There's been a lot of hype about the Keystone Pipeline over the past three years with tons of press coverage, protests in front of government buildings and even celebrity arrests. Most recently, attention has turned to an advocacy group, Bold Nebraska, which built a solar powered barn and a wind turbine in Keystone XL's planned path, about 50 miles west of Lincoln, Nebraska.
The barn, constructed of American-made materials, was completed in September. Not only does it support a roof full of solar panels, the area's ranchers plan to use the small building to host discussions on renewable energy and sustainable farming practices. Because Keystone XL's route isn't allowed to go through permanent structures, Bold Nebraska's new construction might put a damper on pipeline plans in the state.
So why all the buzz about Keystone XL?
First of all, it should be noted that the Keystone Pipeline has actually been operating since 2010. It transports tar sands oil from Alberta to Oklahoma. But a proposed expansion, Keystone XL, is what many are up in arms about.
The expansion would add about 1,700 miles of pipeline to be used in tar sands oil transportation. It would place pipes at the end of the current pipeline in Cushing, Oklahoma, that would run all the way to the Texas Gulf Coast, where there are a large number of refineries. This portion of the pipeline expansion has already been approved by President Obama, and Transcanada, the company that proposed the pipeline, announced in July that it is about 95 percent complete. The company says this portion of the pipeline will be operational before the end of 2013.
However, Keystone XL would also create a new section of pipes, connecting Alberta to Kansas, stretching across the Bakken Shale in eastern Montana and western North Dakota and right through the energy barn in Nebraska. It's this section that has hit regulatory snags and has some more governmental hoops to jump through before the possibility of approval. It's already been under review for more than five years and TransCanada released a statement in early October saying that it doesn't expect to receive the required permit before the end of 2013.
Should Obama approve the pipeline as is, he will be responsible for the destruction of Bold Nebraska's clean energy barn. While tearing down one small building may not seem like much, it likely won't be a decision made lightly. Obama has repeatedly voiced his concerns for generating more renewable power and minimizing carbon emissions in the United States, so tearing down this building in favor of oil won't look good on his part.
Pros and cons of the pipeline
If the entire pipeline is built, it will have the capacity to transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil every day. According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), that number could grow to 4 million barrels per day by 2020. Proponents believe this type of oil production could reduce dependence on overseas oil and make the country more self-sufficient.
Additionally, the pipeline is projected to add jobs to the economy — another hotly debated topic. API has released an estimate that Keystone XL will add about 20,000 jobs over its lifetime. And the Canadian Energy Research Institute has said the pipeline could provide 500,000 jobs by 2035. However, many are skeptical of these numbers and have made safer estimates. Obama, for example, told the New York Times that he expects Keystone XL to create about 2,000 construction jobs and only 50 to 100 permanent jobs after it's completed.
But regardless of how many jobs are created, it will certainly add to the U.S. economy. TransCanada predicts Keystone XL could bring as much as $34.5 million in property taxes for 31 counties in three states.
While there might be some good arguments for completing the pipeline, environmentalists have their own concerns. In July, the National Resources Defense Council released a study forecasting that Keystone XL would emit 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in its 50-year lifetime — more pollution than all the cars in the U.S. cause in an entire year. The study goes on to argue that the increase in emissions from the pipeline would cancel out the nation's efforts to reduce carbon emissions over the years.
Critics also argue that tar sands oil is corrosive, with the potential to leak through the pipes and cause irreparable damage to the environment, because it is highly acidic and full of abrasive particles. According to the U.S. Department of State there have been 14 leaks since the first portion of the pipeline opened in 2010. However, it's important to note that leaks were all attributed to faulty seals, fittings and a valve station, not corrosion. Despite those findings, many believe it's only a matter of time before a larger problem emerges.