House Republicans: Approve the Keystone Pipeline or the Nation Gets It

Alberta Tar Sands

It’s time to stop being polite and call what the oil companies and members of Congress are doing to America over the issue of the Keystone XL Pipeline what it actually is: blackmail. This whole project is wrong on so many levels but for Republicans to tie it to the payroll tax cut for average Americans and the unemployment benefit extension is unconscionable. It’s wrong politically, economically, and environmentally.

Location of Tar Sands

Let’s begin with the environmental ramifications: The brainstorm of TransCanada Corp., the Keystone oil pipeline would carry 700,000 barrels of tar sand crude per day 2,000 miles from the Canadian oil sands in Alberta to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas where it would be refined and dumped on the world market (tax free). Tar sand crude is a much more abrasive and corrosive type of crude that has to be transported under higher pressures and would do more damage to a pipeline than regular crude. There are actually already five trans Canadian pipelines (none, however, that go to the Gulf of Mexico) and TransCanada doesn’t actually have a stellar record in transport safety. The first Keystone pipeline spilled 12 times in its first year of operation. One of them dumped 21,000 gallons on North Dakota. Given this set of circumstances it is almost certain to be not an ‘if’ an oil spill will occur scenario as much as a ‘when and where’ one will occur.

And then there are the tar sands themselves:

Tar Sand Extraction

The photo at the top of the article and to the right should say it all. Tar sand stripping is one of the most destructive extraction processes known. It ranks right up there with mountain top removal for coal in Appalachia and Hydraulic Fracturing or fracking for natural gas. But as the reality of Peak Oil sets in combined with emerging economies competing for the world’s oil supplies, extraction methods can only get more destructive as we are forced to go to more extremes and remote places (For an interesting presentation on Peak Oil see the video at the end of this article by Professor Richard Heinburg, Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute). We’ve already seen the dangers of that with the Gulf oil disaster. This says nothing of the continued contribution of carbon to global warming and the failure to address weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. More on that later.

Bob Doppelt, Director of the Resource Innovation Group at the University of Oregon points out that extraction of tar sand oil is more environmentally dangerous than normal drilling methods. Indeed, the extraction cost benefit ratio is 6:1 as opposed to 87:1 for normal drilling techniques. Extracting these oils from the sands is energy consuming and carbon polluting. It’s a dirty, polluting energy source where the extraction processes and the use of the final product almost double the harm to the environment. Increasing the extraction of oil from the Alberta tar sands would be the equivalent of a lung cancer patient increasing their cigarette use to two packs a day instead of one. Only the cancer would kill us all.

But what of the economic angle? Many in Congress claim that this will be an economic boon for America. Much of that claim is either false, distorted, or exaggerated. As mentioned previously, this crude would be refined and dumped into the world market rather than used domestically. In fact the other pipelines had begun to create a surplus domestically which threatened to drive gas prices down. Canadian oil companies would much prefer to sell at much higher prices to foreign countries which would have the ancillary effect of driving US oil prices up as well. Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club puts it best:

Port Arthur, TX, where the Keystone XL would end, is a Foreign Trade Zone. That means oil companies would avoid paying U.S. taxes on oil that is imported from Canada, refined in Texas, and then exported to China, Latin America, or Europe. The American people get to assume all of the risk, but would see none of the benefits, not even the tax revenues.

“But it will create over 100,000 jobs”. Now this one is a real whopper based on a cost estimate commissioned by TransCanada. It’s a lie, smothered in a mendacity sauce, and served with a tall glass of dishonesty. Likely the people conducting the research were including jobs from deep within the supply chain such as pencil sharpener manufacturers or strip club dancers for pipeline workers. Fact checkers have since determined that the pipeline would create up to 5,000 temporary jobs and maybe 50 long-term jobs upon completion.

Jobs do not exist in a vacuum. Drug dealing is an avocation. Prostitution is considered the world’s oldest profession. Simply put, a society can choose what jobs it will tolerate. Why not channel resources into green energy jobs?

Which brings up the last and most important point: is this even the right conversation to be having? Dumping all that crude into the market is not going to slow global warming nor decrease our dependency on foreign oil nor will it help address the issue of peak oil. We should be having a ‘space race’ kind of investment into renewable energies rather than quibbling over how oil companies can maximize profits.

Finally the political perspective and coming full circle to the assertion of blackmail. Bad enough that Republicans tied this to an economic relief package that would help the economy by giving $160 million working Americans a $1,000 tax break for 2012. The two items are completely unrelated. One can only presume TransCanada is in a hurry. But when the Senate finally agreed to a stop gap compromise to buy the President more time to look at the Keystone project it looked at least as if economic relief would progress into the next year. Then the House Republicans went against speaker Boehner and did not pass it. The House recessed and went home for the holidays. If anyone ever had a doubt that congressional Republicans were wholly owned, bought and paid for by the oil companies, this should put those doubts to rest. That pipeline is going to be built or we are going suffer for it (we’ll suffer from higher gas prices anyway even if it gets built). Make no mistake: this pipeline is being marketed solely to ramp up production in the world oil market for profit. Money: that’s all.

What’s ironic is that these are the same Republicans who all signed Grover Norquist‘s no tax pledge who will effectively be giving all of America a tax hike come January 1st 2012.

The American democracy is perilously near collapse. We are effectively a subsidiary to a multi-national oil oligarchy. Just shut up and keep driving. The one shining last chance we have is our vote in 2012 and we need a congressional enema. Polls are beginning to show a rising tide of discontent in particular to Republicans. Even prominent Republicans are sounding the alarm that the party may have gone too far.

And here we are again; oil companies who post the biggest profits in the history of the world versus the American citizens hurting in the middle of a recession. Congressional Republicans have made their choice. President Obama appears to have learned a valuable lesson: never negotiate with hostage takers. Republicans may yet get him re-elected without his ever lifting a finger. They may even give him a Democratic House and Senate. One can only hope.

Richard Heinberg Describes Peak Oil

About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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One Response to House Republicans: Approve the Keystone Pipeline or the Nation Gets It

  1. anthony says:

    I agree with some of the points that you mention. The truth is, however, that if the US doesn’t support the construction of the pipeline other countries will most certainly avail themselves of this opportunity. Do you think that similar protests in China would persuade the Chinese government to refuse the project? A recent study conducted by the University of Calgary reveals that if pipeline capacity existed to take full advantage of the oilsands, Canada’s economy would see a $131 billion boost between 2016 and 2030. This is quite a promising prospect on the way to the economic recovery given the fact that the energy sector in Canada has recently been on the rise.

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