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THIS WEEK'S TOP ISSUE

Facts About the Keystone XL Pipeline

By: The Issue Wonk

Last Update: 3/19/2014

Abstract:

 

FACTS ABOUT THE KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE

 What Are Tar Sands?

Tar sands are bituminous sands; i.e., oil sands. Sand filled with oil. They are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, “a heavy black viscous oil.” Tar sands cannot be pumped from the ground. “Instead tar sand deposits are mined, usually using strip mining or open pit techniques, or the oil is extracted by underground heating with additional upgrading.” (U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement)

One of the largest deposits of tar sands is in Canada, in the northern part of the province of Alberta. Known as the Athabasca Oil Sands Project, it is run by Shell Oil. In 2010 Athabasca produced about 100,000 barrels a day. (Rigzone) Since then Shell has expanded production and they will continue to do so. They are now considered part of the world’s oil reserves. [Note: This might be a good time to point out the ludicrous word “production.” They are not “producing” anything. They are “extracting” something.]

 

Diluted bitumen or dilbit is a combination of tar sands crude (bitumen) and dangerous liquid chemicals like benzene (the dilutant) used to thin the crude so it can be piped to refineries. (Wikipedia) Benzene is a clear, colorless liquid that is extremely flammable. It can “accumulate static charge by flow or agitation.” It is a carcinogen and a mutagen - causing genetic damage. (Sierra Club) Dilbit is acidic, with “organic acid concentrations up to 20 times higher than conventional crude oil” and “contains up to 10 times more sulfur.” It creates friction, “which raises the material’s temperature and amplifies its corrosive qualities.” It is abrasive, “like quartz and pyrite and particles.” And it is viscous. It is 40 to 70 times more viscous than North American conventional crude oil. This high viscosity requires tar sands pipelines to operate at higher pressures than conventional pipelines.” (TarSandsFreeNE)

 

Dilbit is called “dirty oil” and we currently import more than 500,000 barrels a day from Canada’s oil sands region. If the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, that amount will go to 1,500,000 barrels a day. (CNN Money)


Keystone Pipelines


The Keystone Pipelines are constructed, laid, and operated by TransCanada.

 

The Keystone Pipeline is currently in place, going from Hardisty, Alberta to Houston, Texas. However, the completed portion from Cushing, Oklahoma to Houston - called the Gulf Coast Project - is an “XL” project because it was built with 36-inch diameter pipe. The original Keystone pipeline is built with 30-inch pipe. (The Kansas Lifeline) The Houston Lateral Project, currently being constructed, is also an “XL” project.

 

What is referred to as the Keystone XL Pipeline will also go from Hardisty to Houston but will take a different route to Steele City, Nebraska, where it will join up with the existing Keystone XL Pipeline.


BAKKEN OIL FIELD


Something that has gone under the radar, and may be having an effect on the political push for approval of the pipeline, is its connection to the Bakken Shale Oil field. “The Bakken Shale is one of the most active oil fields in the United States of America. Drilling in the Bakken formation has caused a huge economic boom to North Dakota and Montana. Just in the North Dakota portion alone, the Bakken is producing over 800,000 barrels of oil per day in 2013.” (Oil Shale Gas)

 

TransCanada has planned a 5-mile portion of the pipeline they are calling the  Bakken Marketlink Project. It will connect the Keystone XL pipeline to the shale oil extracted from the Bakken oil shale formation in the Williston Basin in Montana and North Dakota. An uplink to the Keystone XL is planned for Baker, MT at the southern tip of the Bakken formation. (CS Monitor)

 

ARGUMENTS


Environmental Impact


I’m not going to go into climate change here. We all know it’s happening and we’re going to be screwed. We don’t need to save the planet. The planet will be fine. It’s the people living on it that are going to be screwed. The sooner we eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere the less screwed we’re going to be. (If you still don’t believe this, watch the PBS video done by a religious, Republican science professor.) Tar sands oil will increase greenhouse gases. If we are complicit in encouraging the use of these oils by aiding in their transport to refineries, we’re signing our own death warrant.

