Sustainability

Oil pipeline raises environmental concerns

One of the most important environmental-civil action issues is over the construction and operation of the Keystone XL pipeline. A campaign group called Tar Sands Action has kept up its valiant effort to stop the pipeline in the past few months. A powerful demonstration will be occurring on November 6 involving a massive crowd of people to encircle the White House as a symbol of protecting our future and hope.

If you haven’t heard of the Keystone XL, you have most likely heard of the debate over the tar sands. This pipeline will carry the bituminous tar sand extract over 1,700 miles of terrain from Alberta, Canada, to Port Arthur, Texas, for refining. It is proposed to traverse through America’s agricultural heartland including the Ogallala Aquifer (which supplies 30 percent of the nation’s groundwater for irrigation) and protected wildlife habitat. The environmental implications make the pipeline very controversial.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are too many risks associated with the pipeline, such as “leaks or ruptures due to corrosion.” In addition, the safety and response standards for dealing with crude bitumen leaks in the U.S. aren’t adequate enough to handle a disaster. Keep in mind that any spill will affect farmland, wildlife habitat, and critical water resources. Leaks and spills are common incidents in similar pipelines. A rupture in the Keystone XL could be a “revisiting” of the BP oil spill but with much different environmental consequences, one of them being the contamination of groundwater (drinking water) for two million people.

Pollutants from tar sands refineries present both health and climate issues. The tar sands oil contains more sulfur, nitrogen, and metals than conventional crude oils according to Natural Resources Defense Council. Even in the face of the most significant underlying, yet prominent issue, climate change, this project is still being proposed. The hydrocarbons from these tar sands will be equivalent to releasing a giant “carbon bomb” into the atmosphere. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are 1.15 billion tons of additional greenhouse gas emissions in addition to the Environmental Impact Statement estimate of 12–23 million metric tons of CO2 released in this project (Tar Sands Action 2011). This project will only hinder our progress to meet an 80 percent reduction goal in carbon emissions by 2050.

There still is hope to end the construction of this pipeline. Tar Sands Action, an activist group led by 350.org’s Bill McKibben, is not stepping down anytime soon. The group led one of the largest action events (civil disobedience) in decades in September, which led to 1,253 arrests. These people represent the millions of people whose lives will be affected by the operation of the pipeline. Campaign officials are working to make sure that President Barack Obama is committed to clean energy. For more information and to sign up, go to http://tarsandsaction.org/.

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