Monday, April 4, 2011

TransCanada and the Keystone XL Pipeline

TransCanada has filed for a US permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline to move crude oil from the oil sands of northern Alberta, Canada to Cushing, OK and then on to US Gulf Coast.  The pipeline capacity will start at 591,000 barrels per day (bpd), is proposed at 700,000 bpd, and will increase to 900,000 to 1.1 million bpd - depending on the source.  The pipeline route is shown on the map here. (click to enlarge).

The issues are many.  Some of the hottest are:

1.  The product is dirty and continues to promote reliance on fossil fuels;
2.  The steel being used is from China and is weaker than US steel;
3.  It will cross the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska posing an environmental risk;
4.  It will create 13,000 jobs and reduce US reliance on Middle East oil;
5.  Pipelines are [most dangerous / safest]  way to transport crude;
6.  Tar sands crude is more caustic than regular crude;
7.  There is no real need for this much extra transmission capacity;
8.  The extra transmission capacity will provide important transmission redundancy;
9.  The monitoring is insufficient;
10.  TransCanada has no effective spill response plan;
11.  And the list goes on and on!

The public reaction is very divided.  The New York Times has opposed the permit based on environmental concerns.  The Washington Post has equally supported the project on jobs and reduced reliance on foreign oil.  Union labor supports it - environmental groups are generally opposed.  And the horror stories abound.  The Post cites a 800,000 barrel spill in Michigan last summer from a similar pipeline operated by a competitor of TransCanada.  Of course, according to TransCanada, this pipeline will be state of the art - bigger, faster, stronger.  And besides, the vast majority of pipeline leaks are small - most involving less than three barrels, 80% involving less than 50 barrels, and less than 0.5% involving more than 10,000 barrels. To move the same volume of oil into the U.S. by train would result in 50 railway accidents for every pipeline accident (according to Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration).  Here is a very recent list of myths and facts prepared by TransCanada  Who ya gonna believe?

The permit application has been promoted, supported, maligned, cussed and sued and yet it continues getting consideration and may eventually be approved - albeit with some strings attached - like enhanced monitoring, job concessions, whatever.  Kansans who are opposed are really down on the project - they believe state officials sold them out by offering the company multiple years of tax abatements - amounting to many, many dollars of lost state revenue.  It's not going to get political, is it?

All in all, I'd have to say that I oppose the pipeline.  As much as I appreciate the jobs and reduced oil reliance, I think continued reliance on fossil fuels is a mistake.  The same amount of money invested in wind or solar or other alternative energies would in the long run be the wiser choice. (Boy, am I glad I didn't write this two weeks ago and include nuclear).

There is a bunch of info out there if you're interested in more - just Google "TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline" and settle in for a long research session.

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