 

“Making liquid fuels from oil sands requires energy for steam injection and refining. This process generates 2 to 4 times the amount of greenhouse gases per barrel of final product as the production of conventional oil. If combustion of the final product is included, the so-called ‘Well to Wheels’ approach, oil sands extraction, upgrade, and use emits 10% to 45% more greenhouse gases than conventional crude.” (Wikipedia) [Emphasis added.]

 

A 2011 report by Rebecca Rooney, Suzanne Bayley, and David Schindler of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta and published by the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A., oil sands has a higher CO2 emission than previously thought, and they had thought it was very high. They found that tar sands mining causes a “massive loss of peatland and stored carbon.”

 

In July 2012, 10 of the nation’s top scientists sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter, asking her why the State Department isn’t considering the climate change effects of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. “At the moment, your department is planning to consider the effects of the pipeline on ‘recreation,’ ‘visual resources,’ and ‘noise,’ among other factors. . . Those are important - but omitting climate change from the considerations is neither wise nor credible.” (350.org)

 

In April 2013 environmental groups Oil Change International, Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Environment America, National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, and Greenpeace published a report that found that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be responsible for at least 181 million metric tons of the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year. This is the equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars - greater than the 2011 total annual carbon dioxide emissions of the U.S.

 

And, according to a February 2014 article in the Smithsonian Magazine, tar sands mining produces more pollution than previously calculated, 2 to 3 orders of magnitude higher.

 

And don’t forget petcoke. Petroleum Coke is the by-product of refining tar sands oil. We are accumulating mounds of it in the Midwest near the refineries. [See piles in Detroit (NY Times) and Chicago (Midwest Energy News)] No one knows what to do with it except for the Koch Brothers, who own a company called Koch Carbon that sells petcoke to markets overseas where it is burned for fuel. It is the most carbon dioxide-rich fuel there is. (NY Times)


Refining


The U.S. has about 144 oil refineries (Roughneck Chronicles) but the number that can refine tar sands oil is growing. In 2008 the Society of Environmental Journalists announced that, while no new refineries had been built in the U.S. for 30 years, 5 were being built and were “slated to process Canadian Tar Sands crude. This means that a fair amount of the air and water pollution, energy and water resource needs, solid and toxic waste, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the Tar Sands will be moving south of the border.” [Emphasis added.] But it isn’t just new refineries. “Also in the works are plans to retool 800,000 bpd [barrel per stream day capacity] of existing U.S. refining capacity to process Tar Sands oil from tar sands.”

 

According to a report by Forest Ethics, refineries using tar sands “generally produce more intense sulfur dioxide air pollution that is, today, not adequately regulated. The result is heightened health risks in communities living near tar sands refineries.” In 2008 the top 5 sulfur dioxide polluters were ExxonMobil in Joliet, IL; WRB in Wood River, IL; PBF Energy in Toledo, OH; CITGO in Lemont, IL; and Valero in Benicia, CA. 3 of these 5 were refining tar sands.


Leaks


Let me point out that the already existing pipelines carrying tar sands burst and leak frequently. It’s difficult to move this stuff. There have been many known spills on the existing Keystone Pipeline since the start of its operation in June 2010. (Tar Sands Pipelines) The major reason for the pipe breaches is that the pipes are moving dilbit, which is extremely acidic and thus extremely corrosive. (See above.) According to Scientific American:


Critics charge that pipelines carrying diluted bitumen, or ‘dilbit’ - a heavy oil extracted from tar sands mined in northern Alberta - pose a special risk because, compared with more conventional crude, they must operate at high temperatures, which have been linked to increased corrosion. These pipelines also have to flow at high pressures that may contribute to rupture as well. Environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) notes that pipelines in the upper Midwest that routinely carry oil from tar sands have spilled 3.6 times more oil per pipeline mile than the U.S. average. The Arkansas and Kalamazoo accidents both involved dilbit.


The list of catastrophic leaks is long, but here’s just a few.

