By Erin Delman
By the end of the year, President Barack Obama will make the most important decision of his presidency. With just one signature, the flailing leader will determine the fate of next year’s election, as his decision will potentially alienate hoards of once-adamant supporters.
Amidst the threats of economic recession, bipartisan congresional standstill, and vicious, Republican contenders, Obama will finally take a stance on renewable, clean energy. He will either approve or deny the Keystone XL Pipeline, and in doing so, he will determine the fate of mankind. The Keystone XL will be a 36-inch crude oil pipeline that stretches almost 2,000 miles from its start in Hardisty, Alberta. It travels through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma before ending at Nederland, Texas on the Gulf of Mexico.
The pipeline will transport heavy crude from the bituminous sands, colloquially known as the tar sands, of Canada. These mixtures of sand, clay, water and bitumen provide petroleum that exists in the semi-solid phase as a thick, sticky form of crude oil that requires heating to flow. The Keystone XL is designed to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil, heated to 150 degrees, from the tar sands to the refineries in the U. S.
Recognizing the desperation for American economic recovery, the proponents of the Keystone XL—TransCanada, The Perryman Group, many politicians and some labor unions—have cited that the pipeline will generate 20,000 high-wage manufacturing and construction jobs, 1,500 Teamster jobs and 118,000 indirect jobs in America and Canada. Yet, economists at the Cornell Global Labor Institute have found this number to be highly inflated.
Likewise, the State Department projects the creation of only 6,000 jobs in the three-year construction period, most of them non-local or temporary. Furthermore, the estimates from TransCanada and The Perryman Group do not consider the Keystone XL’s potential to destroy jobs.
The pipeline is impossible to rationalize economically. Not only will job generation be minimal at best, fuel prices are expected to rise in 15 midwest states. Health costs will increase as a result of higher emissions and reduced air quality in both Canada and the U.S.
Still, the economic consequences seem trivial when compared to the ecological. To produce one barrel of tar sand heavy crude, the forest must be strip mined. This requires the extraction of four tons of earth, which contaminates two to four barrels of fresh water, burns large amounts of natural gas, and creates vast ponds of toxic sludge waste.
The potential for spills renders serious concerns for water quality, particularly over the crucial Ogallala Aquifer. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman fears that the Keystone XL will contaminate this precious resource in his state, elucidating his concern “that the pipeline will potentially have detrimental effects on [Nebraska’s agricultural industry] and Nebraska’s economy.”
He has reason to worry. The Keystone I, built by the same company and meant to connect with the Keystone XL, leaked 14 times in its first year of operation.
Finally, the implications for climate change are unparalleled and drastic. Full development of the Alberta tar sands will create one of the largest contibutors to carbon emissions in the world, second only to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.
This fact, in and of itself, mobilized thousands of protestors who staged a sit-in at the White House from Aug. 20 to Sept. 3. 1,253 people were arrested, including Bill McKibben, the leader of 350.org, the preeminent climate-awareness movement. Solidarity movements occurred globally as countless countries urged Obama to reject the proposal. Even nine Nobel Laureates sent the President a letter, begging him to consider the rest of the world.
One thing is for sure, the Keystone XL, as NASA Climatologist James Hansen has asserted, is essentially “game over for the climate.” Temperatures will increase and sea level will rise. The planet will face mass extinctions as species fail to adapt to changing conditions.
The human race, in our short time on this planet, will have fundamentally and perhaps irreversibly changed Earth. At some point in human history, humankind decided that it was authorized to make sacrifices for the sake of progress. Yet the consequences of this project will exceed any we have seen before.
Union, I ask you to stand behind me as I ask our leaders to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline. The night he was nominated for president, Obama told the world that under his leadership, the rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet would begin to heal. It’s time he stood by that promise.