Large numbers of protesters were recently arrested in Washington, D.C., in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, earning them the record for the largest act of non-violent civil disobedience since the Vietnam War.
The more than 1,700-mile pipeline would cut through the Ogallala aquifer, the nation’s largest, and through Texas’ Corrizo-Willcox aquifer among other waterways between Canada and the Texas Gulf Coast. As any engineer could tell you, no pipe is 100-percent leak-proof. The existing pipeline has had 13 leaks since June 2010, and the “extra-large” pipeline extension poses extreme risks to our freshwater resources and croplands. Additionally, tar sands — the crude product being transported — involves tearing down many acres of pristine forestland so it can be tediously strip-mined, leaving a wrecked ecosystem and vast amounts of toxic waste that goes into tailings lakes that can be seen from space.
The tar sands refinery has also been shown to add three to four times as many greenhouse gas pollutants to the atmosphere than the conventional oil refinery — a major worry for climatologists concerned about the ongoing climate crises that we face. James Hansen, a long-time leading climate scientist and the current director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, has said the building of this pipeline would make catastrophic climate change inevitable.
The American Petroleum Institute has called the pipeline the “biggest shovel-ready project” in the country, and Exxon has spent millions telling the American people that Canadian tar sands translates to energy security. While job creation sounds good, the institute’s argument has been seriously overblown. The pipeline is a $7 billion project — big, but hardly the biggest. It will generate 5,000 to 8,000 jobs in an economy that needs 400,000 jobs every month to reduce unemployment.
Although TransCanada claims the oil is for American consumers and that it will decrease our reliance on oil from the Middle East, there is good reason to believe that the pipeline is instead meant to get Canadian tar sands oil to China and other rapidly growing countries. For example, Chinese companies have invested $15 billion into Canadian tar sands reserves in the last 18 months, and the energy minister of Alberta has even admitted that getting the tar sands flowing to China is a top priority. China gets the oil, Canada gets the profit and America gets the pollution. How is that in our national interest?
This project would put our already limited freshwater resources at risk to contamination and further degrade the air quality of Texas port cities. It would feed our costly addiction to oil, and it would wed our future to the destructive production of tar sands crude. And most eerily, investing in this project alone will undo any progress that’s been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the past and will render all future progress doubtful.
The decision on whether to build this pipeline rests almost entirely with President Barack Obama. Public determination meetings are being held across the country on this matter, and the U.S. State Department is coming to UT’s campus today to ask people what they think about the pipeline. The Sierra Student Coalition will meet at 6 p.m. in front of Littlefield Fountain for its March for Clean Energy before attending the hearing, which will be held from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium of the LBJ Library. The only way that we can stop this horrible mistake in the making is to attend and let Obama know that this is not the change we had hoped for.
Morgan is president of UT’s Sierra Student Coalition.