north.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons