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Robert Redford

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Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline: The Facts Deserve Repeating

Posted: 02/ 8/2012 2:06 pm

Joe Nocera's op-ed in the New York Times yesterday deserves a response and a reiteration of the facts surrounding the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. President Obama rejected the pipeline's permit last month when the GOP, in a political stunt, forced his hand to approve it without even the final route evident.

Let's put the rhetoric aside, and simply focus on the facts. Nocera wants us to believe that approving this pipeline is a matter of national security. He also seems to think that we should all be kicking ourselves because the Canadians are flaunting a tar sands sale trip to China.

Nocera might ask himself how likely this oil is really to go to China from Canada if Keystone XL is not built. He might ask why the oil companies are looking to bring tar sands almost 2000 miles south rather than just send it across British Columbia for export to Asia.

The answer can be found in the deep and fierce opposition to a new tar sands pipeline in Canada -- especially by the First Nations of British Columbia. In fact, those First Nations this week sent letters to President Hu of China and to the Chinese people letting them know their tar sands grievances in advance of Prime Minister Harper's trip this week.

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not make the United States of America safer. Why? It would not make us safer, because the majority of the processed oil was already scheduled for export to foreign countries. That's' right, this Keystone XL pipeline's Canadian tar sands oil would have no positive impact whatsoever on America's national security.

Canada wanted to send the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America so that they could access export routes. And they proposed getting there by bringing the pipeline right over the Ogallala Aquifer, one of America's most important repositories of fresh water. Along the route, Democrats and Republicans alike opposed it.

Nocera never mentioned that a first pipeline just like the proposed Keystone XL, built by the same foreign company, TransCanada, had over 12 spills in the U.S. (30 if you count Canada) in just its first year of operation. Some of those spills have yet to be cleaned up.

It's kind of like last month when Nocera waxed poetic under the headline "BP Makes Amends," extolling the virtues of the oil giant. In it, when referring to the Gulf shoreline, he said, "The beaches are sparkling," when in fact, in the first 10 days of this year some three tons of tar balls have washed up on the beaches of Alabama and Mississippi.

But I digress. Throughout his entire column, he gives not a whiff of mention to a clean energy future or economy or so much as a nod to the viability of any alternative form of energy. Even though it's a fact that clean energy investments can create four times as many jobs as similar investments in fossil fuel energy.

In fact, when it comes to jobs and the Keystone XL pipeline, the State Department estimated it would create only 20 permanent jobs and about 5-6,000 temporary construction jobs... not the hundred thousand jobs proponents of the tar sands pipeline have been citing.

The Keystone XL pipeline doesn't deliver on jobs or national security, it jeopardizes public health and safety and the president was right to reject it. And tar sands are not just "a little dirtier" than traditional crude as Nocera notes. Producing synthetic crude oil from tar sands generates three times the global warming pollution and the extraction process uses vast amounts of energy and water.

I would be remiss if I didn't call attention to Nocera's calling out of "all right-thinking environmentalists" who oppose his other panacea, natural gas. Call me what you will but I don't believe any of us should turn a blind eye to how it's accessed or to the many documented cases of big oil and gas companies blasting unidentified toxic chemicals deep into the earth in people's back yards, eventually poisoning groundwater and ruining lives and communities.

Nocera says that he guesses the president really wanted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and implies President Obama would have approved it if it weren't an election year. I think the president ruled in the national interest after assessing the real facts in the matter of this ill-conceived Canadian pipeline.