Little if any of this oil is used to heat Mayflower homes or to fuel Mayflower cars. Mayflower, in fact, reaps no reward from the transit of oil across its soil. But as recent events have proven, Mayflower bears a giant helping of risk from the pipeline’s presence.
All risk, no reward? That calls to mind the consequences of the proposed construction of another major oil pipeline: TransCanada’s Keystone XL.
Many objections to Keystone XL are well-known. For instance, the pipeline would carry tar sands oil, which can be extracted only by dirty, destructive methods that severely harm the air, water, and environment of the region. Moreover, Keystone XL would increase dependence upon fossil fuels at a time when we should rightly be moving to next-generation energy technologies.
Proponents have a plausible-sounding rebuttal to these concerns – but it is a rebuttal that is, in itself, damning to their cause. According to proponents, the environmental destruction of tar sands drilling should be of no concern to Americans; after all, the oil will be mined in Canada. Further, proponents claim, Americans should not fret about increased dependence upon fossil fuels, as the Keystone XL pipeline would carry those fuels to sea ports for distribution overseas.
But if the oil carried by Keystone XL would not be mined, refined, or consumed in the United States, why would we accept the transit risk associated with a pipeline project of this magnitude? Why would we want to expose thousands of towns up and down the United States to the same risks faced so catastrophically in Mayflower?
And the fact is that Mayflower is not an isolated incident. A previous TransCanada pipeline, also called “Keystone,” experienced 12 separate oil spills, including one that released 21,000 gallons, during its first year of operation in 2010. Nationwide, about 3.2 million gallons of oil spill from pipelines every year. Spills such as these pollute drinking water, ruin American farmland, potentially destroy sacred tribal grounds, and create an uninhabitable environment for homeowners.
To make matters worse, TransCanada would not be liable for cleaning up the mess that Keystone XL will create. Because tar sands oil is not subject to the 8-cents-per-barrel excise tax that funds the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, American taxpayers would likely be forced to bear any clean-up costs.
What possible benefits to the United States could proponents cite that would outweigh these obvious harms? The most prominent pro-Keystone argument is economic: that its construction would create jobs. And true enough, building the pipeline would create tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs during the year or two of construction. But according to the most recent State Department estimates, the number of permanent jobs created will be only 35. This is laughably far removed from any serious job-creation agenda.
Of course, there is an even more critical reason to oppose the construction of Keystone XL. Already our climate is changing due to human-produced carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, leading to more frequent and intense storms and flooding. Keystone XL would make this problem far worse. The extraction of tar sands oil releases as much as 20 percent more carbon dioxide than the production of other forms petroleum – and the sheer volume of oil in Canadian tar sands ensures that Keystone XL would help trigger a “carbon bomb” at a moment when our society can least afford it.
In view of these facts, it is clear that Secretary Kerry and President Obama must determine that constructing the Keystone XL pipeline would be against American interests. Without any tangible benefit of energy independence or sustainable jobs, why would the United States shoulder the enormous risks to water, public health, and climate?
Keystone XL is all risk and no reward.
Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey, is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.