Keystone XL: It’s common sense

In response to a recent Flat Hat column concerning the Keystone XL pipeline, I think it’s important to consider why as many as 14 Senate Democrats supported the bill along with all 45 Republicans, which, considering the polarized political environment of today, is quite the display of bipartisanship. The reason is simple. Keystone XL just makes sense.

Among the reasons cited against the pipeline was the environmental impact of developing tar sands. It’s true, developing tar sands can release carbon dioxide emissions, although only three times that of conventional oil as opposed to the 17 times cited in the article.

However, this isn’t a case of “yes” or “no” to developing tar sands. Canada is going to do it regardless of what the United States does. “With the pressure to avoid a decision that is such a no brainer, it’s all the more reason Canada should be looking towards trade diversification and particularly diversification of energy exports,” said the Canadian Prime Minister in September. Translation: This oil is getting developed whether Keystone is built or not.

If we don’t approve this project, then Canada will find other buyers. And not just this one time either. Canada stands only behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela for most proven oil reserves worldwide, thus a refusal of Keystone now could be a detriment to Canadian-American energy business in the future. That’s a lot of business to turn down.  And frankly, America’s not the only game in town.

Consider the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. This pipeline proposal, put off for years since Keystone provided the better option, has regained new significance in the wake of the Keystone controversy  (which has been pigeonholed by the current administration for the past six years. The Senate was only allowed to vote upon the project this month.) The Northern Gateway Pipeline runs from Bruderheim to British Columbia. This is on the west coast of Canada, meaning the oil from tar sands could be shipped straight to, you guessed it, China.

Where would that leave the United States? Roughly 42,000 jobs behind, according to the State Department. To top it off, the environmental impact of that pipeline could be even worse. Pipelines actually have the best track record of transportation of oil. The other options, trains and tankers, have accidents far more frequently. The Washington Post reports that four times as much oil was spilled from trains this year as opposed to the previous four decades. More in 365 days, than in 40 years. If SEAC protested oil transportation by rail, I’d support that in a heartbeat.

Finally, the State Department review of the project has ruled that the construction and operation of pipeline in the US will have “little to no environmental impact.” It even states that there would be “greater safety and environmental risks from not building the pipeline.”

With the country facing economic troubles including near-record lows in the labor-participation rate, this project has rightly received bipartisan support from Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D) and other senators. Environmental concerns regarding tar sands are certainly legitimate, but these resources are going to be developed by Canada whether we like it or not. It is irresponsible to deny the American people good jobs in a time of economic hardship for a common-sense project which reduces the risk of oil accidents. From a bipartisan perspective, we need Keystone XL.

Email Sumner Higginbotham at


  1. Good common sense article. Unfortunately, responsibility is not the key word with many environmentally linked legislators. They are beholden to a narrow interest group and ideology rather than the country as a whole. This is the result of narrow interest politics funded by a small group of wealthy individuals .

  2. Points to make:

    1. While I do acknowledge that a third of democrats and 100% of Republicans supported the bill, I think it is equally important to acknowledge that the bill failed to pass. That’s the system we all agree to live by as citizens. It’s like if you took a test that had short answer questions and multiple choice questions. And you got all of the multiple choice questions right and a third of the short answer questions right. And your final grade was a 59. Well, it’s great that you got parts from both sections right but you still failed the test.

    Yet you go on to say that the pipeline “just makes sense.” No. I believe that the definition of “making sense” in our political system is a bill that passes. You can’t claim that you understood the material on a test and that it “made sense” if you get an F. Pass the test.

    2. While it is true that website you cite does claim “The tar sands mining procedure releases at least three times the CO2 emissions as regular oil production” it also says things about tar sands like “The tar sands are already slated to be the cause of up to the second fastest rate of deforestation”. And “Human health in many communities has seriously taken a turn for the worse with many causes alleged to be from tar sands production.”

    Here’s the mission statement behind the website you cited: “ holds the view that nothing short of a full shut down of all related projects in all corners of North America can realistically tackle climate change and environmental devastation.”

    Now does that sound like a website that is trying to dismiss the effects of the tar sands mining procedure? Is it in line with the way you tried to use the quote?

    Oh, and one more thing, the article you are responding to MISREAD their source. NPR reported that the tar sands procedure produces 17 PERCENT more carbon dioxide. And then you go and find a site that says its 3 times as much. Wow.

    3. This is great logic to live by: “If we don’t approve this project, then Canada will find other buyers.”

    If we don’t do the terrible thing—SOMEONE ELSE WILL!

    If your neighbor was selling heroin, would it make sense to buy that heroin because “well, he’s just going to sell it to the guy down the street anyway.”

    4….you just…you just stop making points entirely at this point.

    Northern Enbridge Pipeline: Runs from Bruderheim (central Canada) to British Columbia (western Canada). What does any of that have to do with the U.S.?

    China?! Why do you mention China like that means something? Are we trying to steal oil from China? You really just sound petty at this point. Like the oil is China’s potential boyfriend that we want to steal.

    The 42,000 jobs you cite has nothing to do with the Northern Enbridge Pipeline. Why did you include it directly after your paragraph about the Northern Enbridge Pipeline. It’s the XL pipeline that the State Department had a report on.

    And here’s a note about that:

    Here’s the important part: “After construction, the pipeline would employ about 50 people, primarily for maintenance.”

    So much for all those jobs you claim we are irresponsibly denying.

    Finally, I’m not going to get in to your environmental claims but I would like to point out that saying that a lot of oil was spilled from trains last year has nothing to do with the environmental impact of pipelines. It just doesn’t. Those facts aren’t related.

    Here’s a website that presents information on the impact of spills from different transportation methods. If you’d read it you might have something to cite related to the nature of oil pipeline spills. You don’t cite anything.

    Finally, you cite the environmental risk assessment from the State Department but we have yet to hear from environmental agencies.

    From the Washington Post article I believe you used : The high-profile decision now enters a new phase, in which Kerry and his deputies will field public comments and internal feedback from eight agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Defense and Energy. The State Department will open a 30-day comment period on Feb. 5, and the agencies will have 90 days to weigh in. After a decision is issued, other agencies have 15 days to object. If one does, the president must decide whether to issue the permit.

    Look, I’m not a particularly environmentally conscious person. I don’t have really strong opinions about this. What I do care about is lazy or deliberate misrepresentation of information. Just because this is an opinion article doesn’t make it okay for you to spout off on whatever you want without anything to back you up. And especially, especially don’t use information that ACTIVELY WORKS AGAINST YOUR OWN POINT!

    Write better please.

    Santa Claus

    • I understand how our political process works. I’m merely arguing that the bill should’ve passed then, and will hopefully pass with the new congress.

      The reason I used as the source for addressing the question of how problematic tar sand development is to the environment is because this source, which clearly has an agenda, is far below the 17 times figure cited in the previous article in the Flat Hat. The fact that this site has no reason to understate the environmental impact is why I used them.

      The oil market has not been replaced by the renewable energy market, as the renewables are not as economically feasible yet. Oil market is international, and China has expressed interest in Canadian oil. That’s the reality.

      Canada has other options besides Keystone. However, we are unlikely to see this other pipeline anytime soon as the recent plunge in oil prices will likely cause many projects to not be pursued, which other pipeline.

      Construction jobs, even if temporary, provide value to an economy. It’s construction companies having more money to hire other workers. The job count is more complex than maintenance personnel. The state department quotes, including the perspective on the environmental impact, speak for themselves.


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