The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Environment is a non-issue in Keystone debate

To build or not to build, that is the question. Many people across the U.S. have voiced their opinion about the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The President vetoed legislation (H.R.3) designed to cut through bureaucratic red tape last Tuesday, so this issue will surface again in Congress. But what exactly is all the hype about a single pipe? 

According to the official reports issued by the State Department, the Keystone pipeline was first proposed in 2008 by the TransCanada Corporation, a major supplier of crude oil in North America. This proposed route was almost a straight connection between where the pipeline crossed into the U.S. into Steele City, Nebraska, where another new portion of pipeline would carry it to refineries. Immediately, complaints came in from several environmental organizations that pointed out the pipeline would cross through the Sand Hill region of Nebraska. This environmental uncertainty, combined with a 60-day deadline to approve the application in 2011, led to the denial of the first application. Since then, another application has been filed with a slightly different route. The new 2013 application sought to resolve these issues, mostly by having the proposed line go around nature reserves including the Sand Hills, in addition to stopping the line at Steele City and simply connecting it to existing pipelines. 

Despite this, the current proposition still gets much scrutiny. Opponents cite increased greenhouse gases, the danger of possible leakage and the destruction of American burying beetle habitat as reasons to deny the construction. Factually, these arguments are on some shaky ground. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued by the State Department shows the process by which the pipeline will be built, which includes an often overlooked restoration phase. The building process is much like building interstate highways in that a long strip of land is cleared for construction. Unlike highways, though, once the construction is complete and the line is in the ground, all of the above ground land will be restored, meaning in the long run little habitat will be destroyed. And all of this will be paid for by the Keystone builders. Because of this and other measures, the EIS emphasized the beetle’s existence will not be jeopardized by the project. On the subject of greenhouse gases, the only extra gases emitted from the pipeline will be from the construction vehicles during the building phase and pump stations along the line that provide pressure for the crude to flow; their contribution is minimal. The only real environmental concern is possible leakage. To address this, Keystone has provided many measures to ensure a leak could be prevented and combated, including giving water sources wide berth underground, using technology that can detect minute differences in pressure to identify leaks, ensuring proper government oversight and even training and preparing response teams in the event of a rupture. According to the EIS, a rupture is unlikely given the lack of seismic activity in the area. 

Many opponents are also unaware the oil from Canada’s tar sands is still coming into the U.S. whether or not the Keystone pipeline is built. It makes its way via our inefficient railroad system. This current method of transporting the oil is far more dangerous as attested to by the many explosive crashes seen on the news. Train transport more directly puts human lives in danger and poses the same spill threats pipelines pose. This fact is often overlooked as Republicans — the main proponents of the pipeline — entrench themselves in the idea that its construction is primarily a jobs issue. While construction will create roughly 42,100 jobs, these are mostly temporary.  Supporters of the line also argue the economic benefits would be astounding. While in principle “flooding the markets” will definitely drive prices down, the long-term effect of the pipeline, economically, is hard to pinpoint largely because of the unstable long-term trends in the oil industry. 

The Keystone XL pipeline debate is simply one on how to safely transport crude oil from Canada to Texas refineries, and now that the veto has been brought down on the Keystone’s immediate approval, the pipeline has few methods of ever fully being authorized. It can either go through the long bureaucratic approval process in an administration hostile to it — which could take several years — or Congress can whip the vote and override the veto. Hopefully, Americans won’t have to wait too long to see this more efficient, environmentally safe and reliable method of shipping oil come to fruition. 

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Environment is a non-issue in Keystone debate