Oily Endeavors

Pipeline causes controversy about the environment

What would you give up in order to power your car? Money? Convenience? Independence?

What about the environment itself?

Pipeline causes controversy about the environment

What would you give up in order to power your car? Money? Convenience? Independence?

What about the environment itself?

We are all aware of the direct impact that our individual use of oil has on the environment. But it’s not always easy to recognize that the way it gets to us has just as much, if not more, of an impact.

Oil serves a significant purpose in the United States. Transportation in our society is, to an enormous extent, dependent on oil. But is the oil really worth it when the transportation of it alone could significantly damage the environment?

On Feb. 9, 2005, a project was proposed that involved drilling into the Keystone XL pipeline. The deadline for decision-making issue was, however, pushed further and further into the future, until newly elected president Obama all but rejected the idea. Instead of calling it to a vote at last, he pushed it so far forward that the decision would not need to be made until 2013.

The proposal is actually for an extension of an already existing pipeline. The current Keystone pipeline is a system of transporting synthetic crude oil from oil sands in Canada to several destinations within the United States.

The pipeline consists of two phases. The first transports oil from Alberta, Canada, to the United States. The second moves it from Steele City, Neb. to Cushing, Okla.

The two phases that would be added by the proposal would transport the oil from Cushing to Nederland, Texas, and from Baker, Mont. back to Steele City, Neb.

Understandably, there has been a lot of opposition to proposed phases three and four, particularly from those concerned with the environmental well-being of this country.

On June 23, 2010, 50 democrats in congress wrote to Hilary Clinton, pointing out the disadvantages of the Keystone XL pipeline and showing how much its proposed additions could jeopardize the future of clean energy in the United States.

The part of the proposed pipeline that is creating the most controversy is the last step, which transports the oil from Baker, Mont. to Steele City, Neb. Unfortunately, part of the route would pass over the top of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world, located in Nebraska.

All it takes to ruin this reserve of clean water is one accident. One leak in the pipeline could result in the loss of one of the largest reserves of fresh water.

“Piping over a major water supply, like the Ogallala aquifer, and sensitive environmental regions like the Sandhills wetland is risky, and spills could cause irreparable damage,” said civil and environmental engineering student Susan Wherry.

According to Wherry, the design and materials used in the pipeline, as well as their response time and control measures in the case of a spill, would be important to take into account when determining how likely it is for a spill to occur.

“All materials have a failure point which can be arrived at through any number of design specifications,” Wherry said. The area is also seismically active, and there is a risk or earthquakes that needs to be taken into account as far as the pipeline goes. A higher risk of earthquakes increases the chances of an accident resulting in an oil spill.

After the BP oil spill in the Atlantic, we all know how quickly oil can spread in the water, and how damaging an incident such as an oil spill could be to the environment. Technology such as pipelines is no more indestructible than any other technology, and damage to fresh water due to a pipeline transporting oil over the top of it is not improbable.

The pipeline would affect the environment negatively in other ways as well. Because the pipeline would pass through some undeveloped ecological regions, some healthy soil in these as of yet undisturbed areas may be destroyed, and wetlands and creeks may also be affected by the sediment runoff that occurs during many construction projects.

In addition, the migration and reproduction of a lot of wildlife could be impaired by the noise pollution.

One of the main arguments in favor of the pipeline is the fact that 20,000 people could be put to work. However, those 20,000 jobs would be temporary, because they involve the construction of the pipeline, and would cease upon the pipeline’s completion. As such, hiring 20,000 workers for temporary jobs would not stimulate the economy very much or do the workers any favors.

Although the economy needs to improve, jobs do not need to be given to 20,000 people who would simply be out of work again upon the completion of the project. There are other options for creating jobs. Are 20,000 temporary jobs and a minimal and temporary stimulation to the economy worth significant pollution and a lasting negative impact on the environment?

According to Wherry, transporting the oil by railway would be much safer. While this may be costlier at the start, it is in reality cheaper and less time consuming than the cleaning of an oil spill should one occur. A railway failure is much less likely than an accident with the pipeline.

There would also be less damage to the environment during construction if a railway with this purpose could be connected to existing railways.

Though the Unites States’ economy is not up to par, the environment should always come first. Despite the probable extra cost of a railway and the fact that the railway as an alternative would not likely create as many jobs as the proposed phases of the pipeline would, our environment should be placed ahead of our economy.

It’s a lot easier to fix a bad economy than a bad environment, after all.