Looking at what lies ahead for the Republican-controlled Senate, Georgia’s Johnny Isakson talked about the bills he wanted to see drafted right away: “The first thing I’d send the president is the Keystone Pipeline.” In fact, the fate of “KXL” right now rests on the robed shoulders of the Nebraska Supreme Court, but Isakson’s post-election point is well taken: Earth, watch out.
Let’s back up: The purpose of the Keystone XL pipeline is to ship “dilbit” (diluted bitumen) from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast. Not surprisingly, given the South’s longtime prostration before Business, the southern leg of the pipe, from Oklahoma to the Gulf, has long since been completed without protest. For that matter, the “middle” leg of the pipeline also already exists, running from Steele City, Nebraska, to Oklahoma. So the controversy is all about whether to build the 1,200-mile “bullet” line from Alberta straight to Nebraska, replacing a patchwork of older, smaller pipes.
What’s the hold up? Before Obama could respond to the State Department’s opinion, issued back in February, that there is “no compelling environmental argument” against completing the pipe, a Nebraska judge sided with landowners and overturned his state’s permit for the pipe’s construction. The state Supreme Court is supposed to settle the matter any day now.
In favor of the pipe, would be my guess, but so what? What if Obama gives KXL the green light? Hey, a pipeline is going to be built. Canada has vast reserves of this tar sands oil, worth a lot of money, and nobody is in favor of leaving it there. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is all about the pipeline, not surprisingly, since Canada is an oil giant right up there with Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, most of the nation’s oil reserves consist in this nasty tar sands bitumen, which is the consistency of asphalt and releases plenty of extra toxins at the refinery. Not to mention the nineteen bajillion additional tons of CO2 that will be rising into the atmosphere when the pipeline is delivering at full capacity.
It’s also unfortunate that the tar sands in question happen to be located under 54,000 square miles of (until recently) pristine boreal forest in east-central Alberta—the kind of forest the earth needs worse the faster they disappear. The Harper government is managing to not worry about that, or about the disappearing caribou, or the hundreds of square miles of chemical refuse lakes, or the ruined nesting grounds of millions of migratory songbirds. Its thinking, I guess, is that Canada is a huge country with plenty of wilderness areas, and if it wants to, by jiminy, it can spare a little Florida-sized patch of ground in support of such a great industry and so many thousands of jobs.
Dirty or not, carbon-intensive or not, the oil is coming out of the ground. Canada is determined to ship it and sell it, if not out of the Gulf of Mexico then out of its own eastern and western ports. So if a pipeline is going to be built anyway, why not build it through the U.S. and put Americans to work? Why not just get behind old KXL and quit being such a party-pooper?
Writing about the pipeline in The New Yorker last year (9/16/13), Ryan Lizza lays hands on a report from a pro-oil Canadian think tank, which perfectly crystallized the issue. In the absence of Keystone, the steadily rising amount of oil produced would soon outpace the industry’s ability to export it. “If this happens, investment and expansion will grind to a halt.” Keystone’s capacity, on the other hand, would mean dramatically more oil coming down the line faster, which would increase, rather than inhibit, the speed with which this dirty oil is extracted and ultimately burned.
It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? KXL is simply a monster-sized enabler, and whether you support it or not depends upon whether you want to promote or retard the fossil-fuel energy business. Me, I want to retard it; I think that burning fossil fuels warms the atmosphere, and I believe the warming atmosphere is effecting changes in our climate that whoever’s around to deal with them will profoundly regret.
What I regret, today, is that the party now in full control of Congress wasted so little time announcing that it has less than zero interest in the health of the planet.