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Saying no to the Keystone XL Pipeline

Aaron Kolb
Aaron Kolb

Environmentalists and industry have a long history of being at odds. The interests of making money and protecting the health of the environment are often in conflict, creating debates about to what extent profit is worth the damage that making it frequently causes. A current issue of contention is the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline Project, which last month cleared a major hurdle after a favorable State Department environmental report. Despite this report and claims that the pipeline will help the United States achieve energy independence and create jobs, the environmental risks of a project that entrenches our reliance on polluting energy sources are too high. The Keystone XL Pipeline should not be allowed to be built.

The Keystone XL Pipeline, which the Canadian oil giant TransCanada is hoping to build, would stretch from the oil sands of Alberta through the United States to the Gulf Coast, where the oil it carries would be refined and shipped overseas for sale. The pipeline has been met with opposition from environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and climate scientists, who argue that fuel from oil sands is so carbon-intensive that a pipeline that carries it exacerbates climate change. Because of these concerns, the Obama Administration has not yet given final approval to TransCanada to begin construction and in 2012 Obama rejected the plan, saying that more studies had to be done to assess the potential environmental damage.


On Jan. 31, 2013 a report conducted by the State Department found that building the pipeline would not have significant impacts on climate change, which appears to satisfy Obama’s requirements for approval. The pipeline will transport oil from sands, which generates 12 times more greenhouse gasses than conventional oil, to the world market for burning, but the report argues that the oil would be burned regardless of whether the pipeline was built. However, this reports’ findings are not shared by other experts, such as those at the Environmental Protection Agency, which has criticized the State report as ignoring emissions generated at the refineries and the risks of a possible (perhaps inevitable) oil spill. The EPA has the nation’s top environmental experts and their concerns should be considered before the pipeline is approved.

What the report says largely stands to reason, however. The oil will likely find its way to market one way or another, and the pipeline will not make the greenhouse gas situation that much worse than it already is. I still believe that Keystone XL should not be approved for construction.

One reason is that we live in a time when the industrialized world can no longer close its eyes to the risks posed by the unchecked burning of fossil fuels. The United States and the rest of the world have been late – perhaps too late – in taking the climate change problem seriously. We already have a daunting task ahead of us. Alternative fuel technologies must be improved to the point where they can be competitive with fossil fuels. The worlds’ infrastructures must be gradually weaned away from fossil fuels and reconfigured to handle green energy. Building a massive, $5.2 billion project that carries oil only deepens the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels. This investment would make it more difficult for our country to begin to move towards more sustainable energy sources. With action on climate change already long overdue we should not make counterproductive steps.

There is also the issue that the benefits that TransCanada claims Keystone XL will bring are vastly overstated. An American pipeline carrying Canadian oil would seem to be a step towards achieving that mythical “energy independence.” That’s what the oil companies claim, anyway. But the reality is that the oil carried by the pipeline would be shipped overseas for export, doing nothing to reduce our reliance on foreign oil but only fattening the wallets of a Canadian corporation. Another of the key arguments in favor of building the pipeline is that the construction will create American jobs, as many as 20,000, according to TransCanada. This figure is misleading. Studies by the State Department and Cornell University have estimated that only between 2,500 and 6,000 jobs would be created, and almost all of those would be temporary, not the kind of permanent jobs that our economy needs. Upon scrutiny, the proposed economic benefits of Keystone XL are not what they have been made out to be.

Is growth always good? When that growth does little but add but to global climate problems, the answer’s no.

Aaron Kolb is a freshman engineering major. Comments can be sent to

In Brief:

The environmental risks of this project are too high.

We have been late in taking the climate change problem seriously, and this needs to be considered.


When growth adds to global climate problems, we need to say no.

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