 

In July 2010 a pipeline operated by Enbridge near Marshall, Michigan burst, spilling more than a million gallons of dilbit into an open field. It eventually, however, made its way to the Talmadge Creek where its 1 million gallons flowed 30 miles to the Kalamazoo River and contaminated a lake. Operators, despite being aware of the breach, didn’t shut down the pipeline for 17 hours. “In the weeks after the spill, health officials identified 145 patients who reported illness or symptoms associate with the leak.” As of spring 2012 the cleanup was still going on. (TarSandsFreeNE)

 

In July 2011 a pipeline operated by ExxonMobil burst about 10 miles west of Billings, Montana, spilling crude into the Yellowstone River and forcing evacuation of about 140 people due to fears of an explosion. (NY Times) This pipeline had been shut down a few months before the accident for safety violations. (CBS News) This pipeline was carrying tar sands. (Reuters)

 

In March 2013 a pipeline operated by ExxonMobil, part of the Pegasus pipeline network, ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, forcing 20 homes to be evacuated and shutting down sections of an interstate highway. (Raw Story)

 

If you want to know what this means to the millions of people living along these - and the potential - pipelines, read this report from Inside Climate News on the spill that occurred near Marshall, Michigan.

 

Another travesty is a glitch in the law that frees the oil companies from paying for the cleanups. There’s a federal fund that oil companies pay into for the clean up of spills. But dilbit is not classified as oil and thus is exempt from the oil tax. (InsideClimateNews) So, they operate in a negligent manner without paying a tax and without being responsible for cleaning up messes. Guess who pays for the clean up. Go on. Guess.

 

Of course, much of the safety of pipelines is dependent upon how well they are constructed. The southern portion of the Keystone XL - from Cushing, Oklahoma to Houston, Texas - was recently completed. Public Citizen, in a recent report, documented “construction problems and apparent engineering code violations along the Texas portion of the southern segment of the pipeline.” It also documented “more than 125 excavations in 250 miles of possible ‘anomalies’ on pipe that had been buried for months. Those anomalies included dents, sags, and other problems that could lead to spills or leakage of toxic tar sands crude.” Who can guarantee that moving dilbit through these pipelines is safe?

 

Then there’s the Ogallala Aquifer. The proposed northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline would go right over it. The Ogallala Aquifer is “America’s largest underground water reserve, stretching 174,000 square miles and underlies 8 Great Plains States.” (National Geographic) It is central to all the crops grown in America’s bread basket - the middle part of the country. And it’s already disappearing. In some places the water has already been depleted. (Scientific American) So what happens if the pipeline ruptures and contaminates what’s left of the Ogallala Aquifer?

 

Nine Nobel Peace Prize recipients wrote to President Obama asking him not to approve the pipeline. (Nobel Women’s Initiative) Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa (1984), His Holiness the Dalai Lama (1989), Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams of Ireland (who shared the prize in 1976), Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina (1980), Rigoberta Menchú Tum of Guatemala (1992), José Ramos-Horta of East Timor (1996), Jody Williams of the U.S. (1997), and Shirin Ebadi of Iran (2003). They’ve asked Obama “to do the right thing for our environment” and reject the proposal. They wrote:

 

 

 

 

All along its prospective route, the pipeline endangers farms, wildlife and precious water aquifers - including the Ogallala Aquifer, the U.S.’ main source of freshwater for America’s heartland. . . We know that another pipeline that covers some of the same route as the proposed pipeline, and built by the same company proposing to build Keystone XL, already leaked 14 times over its first year of operation. . . We urge you to say “no” to the plan proposed by the Canadian-based company TransCanada to build the Keystone XL, and to turn your attention back to supporting renewable sources of energy and clean transportation solutions. This will be your legacy to Americans and the global community: energy that sustains the lives and livelihoods of future generations.

 

And don’t forget about the Bakken Oil Shale field. In September 29, 2013 a farmer innorthwest North Dakota discovered crude oil “spewing and bubbling 6 inches high” out of his wheat field while he was harvesting. It came from a break in Tesoro Corporation’s underground pipeline which carries crude from the Bakken Oil Shale formation to Columbus, North Dakota. More than 20,000 barrels of oil were spilled. (AP) How bad is it? Check out photo from Greenpeace.

