THE BLOG
05/02/2013 02:14 pm ET | Updated Jul 02, 2013

A Bad Bargain

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Mark Zuckerberg has not yet issued any response to public criticism that his political action group, FWD.us, is funding advertisements supporting construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf of Mexico. FWD.us, co-founded by Zuckerberg with additional donations from a host of his fellow Silicon Valley superstars, has right-wing and left-wing subsidiaries working on parallel tracks to pass bipartisan immigration legislation. Those subsidiaries run advertisements for vulnerable Republicans and Democrats pledged to support that legislation. The ads generally don't mention immigration reform -- which is politically unpopular among conservatives -- and some of them include ringing endorsements for Big Oil's pet projects including Keystone XL. While immigration reform is an important cause, many Americans, particularly those of my generation, are uneasy with a strategy that seems to advocate sacrificing our planet's future as an iffy wager for the bill's passage.

Mr. Zuckerberg -- a hero to many young people -- has in the past been eloquent in his support for transitioning from fossil fuels to knowledge-powered and New Energy economies.

Now that his financial ties to the pro tar sands advertisements are public knowledge, many of us who want a brighter, cleaner future for America and who admire his other accomplishments hope Mr. Zuckerberg will disassociate himself from their dubious content. There are already enough billionaires advocating for Keystone XL and Big Oil's other criminal enterprises. Anti-Keystone XL activists have written a million letters to President Obama. We have appeared, 40,000 strong, to demonstrate against Keystone in Washington, D.C. and we have engaged in peaceful civil disobedience by the thousands in locales from Texas to the White House gate. It's disheartening to see all the billionaires, including leaders of our own generation, lined up against us.

It's our great and only hope that President Obama will listen to the voice of democracy and -- acting as a trustee for the future generations --- kill the pipeline. He promised in his rousing inaugural address, to make the battle to save the planet from climate chaos the centerpiece of his second administration. The Keystone decision is one of the few climate change issues solely under his control. To plug Keystone, President Obama needn't genuflect to a Congress awash in democracy polluting oil money. He can do it while sitting alone in the Oval Office. We worry that President Obama, instead, will simply count the fat cats and weigh their furor -- or their indifference -- rather than reading his mail.

If Mr. Zuckerberg favors or is genuinely ambivalent about Keystone, here are seven reasons why he should reconsider:

1) The Keystone XL Pipeline will never be safe. Tar sands oil, sometimes known as bitumen, causes corrosion and the industry has not figured out how to stop it from bursting even the most state-of-the-art pipelines such as the first Keystone pipeline that leaked over a dozen times in its first year of operation. On March 31, an Exxon pipe carrying 95,000 barrels per day of Alberta tar sands oil from Illinois to Texas refineries burst and flooded a Mayflower, Arkansas, suburb beneath a river of heavy crude and lighter diluents, added by oil companies to move the gelatinous bitumen through the pipe. Arkansas taxpayers were shocked to learn that thanks to a loophole artfully created by the industry's political allies, they -- not the oil kingpins -- will have to pay for much of the cleanup.

That same week, a Canadian company spilled 30,000 gallons of Alberta crude in Minnesota. In 2010, an Exxon pipeline in Michigan spewed a million gallons of Alberta dilbit into the Kalamazoo River, causing the worst and most expensive pipeline oil spill in U.S. history. Experts are still wondering how to restore the Kalamazoo. Clean-up crews who commonly use floating booms to remediate aquatic oil spills learned that tar sands oil doesn't float! Instead, the toxic tar sands sludge permeated and sealed the Kalamazoo River bottom ravaging the foundation of its aquatic ecosystem.

In fact, even oil and gas companies shipping conventional oil, experience thousands of oil spills each year. In June, an Exxon pipe that runs parallel to the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline burst, spilled upwards of 42,000 barrels, at a crossing on the iconic Yellowstone River killing life in that blue ribbon trout fishery and national treasure for 25 miles.

