In a remarkably courageous decision, given election-year hysteria and finger-pointing, President Obama has postponed granting a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, pending further environmental review.
This was the right decision, I believe.
Keystone XL, bringing tar sand oil from Alberta, would have been built over and through an immense aquifer, the Ogallala Aquifer beneath the Sand Hills of Nebraska. Given the pipeline company’s poor track record in preventing spills like the tar sands spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan last year, it is right thinking to oppose a pipeline of this magnitude through the Sand Hills.
As we know, from living over the Great Flats Aquifer, aquifers cannot be cleaned once they have been contaminated.
Yes, we need jobs in this country, and yes, we unfortunately still do need oil. But let’s look at some facts. The wild speculation about the Keystone XL job potential by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable is, frankly, nuts. The pipeline company itself acknowledged to CNN that it would create only a few hundred permanent jobs in the United States.
The State Department’s analysis shows only 20 full-time jobs created after construction is finished. The temporary jobs, as the pipeline is being built, are realistically pegged at around 6,000.
Yes, we need jobs. But look at the record of the oil and gas industry. Despite record profits of $546 billion in the past five years, the industry laid off more than 11,000 American workers, while charging record prices at the gas pumps.
Playing on fears
The oil hype around the Keystone pipeline is more insidious because it plays on our fears — our fears of running out of oil, and our fear of China. The Department of Energy did an analysis to evaluate the effect of building the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines on crude oil supply, price and refinery operations.
The analysis found that there was tar sands pipeline overcapacity probably through the 2030s. We don’t need the oil. DOE also found that there were other routes to the Gulf for moving tar sands crude. Furthermore, when the crude gets to the Gulf, it is not our oil. The oil will go on the global market where any nation can bid and buy, including the U.S. and yes, especially China.
The companies mining the tar sands and building the pipelines are not Canadian. They are international conglomerates owned by, among other entities, Sinopec, the huge Chinese oil and gas company. Sinopec is wholly owned by the Chinese government. Sinopec has bought up at least three Canadian tar sands exploration and production companies, including Syncrude and Daylight Energy. China already owns the oil. It is now looking for a way to move it.
A few years ago I woke up Canadian. My dual citizenship has become an embarrassment, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his minister for environment noisily renege on their Kyoto commitments. This Canadian administration must be the most overtly anti-environmentalist government that North America has ever seen.
Of course, Canada has not had such a sterling history of environmental sensitivity. The country is so vast, and much of it so remote, that nobody really knows what goes on up there in the frozen north.
A case in point is the massive hydropower project in James Bay. Hundreds of thousands of acres were inundated, countless birds and mammals lost habitat, and thousands of First Nation peoples were relocated, their lives, culture and health destroyed. James Bay has become, like our Gulf Coast, a “national sacrifice zone” where suffering, despoliation and destruction take place in order for the rest of us to enjoy our lives.
Another case in point is the proposed Enbridge pipeline from the central Alberta tar sands mines to the coast of British Columbia. The proposed route for this tar sands pipeline goes close to a pristine wilderness called the Great Bear Rainforest, a vast temperate rain forest that very few people have ever seen. Oil tankers will ply the pristine waters off the rain forest coastline near Kitimaat, B.C., raising the spectre of another Exxon Valdez spill.
This is the wilderness where the white bear, the spirit or Kermode bear, lives.
First Nation peoples have claimed ownership of the rain forest and its coastline, and have launched a court battle opposing the pipeline that will probably take years to resolve. An alliance of professional conservation photographers has begun taking pictures of the region to show the public what it is like, and what will be lost if the tar sands pipeline is ever built (see www.straight.com).
Keystone XL will keep our economy hostage to a foreign country, because yes, Canada is a foreign country. And, we will be hostage to the Chinese-dominated conglomerate that really owns the oil. That oil will end up on the world market, and it won’t reduce our gas prices here at home. The USA takes the risks of allowing a pipeline right of way through our heartland, for what? Cheaper gas?
No. More jobs? Not really, except for a few thousand temporary roughneck jobs. We assume the liability, the long-term negative impact on our land, water and air.
And we’re stuck with a massive pipeline vulnerable to leaks of the most toxic sludge imaginable. Make no mistake. This stuff is very bad.
So, hang tough, Mr. President. Let the Canadians continue to poison their own land. They have made the province of Alberta a national sacrifice zone to the gods of tar sands oil. Don’t let them, and their international oil conglomerate, do the same to us. Continue to develop the renewable energy industry, where the real jobs are.
Patricia O’Reilly Rush lives in Schenectady. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.