Senators Push Back on Proposed Tar Sands Pipeline

At an appearance in San Francisco last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tipped her department’s hand in its plans to approve a vast 2,000-mile expansion of the Keystone tar sands pipeline, which would run between Alberta, Canada, and the Texas Gulf Coast.

The original pipeline, which runs between Canada and Illinois, is capable of delivering 435,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands to the United States daily, where it is refined and sold as gasoline. The proposed expansion would contribute as much as an additional 590,000 barrels of daily output.

Secretary Clinton said at the event that the government is “inclined” to give the project the green light, despite opposition from several political leaders and challenges from environmental groups. Those opponents claim that emissions from tar sands is two-to-three times higher than standard refined gasoline, and that potential environmental impacts on the regions through which the Keystone XL will pass, aren’t being properly weighed in the State Department’s decision.

On Friday, eleven senators sent a letter to Clinton urging the DOS to consider several new environmental factors in its assessment, including the threat posed by the pipeline to key neighboring populations and ecologically sensitive areas, and the overall effect it might have on emissions derived from transportation in the United States. “Tar sands is dirty oil,” said the senators in their letter. “Approval of this pipeline will significantly increase our dependence on this oil for decades.”

For her part, Secretary Clinton has pointed out that the oil meets a need that the country is currently unprepared to do without—taking the opportunity to blame Congress for its inability to pass cap and trade legislation, which would use market forces to incentivize the replacement of dirty energy sources like tar sands. “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada,” the Secretary said in defending her position last month.

A Cheap and Dirty Fix for the National Addiction

But drawing more of the nation’s energy supply from tar sands won’t necessarily decrease its dependence on oil from offshore drilling or from hostile foreign regimes, as many supporters of the plan have claimed.

International energy markets work on an interconnected web of supply-demand relationships, determined by how expensive oil is to extract, where it’s going, how much it costs to get it there, and how much of it will be consumed at whatever price it is sold for at market. The cumulative effect of these relationships are delivery contracts, which are traded on futures markets and are largely responsible for determining the price of gasoline at the pump from one month to the next.

As the supply of oil increases relative to demand, prices fall, facilitating more use. So if the United States is serious in its aims to decrease emissions and dependence upon foreign sources of oil, increasing tar sands production could serve to actually undermine both of those efforts over the long run.

A revised environmental assessment and final ruling on the project is expected from the State Department by the end of the year. If the EPA is satisfied with the new assessment, the project will go along as planned, providing raw product to Texas and Louisiana refineries by 2013. If the agency chooses to buck the DOS’s decision, the stage will be set for a conflict that will likely require a final decision from President Obama.

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  • JamesDavis

    America cannot have it both ways. If you insist on continuing with fossil fuel vehicles and fossil fuel burning power plants, you are going to need oil – lots of oil, and it is going to be very expensive, which means that the price at the pump is going to stay around 4 to 10 dollars per gallon…the longer you use oil, the higher the price is going to become.

    You can always stand out there at the pipe line and protest its building, but the only thing that will achieve is a sun burn and a wind burn in the winter…or you can demand that our automakers start mass producing affordable long range electric cars that will get us away from fossil fuels once and for good.

  • Stan Smart

    Let’s see … Oil from CANADA


    Oil from folks who want to KILL us ???

    oh, I dun ooh ….

  • DutchInChicago

    I know. I choose no oil.

    Let’s get an energy policy and start building solar, wind and nuclear power plants.

    Then start investing some serious money in alternative fuels (not made from corn).

    Now that was not that hard was it.

  • Got Amps?

    If the Yanks and their dirty coal, which they don’t like to talk about, don’t want Canuck oil, China, India and the whole of SE Asia does. China needs a steady supply line for her economy. Estimated reserves in the tar sands exceed Saudi Arabia’s oil supply.

    Canada will sell it’s oil to SE Asia while you blokes twiddle your thumbs, gnash your teeth and wring your hands.

    Now with those idiot Republicans in charge of your House of Reps, methinks it’ll be harder to buy the fuel you need from a friend who will not try to kill you.

    One of the previous writers is correct. Build and invest in solar, wind and nuclear.

    Here’s a neat idea. Cut half the defense budget and devote it to research on cold fusion. Creates employment for the Yanks, and when successful, ends the fuel crisis. Pie in the sky? Perhaps. But if British researchers hadn’t asked what is this mould here, we wouldn’t have penicilin.

    I drive a Honda Civic Hybrid and get 65 miles per Imperial gallon at 95 km/h on Alberta’s highways. Can’t wait for gas to climb up to $10.00 litre. Maybe it’s the only way we’ll all learn?

  • jj

    Stan Meyer invented a hydrogen fuel cell that converts any automobile to run on tap water. This conversion kit now made by HydroStar sells for $1500. Stan Meyer never saw his invention reach fruition as he was killed shortly after this documentary was made.