 

Shipping by Rail


What about shipping by rail? One of the key findings of the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement is that if the pipeline wasn’t built, the dilbit would be moved by rail. Of course, rail is currently being used. According to the Association of American Railroads, crude oil traveling by rail increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to an estimated 400,000 in 2013. And ExxonMobil recently announced that they have already begun to move the dilbit by rail and plans to increase the amount up to 100,000 barrels per day from a new terminal by 2015. (Fuel Fix) So, what the State Department’s report is saying is that tar sands will be developed and it will be moved through the United States to the Gulf of Mexico with or without the pipeline. Are we required to allow TransCanada to move this stuff across the United States? Does our North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) require it? Maybe. I don’t know.

 

But is rail safe? Apparently the State Department doesn’t think so. An analysis by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found that 7 of the worst 10 railroad oil spills of the past decade happened in the last 3 years. This analysis didn’t include the accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec last July which killed 47 people and nearly destroyed the town. (Guardian)

 

Since rail appears to be so dangerous, the argument goes, we should build the pipeline. I would argue that rail is dangerous for several reasons. First, there’s little regulation. If the government regulated the railroad companies better they could mandate better maintained tracks and better cars and more safety. In fact, the Lac-Megantic incident forced the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in conjunction with the Canadians, to issue a report recommending increased safety measures. And why are the cars and tracks is such disrepair? Because the companies are willing to compromise safety in order to increase profits. And, remember, if it’s dilbit, only the taxpayers will have to bear the burden of the clean-up.

 

So, the argument that rail transport is so dangerous that we must use the pipeline is ridiculous. And, of course, the entire argument is based on the premise that we must allow the transport across the U.S.


Canada’s Responsibility


If tar sands are so great, why doesn’t Canada refine and transport it? Well, they don’t have many refineries (Natural Resources Canada) and they have, as far as I was able to discern, only 4 that can handle dilbit. (Vancouver Observer) There is a refinery proposed in British Columbia, the Kitimat, but it doesn’t look like it will be approved. “Does anyone really think that British Columbians are going to approve the construction of a refinery more than double the size of Canada’s largest existing refinery given the province’s environmental values? Does anyone think it’ll get past B.C.’s strong environmental regulations?” (Troy Media) That leaves Shell's Athabasca Tar Sands extraction dependent on U.S. refineries.

 

What about moving the dilbit through Canada to the coast for transport? Well, they can’t do that. British Columbia announced it was rejecting the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline, saying “it fails to address the province’s environmental concerns.” (CBC)

 

Oh, by the way. Canadians are protesting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, too. (The Global Oyster)

 

U.S. Energy Security

 

Another argument in favor of the pipeline is that of the oil will be ours and, thus, cut down the cost of oil products, like gasoline, giving us “energy security.” Hogwash. The pipeline is running to the Gulf refineries for a reason - it’s easy to get the refined oil into freighters. It’ll be sold on the world market, much of it to China. We take the risks; they get the oil. And the price for us doesn’t come down. We still have to buy it on the world market.

 

But it’s not only China; it’s the oil companies who’ll get the refined oil and much of what they buy will be paid for with taxpayer subsidies. Remember, we give subsidies to all the oil companies. So, we not only will take on the risks of the pipeline, we’ll pay the oil companies to take the oil and sell it to other nations. According to a report by Oil Change International, Valero, “the top beneficiary of the Keystone XL pipeline, has recently explicitly detailed an export strategy to its investors. The nation’s top refiner has locked in at least 20% of the pipeline’s capacity, and, because its refinery in Port Arthur [Texas] is within a Foreign Trade Zone, the company will accomplish its export strategy tax free.” [Emphasis added.]

 

Also according to the Oil Change International report, another interested party is Shell, in partnership with Saudi Aramco in the refining company Motiva, which “is currently expanding its Port Arthur refinery to become the largest in the U.S. with substantial heavy sour crude [tar sands] capacity.” Valero’s “Investment Highlights” states: “Located at large, Gulf Coast refinery to leverage existing operations and export logistics.” [Emphasis added.] And Total is also interested. “Total has stakes in the tar sands and has a newly-upgraded refinery in Port Arthur.” There are more. Now, let me remind you that the U.S. government gives refiners billions of dollars in subsidies annually. So, we’ll pay to have our land destroyed and endanger our water supply with no benefits accruing to us. However, in order for the U.S. to approve this, it must be in the “national interest.” I wonder how they’ll spin this.

