What you weren’t told about the Keystone XL Pipeline

Jake Schwebach

JakeSchwebachMugThere was quite the hullabaloo over the recently-vetoed Keystone XL Pipeline. Was it a victory for the environment, or just environmentalists?

Environmental groups saw an opportunity to rile the public. The Obama administration saw an opportunity to improve its political posture. Republicans couldn’t rebut.

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I’m not ready to say that environmentalists are malicious agenda-driven groups, but they did purposefully mislead the public. They extracted an extraordinary amount of effort and support for nothing more than a symbolic victory.

What needs to alarm us is what no one anti-pipeline group told us about the pipeline. The BBC presents all the facts here. The following is a shorthand of the most important points.

“Canada already sends 550,000 barrels of oil per day to the US via the existing Keystone Pipeline,” the article states. The Keystone XL Pipeline would have increased that by less than 300,000 barrels.

“An increased supply of oil from Canada would mean a decreased dependency on the Middle Eastern market,” according to the article. Energy independence from the Persian Gulf, about 13 percent of America’s oil sourcing, can help America rethink relations with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi monarchy is one of the most oppressive governments to also have immense strategic value for the United States in its respective region.

“Despite the recent push to find renewable sources of energy and move away from fossil fuels, the amount of oil produced in northern Alberta is projected to double by 2030,” the article says. Yikes.

“The infrastructure project would create 42,000 jobs over a two-year construction period, the US State Department estimates – 35 of which would remain after the pipeline is built,” according to the article. Our state senator, Republican Cory Gardner, does not recognize climate change as fact. It’s no wonder the Republican party failed to organize a pro-pipeline movement.

“Environmentalists adopted Keystone XL because it is easy to organize around,” states the article. Carbon pollution is hard to quantify, but strikes a chord with the American public, nonetheless.

The BBC article sums itself up nicely with: “Mr Obama’s decision to approve or refuse the pipeline is therefore held up as symbolic of America’s energy future.”

As hard as carbon pollution is to quantify, it’s easy to base an environmental argument around a few startling statistics.

The estimated 1.37 billion tons of greenhouse gas over the 50-year lifetime of the pipeline, estimated by the EPA, will still spew into the atmosphere. Obama vetoed a transportation proposal, not crude oil development. Emissions from crude oil sands is “17 percent greater than emissions from average crude oil,” according to a report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. But, that oil is already being harnessed. Without the pipeline, “oil sands crude would be likely to reach the market some other way, most likely by rail,” the report states. The two aforementioned statistics were the pivotal points for anti-pipeline groups like 350, NRDC and Tar Sands Action.

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Here’s the kicker: a pipeline is significantly cleaner than rails. The EPA report warned that expanded railway terminals “would include loss of vegetation and habitat, displacement of wildlife, noise effects on sensitive human and animal receptors, increased air emissions, and risk of spills.”

I was among those duped. Whereas before I was against the pipeline, I now like the idea. At the least, I think it was irrelevant. Here’s what we can do to prevent future exaggerations.

The presidential race is already percolating (did anyone else just shudder?). Question everything, especially buzz-topics. Look at what international news groups are saying about the topic. They have nothing to lose and often are the most objective.

Google Search is the most empowering thing to reach the public since the printing press. Use it and abuse it.

On environmental issues, match EPA reports against the White House, private organizations, academia and market research. Be wary of noise. Don’t side with good intention alone.

One cannot take a stance based on Twitter trends, party affiliation and news coverage alone but they can be compared against one another. Do you have a favorite news anchor or satirist? They can’t be right 100 percent of the time.

In politics, there is always an ulterior motive. Spoiler: it’s probably money and re-election.

Your loudest voice is your dollar. There never existed a more true cliche than every dollar you spend is a vote for something. We live in a consumer-driven society. What you spend your money on informs society more than that Twitter post you just wrote.

The truth hurts.

Collegian Columnist Jake Schwebach can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @jschway.