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writing for godot

Keystone Pipeline Politics - Silk Purse/Sow's Ear

Written by bealejay   
Sunday, 30 August 2015 10:03
August 2015
The Keystone has become a huge political donnybrook. Winning this debate seems to mean driving opponents into the ground. A zero sum contest. But absolute winners and losers rarely occur in politics, and it's unlikely to happen here. There may, however, be a way of harnessing the political energy behind this issue to win significant environmental improvements while not giving away the store.
The Keystone proposal is for the construction of a section of pipeline to complete a system that currently exists. Once in place it would bring heavy oil from the Alberta tar sands and the North Dakota Bakken fields to refineries on the gulf coast, largely replacing the tanker trucks and train cars that are now used. The project would be privately funded and would provide many high-paying design and construction jobs. Once completed, permanent jobs would be minimal, around 35.
The pipeline increases the risk of pollution especially to the Ogallala aquifer over which it travels. This risk is controllable but not negligible.
More pointedly, the pipeline also encourages the mining operations in northern Alberta, where vast pools of tar-like bitumen deposits are exploited to manufacture a heavy oil product that needs special refining processes to enhance its usefulness. Mining the tar sands is a dirty and especially polluting operation which has significant economic benefits for Canada. It has been under attack by environmentalists for decades and the Keystone adds fuel to the fire. The project raises legitimate and highly fractious issues, which boil down to the environment vs. the economy.
On top of environmental concerns, there is a larger, philosophical issue that the Keystone brings to the surface. Consider that the first great technological leap made by humankind was learning how to create fire, i.e., how to burn stuff. So here we are, millennia later, so much more advanced and sophisticated but we're still dependent on burning stuff. If the long term plan is to wean North America off of its addiction to petroleum, bringing to market even more product, that is, more stuff to burn --and an especially nasty kind of stuff at that-- only prolongs the dependence on petroleum as the economic bedrock of North American society. In this context the Keystone looks like a major step backward.
OK then. We should just say no, right? Well maybe not. A pipeline is somewhat better that the train and trucking operations now in place. And if the price of oil remains below the feasibility threshold (about USD $65.00), the project may not advance in any near future. But by negotiating rather than simply rejecting the Keystone, it may be turned into something that yields a lot more benefits than the sum total of its negative aspects, feasibility notwithstanding.
For example, tying approval of the pipeline to the Canadian and Albertan governments enacting specific environmental policies reducing contamination in tar sands exploitation. Similarly, a carbon tax in the US devoted to alternative energy development could be a pre-approval criterion. Trading off benefits against facilitating petroleum supply would be a real boon to the green movement in North America, while the hydrocarbon industry would have a relatively cleaner, safer, more cost-effective facility than now exists, one that would likely proceed only as the price of oil showed significant upward momentum.
By adopting a proactive strategy based on negotiation, environmentalists, recognizing current energy realities, can make major advances in helping to clean up a major pollution source while at the same time achieving an ongoing reduction in demand for oil through the application of a carbon tax, and by further encouraging the use of alternative energy technologies. Sure, it's an apparent win for the Keystone; but even on a net basis the Keystone becomes a big win for the environment. your social media marketing partner
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