Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Keep Keystone XL on the Drawing Board

On Sunday, May 19, an OpEd appeared in the Washington Post on the subject of the Keystone Pipeline. Lamar Smith, a Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology submitted the article, but it was most likely written by a lobbyist for the oil industry. It presents the industry's best arguments for constructing the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. These arguments should convince no one.

Smith makes the argument that KXL will create 40,000 jobs, but previous estimates have yielded a figure of 20,000 jobs. The project will cost $7 billion. This means each job will cost about $350 thousand. These are only temporary jobs. The 20,000 figure is the total number of jobs created in one year. The pipeline will actually take 4 years and the jobs will be spread out over that time period, so a more accurate estimate would be 5,000 jobs for 4 years. After four years, the pipeline will be maintained and operated by 35 people, so 35 permanent jobs will be created by $7 billion.

The figure of $350 thousand per job may seem high, but that figure is the same as was calculated by a 2009 University of Massachusetts study for oil and gas industry job creation. The study projected that $1 million spent in the oil and gas industry creates less than 3 jobs.

There are better ways to create jobs. The U Mass study compares jobs in the oil and gas industry to jobs in clean energy industries. The same $7 billion, if invested in wind production would create 66,000 jobs. Similar results, yielding many more jobs, hold true for investments in solar and biomass industries. The best way to create jobs in clean industries is by investing in mass transit rail. The same amount of money invested in rapid transit would yield 111,000 jobs. Small wonder that pro-oil industry politicians like Rick Scott of Florida have cancelled rapid transit projects. The results of rapid transit take profits from the oil industry and create thousands of new jobs as well.

The oil companies could better spend their money in numerous other ways if they truly want to create jobs. But the oil companies do not want to create jobs. They want to create profits for themselves. So any talk of job creation is pure propaganda for public consumption. If the oil companies actually wanted to create jobs, they would spend their money elsewhere.

Smith's article claims that the environmental effects of KXL would be minimal. He bases his estimates on a flawed State Department study. This study discounts any environmental damage from the pipeline itself because the study assumes the oil from the tar sands will get into the environment anyway, through some other means of transportation. This logic is flawed because KXL can be stopped and the other means of transportation can also be stopped. Furthermore, a similar investment in wind, solar, or biomass projects would help clean up the environment instead of worsening it.

The State Department study also discounts pollution effects on communities where this tar sands oil will be refined. The study says that those pollution effects shouldn't be considered because those communities are already polluted, so, in effect, a little more pollution won't hurt. This theory assumes the health of the people in these communities doesn't matter. Their health will get worse after KXL is complete, but it's already bad, so that won't matter.

Investment in clean energy technology would improve the health of communities that are currently suffering the ill effects of fossil-fuel pollution. The State department argues that KXL would make them only a little worse. That cannot be considered an argument for the project. It must be considered a strong argument against it.

Perhaps the strongest argument against KXL is that it absolutely will cause severe environmental damage in the areas it passes through. Serious oil spills from pipeline are inevitable. Small spills happen nearly every day. Tar sands oil is heavier than other oils. It is more difficult and costly to clean up. In 2010, for example, 20,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into the Kalamazoo river system in Michigan. As of this date, 3 years later, the cleanup is not finished and the total cost of cleanup can only be estimated at between $175 and $800 million. The potential cost of cleanups like this one has not been factored into the cost of KXL. The cost is now estimated at $7 billion, but a single spill could make the cost $8 billion or more. The number of jobs created should include those jobs necessary for cleaning up large oil spills that will inevitably occur. The oil industry would not like to see those figures published, however.

Smith's article argues that global warming has stopped. Nearly every climate scientist in the world agrees with this statement, and the scientists are the people who have gathered the data that Smith cites. It makes no sense to take data from these scientists while at the same time denying the interpretation of the data that these scientists have made. These scientists have dedicated their whole lives to studying our climate. Their opinions should not be discarded without direct proof, which can only be provided by the climate scientists themselves, because no one else in the world is qualified to evaluate their data.

Smith has argued both ways on this issue. He argues that the damage to global warming by increased CO2 concentration will be small. He also argues that there is no global warming. This paradox occurs because the State Department report is aimed at an educated audience that understands the dangers of global, while Smith's supporters have been so overwhelmed by fossil-fuel industry propaganda that they don't believe the scientists we employ to protect us. 

Smith contends that U.S. emissions contribute very little to global greenhouse gas concentrations. He says that the U.S. cut CO2 emissions by 12 percent between 2005 and 2012. This is not an argument for KXL, however, which will supply the rest of the world with oil to keep on increasing their omissions. If the rest of the world is increasing CO2 emissions, that is a good argument for the U.S. to stop selling them gasoline.

There is no valid argument for building the KXL pipeline, other than giving profits to oil companies. KXL will create new jobs, but not as many as similar projects in other, clean energy projects. It will pump greenhouse gases into the environment. It will pollute rivers and ground water in the communities through which it passes.

The oil and gas companies are profiting hugely from activities that are harmful to the entire planet. They cannot argue that their profits are good for the economy if those same profits damage the environment. Their argument, taken to its ultimate conclusion, is that we will all die with our pockets stuffed with money. But we will all be dead.

Nature has found the best place to store fossil fuels. It is in the ground now and it should remain there.

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