Keystone Pipeline: Sound off Sunday

Your chance to sound off about a hot button issue.

What do you think about the Keystone Pipeline? Why has it become such a lightning rod?

Do these facts change your opinion?

Keystone XL:

Keystone is a multi-phased project. Several sections have already been built and are in use. The Keystone XL pipeline that is under consideration and the subject of controversy is the last of four phases.

Oil extracted from the tar sands/oil sands in Alberta, Canada is called bitumen. At 57 degrees fahrenheit it is as hard as a hockey puck. It must be warmed or diluted before it can be piped. Extraction is energy intensive.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline crosses an international border. Approval depends on a finding by President Obama’s administration that construction will be in the national interest. Proponents say it will help the economy and lessen dependence on oil from hostile suppliers. Opponents say it will worsen global warming, and that spills will cause environmental damage.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Existing pipelines: Three segments of the pipeline are already in use: (1) Hardisty, Alberta to Steel City, Nebraska and Pakota, Illinois. (2) Steele City to Cushing, Oklahoma, and (3) Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas. The controversial route more or less duplicates the Hardisty to Steele City route, but is shorter (see green line on map, runs through Baker, Montana).

Image Source: Wikipedia

Several additional pipeline routes to carry oil across Canada are being planned; and, a pipe parallel to an existing line from Hardisty to Wisconsin, has been proposed.

Spills: Over the last ten years, 4.1 million gallons of petroleum and hazardous liquids have been spilled each year in pipeline accidents, causing an average of two deaths per year. Property damage: $263 million annually. The Keystone Phase 1 pipeline, which opened in 2009, has had 12 reported leaks. In 2010, over a million gallons of Canadian diluted bitumen spilled from a pipeline into the Kalamazoo River. As of Aug. 2013, Enbridge Corporation, the company that built and maintains the pipeline, had spent more than $1 billion to repair and mitigate the damage. Cleanup is still underway.

Train transport: The number of train shipments of bitumen-derived oil has increased exponentially in recent years. Transporting by train is more dangerous than by pipeline.

Train accidents involving oil transport in 2013:

  • July, Lac Megantic, Quebec: Oil train derailed and seventy two tanker cars exploded and burned. Forty seven people died. Forty downtown buildings were destroyed. Cleanup estimate: at least $200 million.

    Lac Megantic, Quebec Image source: CTV
  • Oct., Gainford, Alberta: Four rail cars carrying crude oil and nine carrying liquified petroleum gas derailed in Alberta. The fire burned for days.
  • Nov., Aliceville, Alabama: Crude-oil tanker train derailed and burned. Released up to 750,000 gallons of oil.
  • Dec., Casselton, North Dakota: 20 cars in a train carrying crude oil ignited after colliding with a derailed grain train near Casselton, N.D., sending up a fireball and spilling an estimated to 476,000 gallons of oil.

Environmental impact of bitumen vs. ordinary oil: From shale to tail pipe, bitumen releases 17 to 20 % more carbon into the atmosphere than regular gasoline.

Jobs: temporary jobs (one year or less, full and part time) 42,000. Permanent jobs: 30 to 50.

Scribbler’s view: It was a surprise to learn how much of the Keystone Pipeline is already finished, how common pipeline spills are and how much oil is transported by rail. Tar sands oil extraction is more dangerous and dirtier than I thought, and more of a done deal.  

The last phase of the XL project will probably be approved. Even if it isn’t, stopping the construction of the pipeline will not end the extraction, shipment and burning of bitumen-derived oil from Canada. At most it would increase costs. This is a symbolic fight, a line in the ‘sand,’ and rallying point to organize fights against practices which worsen climate change.The legacy and value of the controversy will be new political alliances, and that the fight has brought the issue to the headlines. 

How do you think Congress and the President should/will resolve the Keystone controversy? 



  • Great information. Thank you. I didn’t know as much detail about this as I should. Mostly I’ve read about the political fighting over the issue. Then again, what ISN’T there political fighting over? Sigh.


    • Political fighting is pretty juicy and distracting. I didn’t know so much of this was already done. Most of us knew nothing – Native Americans whose land is affected, farmers, ranchers and the contractors and oil companies, but ordinary people? I knew nothing until started pushing back.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Hey, Julie. I hope you don’t mind but I posted this writing to my FB page. I do disagree with the thinking that the pipeline is less dangerous than shipping oil by train. Yes, it is. That is also the argument of the oil companies that want this pipeline to go through. I think the pipeline needs to be stopped and we need to stop shipping tar sands and oil. We need to turn to alternative energies. Oil is not the future. Oil and tar sands are the end. Period.


    • That’s the way to sound off! Please do post on Facebook. More of us need to be talking about, researching and taking sides on this issue.

      It would be great if we would just stop. Go through withdrawal from fossil fuels by choice now, rather than by force later. The Canadian government, the majority of Canadians, Congress and TransCanada aren’t listening though. That’s no reason to not fight, but looking at what’s actually going to happen? Bitumen is going to flow.

      You probably noticed that I didn’t get to the part about the devastation of the landscape in Canada, the poisoning of water, destruction of arboreal forests. We need to shift to alternative energies, ye-e-e-s, although the acres of mirrors in the deserts are wiping out birds and fragile habitat, the wind “farms” up the Columbia Gorge are destroying bat populations and more fragile habitat.

      We need to do more with less.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Good for you for writing about this Julia! Unfortunately, this will probably happen. Look how far the pipeline has gotten thus far. And we thought Fracking was bad. It’s all run by greed. They don’t care about the environment. It’s truly very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Very informative post on an issue which we so far off are not even aware off. Now I ‘d like to keep keep myself updated. Thanks and regards.


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