 

What about all the oil that is ours, that we’re drilling out of our land? According to Businessweek, we have surpassed Russia as the largest exporter of refined oil products like gasoline and diesel. “Canada’s fuel imports from the U.S. jumped 15% in 2012. Brazil’s demand for U.S.-made fuel rose 6%. China’s leapt 17%. Exports to Venezuela and India more than doubled. Without realizing it, U.S. drivers are competing for American-made gasoline with consumers in Latin America and Asia, where demand is rising.” [Emphasis added.] You think adding tar sands from Canada is going to change anything?

 

What about our Midwest refineries, which are now getting the tar sands through the existing Keystone pipeline? (Pipeline & Gas Journal) That oil is primarily staying here in the U.S. because it’s cheaper to keep it here than ship it to the coast for export. But when the Keystone XL pipeline is completed, that tar sands oil will by-pass Midwest refineries and go directly to the Gulf Coast refineries for export to other countries. According to Bloomberg, completion of the Keystone XL pipeline will raise gas prices by as much as 20¢ a gallon in the Midwest, Great Plains, and Rocky Mountains.


Jobs


Of course there’s the once-proffered argument (but now largely dropped) that construction of the pipeline will create jobs.

 

In November 2011 they said it would create 200,000 jobs. (The Gateway Pundit) Then in December 2011 they said it would create 100,000 jobs. (NPR) In the meantime, many analysts were reporting that it would create only 50,000 jobs. (Benzinga) In September 2011 (updated January 2012) Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute released a report entitled Pipe Dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of Keystone XL.


The project will create no more than 2,500 - 4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for 2 years, according to TransCanada’s own data supplied to the State Department.


And there’s this:


The industry’s claim that KXL will create 119,000 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced) is based on a flawed and poorly documented study commissioned by TransCanada (The Perryman Group study). Perryman wrongly includes over $1 billion in spending and over 10,000 person-years of employment for a section of the Keystone project in Kansas and Oklahoma that is not part of KXL and has already been built.


There’s more interesting stuff in here. “There is strong evidence to suggest that a large portion of the primary material input for KXL - steel pipe - will not even be produced in the United States.” If nothing else, read the Main Findings.

 

TransCanada’s allegations of job-creation have been so overblown that it “could face an inquiry into whether it deceived investors by inflating the job-creation potential” of the pipeline. Greenpeace has filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “alleging TransCanada made ‘false or misleading statements’ about the project, citing evidence from the company’s Canadian filings and the U.S. Department of State to show that the project would create less than 7,000 jobs - if that - in the U.S.” (International Business Times)

 

Now we hear from the State Department that once it’s built it will need about 20 people to run it. (Bloomberg) And will they be Canadian or U.S. citizens? For that matter, will the construction workers be Canadian or U.S. citizens?

 

More Tar Sands Projects


The Keystone pipelines carrying dilbit from the Athabasca mines in Alberta are just the start. If we are complicit in facilitating the use of these oils we might as well give up the fight right now. “In the United States, tar sands resources are primarily concentrated in Eastern Utah, mostly on public lands. The in-place tar sands oil resources in Utah are estimated at 12 to 19 billion barrels.” (U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement) The first of these operations has already been approved. It is a mining operation at the Tavaputs Plateau not far from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Eastern Utah. It’s run by a Canadian company by the name of U.S. Oil Sands (formerly Earth Energy Resources) and it has been given the co-ahead to start tar sands oil extraction. “The company anticipates that it will produce 2,000 barrels of oil a day once it is ramped up to full production. With a 7-year project lifespan, one estimate puts its contribution to the country’s fuel supply at 6 hours.” 6 hours of fuel and how much environmental damage? (AlterNet)

 

SO WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?


Profits


Despite all this information, the State Department issued its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. It states that the pipeline would not significantly alter global greenhouse gas emissions. Why, in the face of all the information to the contrary, would the State Department’s report say this? Well, because it wasn’t assessed or written by the State Department. It was done by a contractor.

