Last month, the President announced that he would expedite approval for the Southern part of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which extends from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast.
This appears to be an unconscionable reversal of the Administration's stance to stop construction on the pipeline out of environmental concerns. I understand the pressure the President is under: rising gas prices are almost as bad as rising unemployment for an incumbent President looking for reelection, despite what little control he may have over either. But going down this road won't even help most Americans. The pipeline in its entirety would cross the Midwest from Alberta, Canada to Texas in order to send oil from the Canadian tar sands to the United States so that it could then be refined and shipped overseas to Europe and Latin America, tax-free.
But where's the benefit to the American people? This oil will never reach drivers' gas tanks and will actually result in more oil from Canada being exported to other countries and less reaching the U.S. Gas prices could rise by 20 cents per gallon as a result, with an extra $4-5 billion going to Canadian oil companies, without them even paying taxes on their new profits.
The Keystone Pipeline will do much more to benefit oil companies than actually reduce oil and gas prices, but will have tremendous human and environmental costs. One of the biggest beneficiaries of Keystone will be Koch Industries, the company of Republican donors David and Charles Koch. Other oil companies will benefit from billions of dollars without having to pay taxes on that. But the pipeline could have devastating consequences for all of us. The pipeline goes through an earthquake zone over the aquifer that provides water for the Midwest. An oil spill could contaminate the water supply for over 2 million people and despite its new construction, the first stage of the pipeline has already needed repairs. It's such a bad proposal that a diverse coalition including the Republican Governor of Nebraska and the Dalai Lama oppose the plan.
But it's not just the Midwest where Republicans are pressing for a dangerous new pipeline. In Puerto Rico, a similar fight is going on over the deceptively-named "Via Verde" (Green Way) natural gas pipeline, or "Gasoducto" as it's been called. The Republican Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, has attempted to skip public input and environmental regulations on the Gasoducto pipeline by declaring an "energy emergency." The 92-mile-long pipeline would destroy over 270,000 trees and threaten the habitats of 32 species of endangered plants and animals on such a tiny island. In the event of a spill on the earthquake- and hurricane-prone island, the gas could contaminate the water supply and put over 200,000 citizens at risk. The EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service both recommended against approving the plan in light of those risks, as did El Colegio de Ingenieros y Agrimensores de Puerto Rico.
Of course, just as with the Keystone Pipeline, political cronyism is involved in the Gasoducto. The company of a friend of Gov. Fortuño got a no-bid contract for $9.6 million to design the pipeline, even though they had no experience with gas pipelines. They subcontracted with a Texas firm, earning a tidy profit without doing any work. And this is just the beginning. Already, about $30 million has been spent on publicity for the pipeline. The opportunity to pilfer millions of tax dollars for political allies is surely a motivating factor behind Gov. Fortuño's attempts to skirt public review and accountability for this ill-conceived project.
An overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans vehemently oppose the plan and the island has been engulfed in protests against it. Hopefully the Army Corps of Engineers will consider their views and save Puerto Rico from the Gasoducto and the destruction this project will surely leave in its wake.
These pipelines aren't just individually bad projects; they reflect a wrongheaded philosophy that would try to drill us out of our shortage of oil. Most of the oil left in the world is difficult to extract, whether in deep under the ocean, in the Arctic, in the Canadian tar sands, or trapped in shale rock. New York is currently in the midst of debates over allowing a similar procedure for extracting natural gas from shale rock: hydrofracking. Hydrofracking involves injecting shale rock with chemicals in order to crack open the rock and access natural gas. This depends on new, untested technology which contaminates billions of gallons of water every year, and pollutes rivers, lakes, and drinking water. Studies suggest hydrofracking chemicals could cause cancer and lax regulations mean that we don't even know all the chemicals that companies might be injecting into our soil.
We need to face facts and recognize that we can't drill our way to lower gas prices; there just isn't enough oil for everyone in the world to drive as much as we do now. Renewable energy is our only option for a truly clean, sustainable future, with the added benefit that it is intensive in human labor, and, thus, would help to create much needed American jobs. Sunlight, wind, and other natural sources of power are abundant and new technology will mean that we can easily and inexpensively tap them. America has reached record levels of fuel efficiency, thanks to the Obama administration's higher standards, which will also decrease our dependence on oil. Between the combination of more efficient use and green energy, we can chart a course for a cleaner future without oil pipelines that destroy our environment and put our health at risk.