Keystone XL Senate Failure About More Than Construction

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The US Senate came up one vote short of approving the Keystone XL Pipeline, failing 59-41 yesterday. A 60-vote majority was needed to send the bill to construct a 1,179-mile addition to existing pipelines that would stretch from Alberta, Canada to the US Gulf Coast. If the bill, already approved by the House of Representatives, had reached President Obama’s desk, it was likely to be vetoed, anyway.

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Environmentalists are opposed to the pipeline because of how the oil will be extracted from Canada’s tar sands. The State Dept. review of the pipeline estimated, though, that building the pipeline would contribute about $3.4 billion to the US economy mainly through its construction. The final environmental impact statement said 42,000 jobs would be created by Keystone XL in construction and support jobs in the states of Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

We have covered the rail car shortage in those states over the past few weeks and one of the side benefits of building the pipeline would be a reduction in strain on class 1 railroads, but the construction piece of the pipeline has been the focus of the argument since its initial permit application was applied for in 2008. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) points out that nearly 10,000 miles of pipeline have been built in the US since the application was filed with little to no argument. The AGC is a big supporter of Keystone XL.

Those 42,000 construction jobs certainly look enticing to the skilled laborers in those states still looking for work, yet, pipelines are anything but permanent solutions to unemployment. That same State Dept. environmental review found that the Keystone XL will create only 35 permanent jobs. (35, that’s it.) So, for such a limited impact is, essentially, a construction stimulus project really worth all of this debate?

If the environmental objections to the process of pumping large amounts of water and natural gas into tar sands to pump steam into the tar to extract oil are to be believed, then yes. The oil is already crossing the US and Canada and being sold overseas, it’s just being transported in rail cars instead of a pipeline. Rail cars are just as susceptible to ruptures as pipes, are even more vulnerable to crashes and they burn more diesel fuel. No matter which method of transportation is used, the process of extracting oil from tar sands in Alberta will not change. The only thing that the pipeline does is free up rail cars for other goods.

The oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline would add 18.7 million more metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually than would be produced by conventional oil, according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those additional carbon emissions would amount to less than 1% of US greenhouse gas emissions and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.

With the new Republican-controlled Senate set to be sworn in next year, the Keystone XL will come up again and a deal to sign it into passage by President Obama is much more likely as a chip in a divided government poker game.



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