The XL Dissent Protest & the Dangers of the Keystone XL Pipeline
On Sunday, March 2nd, about 1,000 people under the name XL Dissent marched on the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. This group of mainly youths and students risked arrest to send a strong message to President Obama, imploring him to see the mistake in giving the O.K. on Keystone. Almost 400 were arrested for committing acts of civil disobedience — mostly for blocking the sidewalk and refusing to move when warned by law enforcement. The protest was non-violent; protesters enacted a sit-in, some re-created faux oil spills out of black tarps and bodies, which they called “die-ins” (clever), and others even cuffed themselves to the White House fence, all creating the largest organized youth civil disobedience in a generation. XL Dissent relied heavily on social media to strengthen the protest and its message.
— Jenna Pope (@BatmanWI) March 2, 2014
If you haven’t been following the Keystone pipeline controversy closely, here’s a quick breakdown:
TransCanada (TRP), a Canadian company, wants to build a pipeline that stretches almost 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf coast of Texas. Three phases of the pipeline are currently in operation (the first beginning in 2010), and this pipeline, causing social resistance as the other phases did, would be phase four. This pipeline would transport 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Obama may make a decision on the pipeline within the next few months.
Main claims of supporters: The pipeline will create jobs and promote energy independence.
Main claims of dissenters: The pipeline will harm the environment, create potential environmental dangers and health hazards for people and wildlife habitats living near the pipeline and people who are dependent on aquifier to use groundwater.
The Keystone decision has become a symbol to many environmentalists and Obama supporters of the President’s commitment to impacting and addressing climate change. In the past year, Obama’s approval rating with millennials has plummeted from 60% to 45% (Pew Research). 79% of millennials support a president who prioritizes addressing climate change (The Examiner). As the pipeline serves as a symbol of Obama’s agenda in terms of environmental policy, it is likely his approval rating will decline further should he pass this forth phase of Keystone.
So let’s take a look at the arguments, shall we?
JOB CREATION & ENERGY INDEPENDENCE
Barak Obama himself has said that the pipeline will create approximately 50 permanent jobs (Forbes). According to the State Department, the pipeline would also create approximately 3,900 temporary jobs. Temporary jobs are nothing to complain about in this economy, but they are in the end just that: temporary. Taking a step back, it’s easy to see that the job argument merely blinds us from the real issues at hand. If jobs were the main indicator of success in this case, the answer might be more simple. However, even when energy and environmental policies serve to solve short-term problems like job creation, energy and environmental improvements or changes are no longer the focus. The policies are weakened because their aims are deflected by other immediate issues. In short, the jobs argument in the long-term is not significant.
In terms of energy independence, oil is not getting cheaper. No matter what source we use or where it comes from, “cheap” will not be a factor in our energy source(s) of choice. That said, investing more and more into research in alternative and renewable energy sources makes sense and provides a long-term solution to independence. We should be concerned with securing energy supplies, but not short-sighted in our investments. The International Energy Association also has said that to avoid the devastating global effects of climate change, at least two-thirds of the known fossil fuels must be untouched (FOE). Oil dependence and energy independence via oil are both short-sighted, prolong the long-term problem of energy security, and contribute to climate change. To add, TransCanada has not guaranteed that oil from the pipeline will remain in North America. If that is the case, there is almost no reason to support the pipeline. If we assume the oil will remain here, let me continue…
ENVIRONMENTAL DANGERS & HEALTH HAZARDS
Incentivizing the production of fossil fuels is asking for future environmental disaster(s). The pipeline puts thousands of miles of the midwest at increased risk for pollution, disrupted wildlife habitats, and health hazards.
In order to use the type of oil the pipeline would transport, tar sands oil, it must go through a refining process. In the production of tar sands oil, “levels of carbon dioxide emissions are 3 to 4 times higher than those of conventional oil, due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes” (FOE). This type of oil also emits higher levels of toxic sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, which contribute to smog, acid rain, and respiratory diseases (FOE). This extraction process also uses three barrels of water per a single barrel of oil. 95% of the water used, approximately 2.4 million barrels per day, is so highly polluted that it is stored in man-made pools called “tailing ponds;” this toxic waste includes harmful chemicals like ammonia and cyanide (FOE). This will create immense water waste and pollution – there is also always the chance that one of the pools will leak and spread to clean water supplies. On top of creating harmful waste, digging for tar sands oil disrupts and could potentially destroy biodiversity and ecosystems, ecosystems that serve as resistant entities to climate change.
Phase four of the Keystone XL pipeline will cross 1,049 waterways, including the largest source of fresh water in the United States, the Ogallala aquifier (HuffPost). This creates a significant risk of contaminating a vast drinking water supply. In its first year, the pipeline spilled 12 times. This number is higher than that of any other pipeline in the U.S. in its first year; TransCanada predicted it would leak once every seven years – that’s more than a little off (HuffPost). The U.S. State Department has concluded that there is not a significant environmental impact; however, the nation’s top climate scientists have written reports and letters to the President expressing the dramatic negative environmental impacts. In addition to the impacts stipulated above, a recent study released by Center for Biological Diversity found that the pipeline would cause damage to the wildlife habitats it crosses (Al Jazeera). In 2010 a pipeline, run by another Canadian company, Enbridge, leaked in Michigan; a million gallons of tar sands oil poured into the Kalamazoo River. Over the past three years, nearly one billion dollars has been spent to clean up that spill and nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo remain contaminated (FOE). You can try to call it environmentally insignificant, but the money spent combined with the damage done and remaining of just this one spill of the same type of oil and pipeline are pretty glaring – and this is one example.
The pipeline is both an environmental and health hazard as well as a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem of energy sources and energy independence. Building another phase is merely putting another band aid on a deep wound, exacerbating the swiftness of climate change and adding to the environmental problems which will become dire for future generations of human beings and wildlife ecosystems. We risk heavily polluting the very air, water, and ecosystems that keep our species alive. We prolong our dependence on a finite resource when we should work toward clean and renewable sources.
Youths risking arrest for this issue might sound a little less crazy now. Anyone running for president should take note if they’re looking for the millennial vote, as 79% support a president who prioritizes addressing climate change. But for now, let’s hope President Obama’s sight isn’t truncated by the mire and mess of oil.