I generally don’t like discussing politics. Politics and religion are simply two subjects that are magnets for heated, unfriendly, “I’m right and you are wrong” arguments, and rarely do they seem to attract extended healthy debate. However, there are times when a political issue just begs to be discussed. Whether it is the result of current events shedding bright light on a topic, or the topic is simply being glossed over in a way that is a blatant insult to the intelligence of the American people, some topics just need to be aired out. Without occasional venting, the lunacy of some issues would eventually make my head explode. The Keystone XL pipeline is one of those issues.
Apparently both American political parties are largely in favour of this massive pipeline designed to move Alberta tar sands oil across North America and to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The building of the pipeline is an ambitious project that will require many labourers to complete and see many millions of gallons of oil piped from a friendly neighbor end up in America. Well gee whiz! What’s not to like about that? I’ll tell you what. Plenty. This is one of those times where Washington’s spin machine has been working in overdrive. I’ve seen tops go around and around for minutes that weren’t spun this well.
The GOP and others, including many Democrats would have you believe that this project is going to create 20,000 jobs directly and also as many as 100,000 indirect jobs. These numbers are hopelessly inflated. Furthermore, the jobs created are, for the most part, skilled labour jobs. Sure, there are skilled workers out there looking for work, but they aren’t all situated along the pipeline. The jobs created will hardly be local jobs. The fuzzy math used to come up with the numbers is a travesty. Instead, why don’t they publish the real numbers expected to be employed at each stage along the route? How about taking it another step further and showing how many are going to be general labour jobs? And how long are these jobs expected to last? The folks on Capitol Hill seem to think that most Americans aren’t savvy enough to realize that these are all temporary jobs at best. Independent evaluations of the number of jobs to be created brings the number down to under 7,000. Hmmm…not so many jobs after all.
But let’s say that the infusion of jobs could really help the economy and get things moving in the right direction again. What about the rest of the hoopla? The tar sands that are going to be mined for this oil do not produce crude suitable for being turned into gasoline. Without getting into a drawn out chemistry lesson, suffice it to say that the vast majority of crude, the likes of which will be transported through this pipeline becomes kerosene or diesel. Sure, Americans need those things too, but stop trying to sell us all on the idea that this oil will do anything to help drop gas prices across the country. If anything, the refineries used to process the crude will be spending less time creating gasoline in order to devote resources to refining this new supply as well. That would actually translate into a gas price increase. Now, I’m no economist, so maybe I missed something. But hey, Cornell University does in fact have many economists who have evaluated the situation and they seem to agree. Last I checked, most people seem to think that the folks at Cornell more times than not know what they are talking about.
Then there’s the environmental factor. Tar sand oil is the dirtiest of crude, and as nature would have it, one of the most destructive to pipelines given the abrasive sand scouring the interior and the higher temperatures and pressures it must be moved along at. Then there are the processes of extracting and refining it. Industrial waste and pollution from these processes are on a scale rarely encountered.
But wait, there’s more! What about TransCanada, the company behind this whole project. TransCanada just so happens to also be the company behind the keystone 1 pipeline which, in its first year of operation spilled at least 12 times, including a spill over 21,000 gallons in North Dakota in May of 2011. The EPA ruled that the company had cut corners by using inferior steel and defective welding. This is a pipeline that, if built, will cross more than 1,500 waterways in the heartland of America where every drop of water is necessary to grow all those crops. Do we really want to risk a spill like the one that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River, or risk our waterways being polluted and clogged with tar sands like the Kalamazoo River in Michigan? Heck, Kalamazoo happened in 2010 and still hasn’t been cleaned up yet.
American is the third largest exporter of refined oil. It is a necessary part of our economy. I get that. Oil means money, and America has plenty of it as well as the means to do something with it. But if this is really about helping America make money off of the lucrative oil business, then where is the sense in having the pipeline end in Port Arthur, TX? It’s absolutely no coincidence that the pipeline ends in a Foreign Trade Zone, meaning any oil purchased there is purchased free of U.S. taxes. So let’s recap briefly. The oil will be imported from Canada, who sees money from direct sale of the crude. The crude is then refined in Texas by cash rich oil companies and sold off in the Foreign Trade Zone for destinations in China, Europe, and even Latin America. Sounds to me like the American people are assuming all the risks from the pipeline, but are getting to share in none of the reward. They don’t even get the tax revenue.
Higher water and air pollution, higher fuel costs, and continued energy insecurity. Exactly what part of this is a good deal for Americans? The sad thing is, the pipeline planning is so far along that its construction is all but inevitable.