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WaPo: Keystone XL Climate Change Risk and Economic Benefits Overblown

The Washington Post editorial board says opponents and supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline are all exaggerating:

Despite what you might have heard, the pipeline wouldn’t kill the planet, nor would it supercharge the economy. You don’t have to take our word for either assertion: The State Department has said so; nonpartisan energy experts have said so; The Post’s Fact Checker has said so. Keystone XL should have been treated like a routine infrastructure project from the beginning of the permitting process — six years ago. Instead, the issue has been blown far out of proportion ["Return the Keystone XL Issue to Reality," Washington Post, 2015.01.11].

I agree with WaPo's dismissal of both the climate-change and economic arguments, but they oversimplify the problem. I've never beat the drum on the climate-change impact of the pipeline, because (a) I agree that blocking this single pipeline won't stop oil companies from mining the Canadian tar sands, (b) I know that here in South Dakota, concern about climate change won't get me any traction in a policy debate, and (c) there's a whole tub of other reasons to oppose the pipeline.

The WaPo editorial mentions the argument that all the Keystone XL oil will go to China and elsewhere. They dismiss that argument, saying the oil goes to U.S. Gulf refineries and that at least half of the oil currently refined at the Gulf stays in the U.S. WaPo seems impervious to changing economic facts, like decreasing U.S. demand and the business case enunciated by TransCanada itself, that make clear that this additional tar sands oil is destined for overseas consumption and will not affect U.S. energy independence one whit.

The WaPo editorial entirely ignores the other valid concerns Americans along the pipeline route have raised. Landowners on the Great Plains are being forced through eminent domain to bear the costs of disruption to their agricultural operations and future land-use plans. We are being forced to accept avoidable risk to the vital Ogallala Aquifer. We are being forced to facilitate the ongoing addiction to every dirtier fossil fuels. And we are being sold this pipeline on a steady series of Big Oil exaggerations and lies.

Sure, Keystone XL won't single-handedly destroy the planet. But it does other harm through eminent domain and unnecessary environmental risk, and it fails to deliver the advantages its backers have promises. When we're having a policy debate, it's not enough to prove that one harm won't happen. You have to prove benefits will happen and that other harms will not outweigh. Keystone XL fails that test.


  1. mike from iowa 2015.01.14

    WaPo says Obie is wrong about the stuff being shipped overseas,but,even if it is-so what. Sounds like someone is not sure Obie is factually wrong. I've read industry reports that say the refined mess is being shipped overseas-no mention if industry voices are lying.

  2. jerry 2015.01.14

    27 times these asshats supported the Iraq fiasco. 27 times the editoral board said that all was well and that this was going to be a cakewalk. They, like South Dakota legislators, have no credibility whatsoever.

  3. Paul Seamans 2015.01.14

    The destruction of the environment in Alberta caused by the strip mining needed to obtain the tarsands crude is the only reason that a person needs to be against the Keystone XL pipeline. Three barrels of water are needed to obtain one barrel of crude, after the crude is separated the contaminated water then goes to massive holding ponds where it either leaches out or is left to evaporate. If this environmental destruction was happening in the US there would be a huge public outcry. Wait, it is happening in water short Utah where a small project has been permitted.

  4. Union Co 2015.01.14

    According to a Nebraska farmer, the opposition to the pipeline has been saying that the pipeline crosses OVER the Ogallala aquifer. He says this is incorrect as in places it passes THROUGH the aquifer! There are many miles of the proposed pipeline route that the aquifer water is only 3 feet deep so the 4-foot deep pipeline would be submerged in water. The farmer says they hit water when they dig post holes.

  5. Paul Seamans 2015.01.14

    Union Co., The KXL route in Nebraska will pretty much stay in the Ogallala Aquifer. The Sandhills is a recharge area for the Ogallala, a spill in the Sandhills would directly pollute the Ogallala. The Ogallala Aquifer and the Sandhills extend into the southern third of Tripp County and are crossed by the KXL. The city of Colome's water supply is crossed by the KXL and is in the Sandhills type soil.

  6. W R Old Guy 2015.01.14

    Let us suppose the Keystone XL is built. Will this make it easier to lay other pipelines in the same right of way?

    The reported output of the tar sands is around two million barrels per day with additional development and output planned. The Keystone XL will take around eight hundred thousand barrels per day from the tar sands minus any transported from the Bakken fields. It seems that there will be a need for additional pipelines to move the oil.

  7. Bill Dithmer 2015.01.14

    The pipeline will never be built. The cartel will play give and take to force the tar sands, and fracted oil production to stop. Right now it cost more to get out of the ground then it is worth on th open market. When the Saudi's think production has slowed enough to keep these companies slowed down, the price will go back up.

    There is no such thing as cheap fossil fuel.

    The Blindman

  8. Paul Seamans 2015.01.14

    Old Guy, The easement that TransCanada put before landowners stated that the easement was a perpetual easement for one or more pipelines. I think that TransCanada looks at the Keystone XL route as something of a corridor. The easement is 50 feet wide so I would think that they are envisioning more than one pipeline.

  9. MC 2015.01.14

    On this one issue. I am really on the fence. I agree with Corey and the WaPo editorial. There is oil up there and the refineries are down there, If we can build a pipeline to move the oil, maybe we need to build refineries where the oil is at?

  10. mike from iowa 2015.01.14

    We don't need to build refineries anywhere for bitumen. It belongs to Canada and should stay in Canada and they can build refineries in Canada and they can choke on the pollution in Canada. The US of A takes the environmental risks and Canada-Trans Canada gets the rewards. 'merican taxpayers are on the hook for environmental damages because wingnuts refuse to hold korporate entities responsible.

  11. MC 2015.01.14

    Then build the refineries in Canada. Then ship/sell us the gas and oil ready to use.

    Problem solved.

  12. mike from iowa 2015.01.14

    That crap is the dirtiest fuel destined to be made into diesel/jet fuel for China and other overseas uses. That has been admitted to time and again. It will not be used in America because North Dakota sweet crude makes better gasoline. Why do you suppose this stuff is headed for gulf coast refineries? Because they have ocean going ports to ship it overseas.

  13. jerry 2015.01.15

    Kansas has jumped into what is more valuable than oil and now wants Missouri River water to irrigate.

    They know there situation is getting desparate for irrigation water and want to divert the big MO for their own use. I think that this XL is a diversion to get our water to Texas for more or less the same thing with a stop over in Kansas and the other dried up states. ETSI revisited.

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