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Kill the Keystone Pipeline

Alberta, Canada's environment beofore and after oil extraction in the tar sands. (photo/ wisconsin.sierraclub.org)

Raging in congress right now is a debate over the future of America’s energy future, the Keystone Oil pipeline debate. The Key­stone pipeline would deliver oil from the tar sands of Alberta Canada to oil refineries in Texas. It is hailed by its proponents as the salvation of America while its opponents claim it is a blight upon the nation. As the debate continues, there is increasing pres­sure to construct the pipeline. Although it would create some benefits, the risks of the pipeline are too great. The pipeline should not be constructed.

Central to the debate to create the Key­stone pipeline is how it compares renewable energy. In this comparison, the oil pipeline fails to hold any water for a great many reasons.

Proponents of the pipeline point to the vast quantities of oil in the tar sands as a reason to build the pipeline. Some even speculate that the Canadian tar sands have as much oil as Saudi Arabia. While this may be true, the problem arises with extracting the oil. Besides destroying the environment through gas emissions and oil leaks, the process is very expensive. Just to cover the costs of extraction requires a barrel of oil to be worth around $75 according to The Economist in January 2011.

While as of now it is profitable to extract the oil, this may change. A huge factor driv­ing up oil and gas prices is oil speculation, which is betting on oil prices. In 2008 this was clear when gas was over $140 a barrel despite no increase in demand for oil. When the speculation bubble burst at the end of 2008, oil prices fell under $59 a barrel ac­cording to The New York Times of Novem­ber 2008. At this price, extracting Canadian tar sand oil became unprofitable. The instability of oil prices makes the Keystone pipeline a poor short term investment.

It is true though, that as the supply of oil continually decreases, tar sand oil extraction will become profitable for certain. However, when the tar sand oil runs out, which it will, we will be in trouble. Oil is inherently limited, which makes it a poor long term in­vestment. It is far wiser to invest in renew­able energy. Even if it is not very profitable now, it will certainly pay off in the future. The tar sands, however, will not especially pay off now or in the future.

As for the actual pipeline, there is the grave possibility that it will harm the environment. The Keystone pipeline would stretch across a great many aquifers, the main source of water in the U.S. One of Ne­braska’s aquifers alone provides water for 1.5 million people. If there were to be a leak in the pipeline, the consequences would be devastating. To exacerbate this, there is currently a severe drought in the southwest. Texas, for example, only had two inches of rain in 2011 according to the New York Times of October 2011. States like Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are even import­ing water just to survive. If there is any oil leak, such as the Exxon Mobil oil leak that contaminated the Yellowstone River last year, the southwest is doomed. The Exxon Mobil leak in particular included a portion of the pipeline that would merge with the Keystone pipeline. This does not bode well for the future safety of the pipeline.

Proponents of the pipeline might ac­knowledge these dangers but counter that the jobs created by the pipeline are too good to pass up. It is true that the pipeline’s construction would create jobs. However, the claims that it would create 250,000 permanent jobs are false. According to TransCanada, one of the companies bidding to construct the pipeline, it would create 20,000 temporary jobs. While some may ar­gue that we need any jobs we can get, there are better alternatives. Rather than spend billions on the pipeline, why not billions for wind, solar or tidal energy? These sectors are ripe for permanent jobs and would be good for the environment. No matter what way one looks at it, the Keystone pipeline is not a wise investment.

The answer to America’s energy future is needed, but it is not the Keystone oil pipe­line. Environmentally, it harms the extrac­tion site and may potentially be disastrous to America’s southwest. Economically, it is a shaky investment with insignificant re­turns at best, and at worst a cause for Amer­ica’s continued ruinous oil addiction. A far better path forward is to invest in renewable sources of energy, such as solar, hydro and wind power. These resources will create jobs and limitless energy without harming the environment. Remember this and take action by contacting your congressmen to ensure the Keystone Oil pipeline is not constructed.

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