 

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was running for the Democratic nomination for president, her campaign committee’s national deputy director and chief of staff for delegate selection was Paul Elliot. Elliot now is a lobbyist for TransCanada, the company that will have the contract to build the pipeline. (Tars and Pipelines)

 

Cardno Entrix, “a professional environmental consulting company” that specializes in “permitting and compliance,” also “manages the [state] department’s Keystone XL website and drafted the department’s [draft] environmental impact statement” in 2011. It found no problems with the project. The assessment then moved into the public comment phase so the State Department had a place for those comments. However, any public comments sent to the State Department didn’t go to the State Department. They went to the Cardno email account. (See also Think Progress)

 

So, how good is the State Department’s report? Well, like I said, it was written by contractors. At the time of the report’s release, the State Department also released administrative documents that listed outside contractors who had helped with the writing of the report. “The contractor that produced the bulk of the report was Environmental Resources Management (ERM), an international consulting firm.” ERM bid for the contract and that bid included a 55-page conflict-of-interest filing which stated that ERM had no conflicts of interest with writing the report. However, “[t]he bios for the ERM’s experts were redacted.” Mother Jones obtained a copy of the bios that was not redacted and “here’s what those redactions kept secret.” Andrew Bielakowski was “second-in-command” writing the report. He “had worked on 3 previous pipeline projects for TransCanada over 7 years as an outside consultant. He also consulted on projects for ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, 3 of the Big 5 oil companies that could benefit from the Keystone XL project and increased extraction of heavy crude oil taken from the Canadian tar sands.” Other ERM employees with conflicts of interest include one who worked for Shell Oil and one who worked as a consultant for Koch Gateway Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Koch Industries.

 

And why do the corporations want this so bad? Well, it’s about the money, of course.

 

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), 79% of the world’s oil reserves are controlled by national governments. Out of the 21% left accessible to private industry, more than half is located in Alberta’s oil sands. (Vancouver Observer)

 

Koch Industries, called by Hoovers as “one of the largest (if not the largest) privately owned company in the United States,” is involved in “refining and chemicals; process and pollution control equipment and technologies” and much, much more. (SourceWatch) According to an October 2013 report from the International Forum on Globalization entitled Billionaires' Carbon Bomb: The Koch Keystone XL Pipeline, Koch Industries and its subsidiaries will make as much as $100 billion in profits (not revenue, profits) if the pipeline is built. The Kochs have spent more than $50 million on Congress and think tanks to push the pipeline through.

 

Mining:  According to the Global Oyster, “Although the Canadian Prime Minister and natural resources minister argue that Keystone XL and other oil sands projects will benefit the Canadian economy, an analysis of shareholder information conducted by a British Columbia-based conservation group, Forest Ethics Advocacy, found that 71% of ownership of oil sands projects was foreign, and that between 2007 and 2011, $11.7 billion of investments in oil sands production was coming from China alone (around 16% of total investments at that juncture).” So, there are huge profits in the mining.

 

Refining:  Refiners, like Shell and ExxonMobil, can buy tar sands cheap. Very cheap. They then refine it and sell it on the world market for huge profits. (Motley Fool)

 

Costs 


According to a study by the University of Toronto’s environmental chemistry research group, health and environmental risks of all tar sands operations have probably been underestimated. “Researchers say emissions of potentially hazardous air pollution that were used in environmental reviews done before approving some projects did not include evaporation from tailings ponds or other sources, such as dust from mining sites.” (Globe and Mail) So, tar sands wouldn’t be so cheap if we made them pay for their externalities - the health and environmental damage they do. But they don’t pay for it. We do.

 

Something that is rarely mentioned when discussing the Bakken Shale Oil field is that the oil is extracted by hydraulic fracturing - “fracking.” I’m not going to go into the problems with fracking here. Still, it’s something to keep in mind. And don’t forget that oil shale is quite similar to tar sands. Oil shale refers to “any sedimentary rock that contains solid bituminous materials (called kerogen) that are released as petroleum-like liquids when the rock is heated in the chemical process of pyrolysis.” While the Bakken Oil Shale field is huge, there is another called the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. (U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement) So, we shouldn’t just be concerned about tar sands flowing through pipes across the U.S. We need to be concerned about all of it: mining, transporting, refining, and using tar sands and oil shale fuels. And, just to plug it one more time, this PBS video demonstrates quite clearly that we don’t need to burn more fossil fuels, especially ones as dirty as tar sands. We have plenty of alternatives that are available now.

 

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