Given the industry's abysmal record, it's safe to say that Keystone XL will experience a major spill and, due to its planned route, that spill will almost certainly contaminate the Ogallala aquifer, the sole water supply for millions of middle state Americans as well as the breadbasket of American agriculture and the ranching industry in seven states.

2) Keystone XL will not create significant American jobs. According to the State Department's study, Keystone will provide only 35 full time jobs following the construction period. We could more beneficially create permanent jobs by incentivizing solar and wind development. Even with the current anemic federal incentives, solar and wind companies are creating each year, more new generation capacity than all the incumbents (oil, gas, coal and nuke) combined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are already 93,000 jobs in solar and 85,000 in wind, and those numbers are growing exponentially.

3) Keystone XL will neither improve energy security nor lower gasoline prices. Virtually all of Keystone's Alberta tar sands oil is destined for overseas markets. Canadian and mostly non-U.S. owned oil services companies, the Koch Brothers, and Asian plutocrats will profit from the pipeline but there will be little value to the U.S. in terms of security or lower oil prices. In fact, U.S. oil prices will actually increase as the result of Keystone as that pipeline relieves the current glut of the landlocked tar sands in the US Midwest and Canada. Top economist Philip Verleger estimates that the average cost of American gasoline could actually rise upward of 5¢-10¢ per gallon if Keystone is constructed. The Pipeline will therefore hurt the U.S. economy, not help it.

4) If we kill Keystone, the oil companies will not build a pipeline elsewhere in Canada. Contrary to what the oil industry claims, alternative pipelines elsewhere in Canada are not moving forward. Resistance among Canadians in British Columbia, especially salmon-dependent First Nations, is even greater than here in the United States.

5) Without Keystone, the oil companies cannot simply haul their tar sands out of Alberta by rail and truck. The $7 billion Keystone pipeline will transport 1.1 million barrels each day -- far more than could be transported economically by rail and truck traffic. If we stop Keystone, we lock most of this carbon underground.

6) We don't need oil-based fossil fuels while we ramp up clean energy alternatives. Renewables like solar and wind are proven and market-ready technologies. Their widespread deployment is only being impeded by multibillion dollar annual subsidies to oil, coal and gas. And a mixture of fuel efficiency standards, transit, smart growth and alternative fuels has U.S. use of oil on a downward slope. In any case, the Keystone XL Pipeline is not a stop-gap measure. Instead the pipeline will entrench our use of fossil fuels for generations.

7) Keystone XL will have a catastrophic impact on climate change. The amount of carbon in the tar sands is equivalent to all the carbon in all the oil ever removed from Saudi Arabia. Burning the vast oceans of oil beneath Saudi Arabia has gotten us where we are today; ice caps melting, glaciers retreating on every continent, water supplies drying up, continent wide droughts disrupting agriculture and global food supplies, acidified oceans and rising sea levels, and climate chaos flooding our greatest cities. According to a new study published last week by Oil Change International, "Cooking the Books: How the State Department Analysis Ignores the True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline," the pipeline will emit 181 million tons of carbon every year -- the equivalent of 37.7 million cars or 51 new coal plants. There are 561 tons of carbon locked in Alberta's tar sands, more than twice the amount, according to former Goddard scientist James Hansen, than all the oil and combustion have released in the history of mankind. We can double that sum by burning Alberta's tar sands, but what genocidal politician or oilman, would want to do that to future generations? We could better solve our energy problems by scuttling the pipeline, cutting incentives to big oil, and leveling the playing field to let the cleaner, cheaper technology prevail in the free market.

Americans who want to stop Keystone XL Pipeline may outnumber those who favor the pipeline but we will never out-money them -- particularly when Mr. Zuckerberg and his legions of 21st century technology moguls take the side of Big Oil's 19th century robber barons. Without some disavowed, young clean energy advocates who regard Mr. Zuckerberg as an iconic leader of our generation are apt to view his investment in the opposition to be not only disheartening, but treacherous.