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Cher Gilmore: Just say no to Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Posted: February 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 28, 2013 2:00 a.m.

More than 50,000 people traveled to Washington, D.C., from as far away as California on Feb. 17 to demand that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward on climate action.

Thousands more gathered in solidarity in cities across the country — 6,000-7,000 in San Francisco and Los Angeles, for example.

 It remains to be seen whether or not Obama will listen, but if he doesn’t, he is likely to be remembered as the president who facilitated the destruction of the planet — just to benefit TransCanada’s bottom line.

The proposed pipeline would transport toxic tar sands oil from under Canada’s Boreal forest 2,000 miles through America’s breadbasket to the Gulf of Mexico, to be refined and ultimately exported.

Other than pleasing Canada, an important trading partner, there would be few benefits to the U.S. from this project, but many disastrous consequences if it goes through.

A critical issue is that the XL would accelerate global warming to such an extent that NASA climate scientist James Hansen says it would be “game over for Planet Earth.”

The pipeline would carry 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil through the U.S. daily — the equivalent of adding 6 million new cars to U.S. roads.

During tar sands oil production alone, carbon dioxide emissions are three times higher than those of conventional oil.

And according to a new report from Oil Change International, previous climate impact analyses (including those done by the State Department) have entirely excluded the impact of petroleum coke (petcoke), a high-carbon byproduct which emits 5-10 percent more CO2 than coal and is actually cheaper than coal.

XL pipeline petcoke would produce 16.6 million metric tons of CO2 each year, and including it in impact analyses would raise the total annual emissions of the pipeline by 13 percent (Source: National Resources Defense Council).

There are multiple safety issues as well. For instance, the risk of a significant spill is real.

TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline leaked 11 times in its first year of operation. A study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln estimated that over a 50-year period, “91 significant Keystone XL Pipeline spills can be expected.”

A worst-case spill, the study concluded, could contaminate 4.9 billion gallons of water, potentially exposing hundreds of thousands of people to highly contaminated drinking water.

The XL would cross several major rivers, sensitive ecosystems, and a portion of the Ogalalla aquifer, which supplies drinking and agricultural water to two million Americans.

Further, roughly 400 million gallons of water a day would be needed for the tar sands oil extraction process — three barrels of water to extract each barrel of oil.

Ninety percent of the polluted water is dumped into large human-made “tailing ponds,” whose toxic sludge is full of harmful substances like cyanide and ammonia.

These have been known to work their way into neighboring clean water supplies. Canadian communities living downstream from these tailing ponds have seen spikes in rates of rare cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism (source: Friends of the Earth).

Refining the oil (which would be done in the U.S.) also produces higher emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide than refining conventional oil.

These emissions cause smog and acid rain, and contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma.

Would the XL at least create jobs? According to the U.S. State Department, it would create 5,000 to 8,300 year-long employment opportunities, with only about 10-15 percent of those going to local workers in the states crossed by the pipeline (source: Friends of the Earth).

TransCanada’s claims of hundreds of thousands of jobs are simply not true.

A Cornell University study concludes that the XL would actually kill more jobs than it would create by reducing investment in clean energy (source: National Resources Defense Council).

It appears that the real winners in this undertaking would be the oil producers in Alberta, some refineries in Texas, and TransCanada.

We wouldn’t even be the recipients of the oil, which would be exported.

Do we really want to permit infrastructure that will accelerate global warming, despoil our beautiful country, endanger the water supply for millions of Americans, cause illness and suffering for countless people, seriously set back our plans for a clean energy future and give us no economic benefits in return?

I think not. The president should just say “No!” to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Cher Gilmore is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and is active in the Santa Clarita Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.


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