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Column: Keystone XL and the ugly traverse of energy independence

Hayden Lewis

Oct. 23, 2012

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

For the most part, continental energy independence is something we can all agree on. Go ahead, ask around: Chances are you won’t find many North Americans opposed to the prospect of being a self-sufficient continent, capable of meeting its own energy needs without relying on massive imports from the international community.

Its broad appeal is also why energy independence makes such a great political talking point and why both candidates have incorporated some form of it into their campaigns this election season.

Predictably enough, there are disagreements from both sides of the aisle about the best way to achieve said energy independence. Gov. Mitt Romney contends that drastically expanding coal and natural gas production would be the most optimal method, while President Barack Obama holds an “all of the above” approach, proposing to continue fossil fuel production while also investing more in renewable energy sources.

Disregarding the environmentally reckless and repugnant consequences of Romney’s energy policies for the moment (I touched on their rapacious nature a few columns ago), both candidates share one glaring similarity in their respective energy independence platforms: They both support the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Though somewhat of a muddled endorsement, President Obama made his willingness to develop Keystone XL clear in March when he expedited construction of its southern leg, transporting oil from Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico. More recently, Obama stated at the first presidential debate, “I’m all for pipelines. I’m all for oil production,” without question, alluding to Keystone XL.

More blunt in his approach, Gov. Romney proudly proclaimed in that same debate, “We’re going to bring in that pipeline from Canada!”

So what exactly is this Keystone XL oil pipeline? Well, in understanding the pipeline, it’s important to note Keystone XL is simply a proposed extension to our current Keystone pipeline, a 2,100 mile stretch of steel and profound human improvidence that transports fossil fuels from the oil sands of northeastern Canada to refineries in Illinois and an oil distribution hub in Oklahoma.

In 2008, TransCanada, the owner and operator of the pipeline, formulated the Keystone XL project, which proposes to add more than 1,100 supplementary miles to the pipeline across the United States.

But since its proposal in 2008, Keystone XL has faced staunch opposition. Enraged protesters flock to any event where the pipeline is mentioned, and there have been lawsuits brought by environmental groups and oil refineries, along with criticism from some especially zealous members of Congress. Renowned NASA climatologist James Hansen went as far as to declare the pipeline “game over for the climate.”

Admittedly, environmentalists can sometimes be irrational in their criticisms of energy production methods (e.g. nuclear power); however, in the case of Keystone XL, there is certainly cause for alarm.

Among the multitude of different, equally important environmental concerns regarding Keystone XL, the biggest is probably its proposed route, traversing the Ogallala Aquifer and Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills.

Ogallala, one of the world’s largest aquifers, provides drinking water to 82 percent of people within its boundaries and irrigates 27 of the contiguous U.S. The Sand Hills, accordingly, is the largest and most intricate wetland ecosystem in the United States. Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like some pretty great oil transportation terrain to me!

But of course, potential spillage is still potential, and there is another crucial variable at stake with Keystone XL that is much more definite: the climate.

By all accounts, the oil we’d be transporting via Keystone XL is extremely low-grade, requiring intensive production measures and resulting in greenhouse gas emissions three times higher than those of conventional oil. Additionally, the completed Keystone XL would carry 900,000 barrels per day into the U.S., digging our nation deeper into its oil-addicted quagmire and sending our planet into a climate-imperiled future more quickly.

Energy independence is something we can all agree on, but it’s important we emphasize our desire for the right kinds of energy (e.g. not fossil fuels). If there’s one thing we can count on this November, though, it’s that no matter who gets elected, our oil addiction and its inevitable repercussions won’t be going away any time soon. For the time being, we can thank TransCanada and its Keystone XL for that.

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Article comments

Oct. 23, 2012 at 3:23 p.m.

Thomas Bachand: The Keystone Mapping Project provides the public with detailed route information for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. Neither TransCanada Corporation nor the U.S. Department of State have been forthcoming with this project’s GIS information. This has made it impossible to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. web: http://keystone.steamingmules.com facebook: http://tinyurl.com/keystonefb

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