There’s No Reason to Build the Keystone XL Pipeline–and Many Reasons Not To

There are many reasons to oppose building the Keystone XL pipeline to get oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries, such as likely environmental damage from spills, the energy required to get the oil out, and the threat to aquifers along the route, but the biggest threat the Keystone pipeline poses is the catastrophic amounts of carbon that will be released if this oil is extracted and burned. As Bill McKibben of 350.org has said frequently, citing NASA’s Jim Hansen, if the world’s second largest deposit of oil is tapped, the amount of carbon released will essentially doom all mitigation efforts: it will be “game over” for the climate. Given the lack of political will to act on other than short-term interest, even this warning is not likely to stop the project at a time of high oil prices and growing demand. Indeed, NPR reported on Morning Edition on January 18 that extraction of the tar sands oil continues, with much of it traveling on huge tankers and existing pipelines to the American West Coast and with plans to expand pipelines to the East Coast.

But Republicans’ and the oil industry’s claim that the project would provide jobs has been thoroughly debunked, at least on the blogs, which is the only place you are likely to find the story. On January 11 Danielle Droitsch of the National Resources Defense Council punctured claims that the pipeline will provide thousands of jobs. She showed that linking Keystone XL to job creation is a scam–a pretense to get the oil to international customers, for the US is already reducing its oil imports and the tar sands extracted oil would glut the market, lowering the price and thus oil companies’ profits. A subhead neatly sums up her contentions:  The Oil Goes to China, the Permanent Jobs Go to Canada, We Get the Spills, and the World Gets Warmer. (Note: I’m linking to the January 13 repost on Climate Progress because of the number of substantive comments it received there. Also, a video from CNN posted there has an interview with an executive of  TransCanada conceding that permanent jobs created will number only in the hundreds; some thousands would be hired, but only on a temporary basis, to construct the pipeline.)

Droitsch argues that not only would few jobs be created (under 100 permanent ones); building the pipeline would hinder the creation of  jobs in the  renewable energy sector, which is where they are growing exponentially. She asserts, “The evidence shows the future of job creation is in global clean energy markets,” and  “approving Keystone will set that task back decades.” On January 18, with news outlets reporting that Obama was set to reject the pipeline, Sarah Laskow confirmed Droitsch’s claim on Grist.org. Although mainstream media continue to report Republican claims that rejecting the pipeline makes Obama a job-killer, they ought to cite the evidence provided by Laskow that proves clean energy policies create more jobs than Keystone. Her figures, borrowed from Think Progress, derive from an independent study of job creation caused by programs such as the Energy Department’s loan guarantees and the EPA’s new mercury emissions rule.

This won’t stop the extraction of tar sands oil. But there are a couple of ways to slow it: decrease demand for gasoline and increase production of energy from alternative sources. As the Morning Edition reporter said, “by raising fuel efficiency standards, as the Obama administration recently did, . . . you stand a much better chance of slowing production in the oil sands.” Opponents of Keystone  will take heart from today’s decision, for building one pipeline opens the gate to many more, and stopping this big one for now buys time for activists to work on the other front: reducing consumption of fossil fuels in as many ways as we can think of.

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