The Keystone XL pipeline: poison for America

The environmental group Friends of the Earth, has offered up a fistful of startling facts to take a swing at the Canadian oil and gas company, TransCanada: TC hopes to start building a new crude oil pipeline that would run close to 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. If constructed, the poisonous pipeline, known as the Keystone XL, will carry one of the world’s dirtiest fuels: tar sands oil. Along its route from Alberta to Texas, this snaking pipeline could devastate ecosystems and pollute water sources, jeopardizing public health.

The giant oil corporations that have invested in Canada’s tar sands are counting on the Keystone XL pipeline to make the expansion of oil extraction operations profitable. How? The three-foot diameter pipeline would double imports of dirty tar sands oil into the United States. That’s all we need, isn’t it? To have more toxic junk dumped on U.S. soil. Not.

However, before TransCanada can begin construction, the caveat is that the company needs a presidential permit from the Obama administration. Not getting the permit can be the deal breaker if we’re lucky. So your voice is needed to push the Obama administration to just say “no” to the Keystone XL pipeline and the highly polluting tar sands oil that come with it. This is a poisonous smudge on the landscape of America from our “friendly” Canadian neighbors—and we should tell them where to shove this pipeline. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Dirty tar sands oil

Know that the pollution from tar sands oil is far greater than that of conventional oil. During tar sands oil production alone, levels of carbon dioxide emissions are three times higher than those of conventional oil. This is due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into the United States daily, doubling our country’s reliance on it and resulting in climate-damaging emissions equal to adding more than six million new cars to U.S. roads. That’s just what we need, right? Not!

Water waste

Also, during the tar sands oil extraction process, vast amounts of water are needed to separate the extracted product, bitumen, from sand, silt, and clay. It takes three barrels of water to extract each barrel of oil. At this rate, tar sands operations would swallow roughly 400 million gallons of water a day. Clean water, by the way, is one of the world’s most precious commodities. Let’s not turn ours over to TransCanada. What’s more, 90 percent of this polluted water is dumped into large man-made pools, known as tailing ponds. And don’t you just love those benign names like “tailing ponds.” These ponds are home to toxic sludge, full of harmful substances like cyanide and ammonia, which has worked its way into neighboring clean water supplies. Caveat emptor!

Indigenous populations

Northern Alberta, the region where tar sands oil is extracted, is home to many indigenous populations. Important parts of their cultural traditions and livelihood are coming under attack because of tar sands operations. Communities living downstream from tailing ponds have seen spikes in rates of rare cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism. In the lakeside village of Fort Chipewyan, for example, 100 of the town’s 1,200 residents have died from cancer. That’s just what we need, more cancer victims and the health costs of keeping those poor people alive. Think of TransCanada’s pipeline as a living blight!

In fact, these problems will only get worse unless tar sands production is halted. Unfortunately, the bad news is an area the size of Florida is already set for extraction. Let them keep it when they extract the sludgy oil. Investing in a new pipeline would increase the rate of production, while decreasing the quality of life for indigenous populations. How about TransCanada Pipeline picking up the tab for all health and environmental damages it incurs? Would TCP still be interested in despoiling its indigenous people and the USA’s people and land if that were so?

Cutting corners for pipeline spills

TransCanada’s rap sheet already states that it attempted to cut corners by seeking a safety waiver to build the pipeline with thinner-than-normal steel and to pump oil at higher-than-normal pressures. Fortunately, thanks to the pressure exerted by Friends of the Earth and its allies, the company withdrew its safety waiver application in August 2010. It should withdraw itself into hell, where it belongs.

But the threat of spills remains. In summer 2010, a million gallons of tar sands oil poured into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan from a pipeline run by another Canadian company, Enbridge. Some track record, guys! This spill exposed residents to toxic chemicals, coated wildlife and has caused long-term damage to the local economy and ecosystem. How about just like looking for more sustainable, safer forms of energy. And telling TransCanada their tar sands oil isn’t one of them.

Heightening these concerns, TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline has spilled a dozen times in less than a year of operation, prompting a corrective action order from the Department of Transportation. Gee, only a dozen spills in less than a year. But experts warn that the more acidic and corrosive consistency of the type of tar sands oil being piped into the U.S. makes spills more likely, and have joined the EPA in calling on the State Department to conduct a thorough study of these risks. You bet! And call them again and again if they don’t deliver the information.

What’s more, the Keystone XL pipeline would traverse six U.S. states (Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma to Texas) and cross major rivers, including the Missouri River, Yellowstone, and Red Rivers, all gorgeous American country, as well as key sources of drinking and agricultural water, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies 2 million Americans. In short, it would turn the American landscape into a TransCanada toilet—blunt but true.

Refining tar sands oil

After traveling through the Keystone XL pipeline, tar sands oil would be brought to facilities in Texas to be further refined. I never thought I’d say this, but “poor Texas.” Refining tar sands oil is dirtier than refining conventional oil, and results in higher emissions of toxic sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide. These emissions cause smog, acid rain and contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma. Communities near the refineries where the Keystone XL pipeline would terminate, many of them low-income and communities of color, already live with dangerously high levels of air pollution. The Keystone XL pipeline would further exacerbate the heavy burden of pollution and environmental injustices these communities confront. And just because people “are of color” doesn’t give TransCanada the right to bury them.

Stopping the pipeline

Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest fuels on Earth. Investing in tar sands oil now will delay investments in clean and safe alternatives to oil, such as better fuel economy requirements, plug-in electric cars, and smart growth and public transportation infrastructure that give Americans choices other than cars. Amen.

But soon, President Obama will decide the fate of this pipeline. So let’s all Tell President Obama to say “No” to dirty tar sands oil. It’s a horrendous project, in opposition to all he’s worked for in the area of clean, sustainable energy.

Take action now with Friends of the Earth:

Tell the Obama administration to halt construction of the Keystone XL

Social media:

Join Friends of the Earth Facebook Page

Follow Friends of the Earth on Twitter

Fact sheet: Keystone XL: Pipeline for Dirty Tar Sands Oil (PDF)

Interviews:“Telling their stories: The Fight to Stop the Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline”

Recent press releases and related media:

Tar Sands and the Carbon Numbers,” New York Times editorial, August 21, 2011.

Dozens arrested outside White House in Keystone pipeline protests,” The Canadian Press, August 20, 2011.

Study warns of leak risks of Canada-U.S. oil pipe,” Reuters, July 11, 2011.

“Without Keystone XL, oil sands face choke point,” The Globe and Mail, June 8, 2011.

“EPA lining up with Keystone XL critics,” Lincoln Journal Star, June 7, 2011.

“Perilous pipeline: Will Hillary Clinton give the OK to a massive tar-sands pipeline?” Grist, June 3, 2011.

“Keystone Oil Pipeline: Regulators Block Restart Of Keystone Oil Pipeline, Cite Leaks,” Huffington Post, June 3, 2011.

“New Report Reveals ‘Dirty Business’ Practices of TransCanada Pipelines,” Friends of the Earth, April 28, 2011

“State Department Releases Supplemental Environmental Analysis on Keystone XL Tar Sands Oil Pipeline,” Friends of the Earth, April 15, 2011

Resources for journalists:

Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement still inadequate, say 34 members of Congress, June 1, 2011

32 groups call on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ensure meaningful public comment period, April 4, 2011

Memo: “Massive Tar Sands Oil Pipeline No Longer Sure Bet for Big Oil,” January 20, 2011

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at and He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.