Thursday, July 29, 2010

Keystone: America's link to our "gentle" neighbor to the north, and their dirty, not-so-little, secret

Left: Syncrude's oil sands operations, Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo by: David Dodge, CPAWS

In June Congress conducted public hearings on the expansion southward into the U.S. of the Keystone pipeline, which is already delivering oil from Alberta's tar sands mining operations to Illinois.

Plans are to continue this pipeline to Oklahoma and, eventually to the Gulf of Mexico and perhaps Houston. More long-range plans extend the exploitation of tar sands into the Yukon's Mackenzie River Basin and the "North Slope" along the Arctic Ocean. As our nations, at each decision point, commit resources to these projects we are further locking in our fate, and narrowing our options to develop alternatives.

The industrialization of the Arctic and Subarctic ecosystems, elimination of arboreal forests, warming of the planet, contamination of pristine waters and endangerment of wildlife populations and indigenous cultures - all this must be considered when we fill up our gas tanks.

Industry is here to satisfy our "needs". We define those "needs" are and the value we place on them. Industry simply responds to the challenges, serving both customers and their bottom line. (Of course, when I say "we", I particularly target the richest 10% of Americans, who control most of the country's wealth. Our profligate consumption of fossil fuel far exceeds the "average American".)

These projects are being marketed as providing "energy security" and reducing our reliance upon "foreign oil".

Canada has been America's largest oil supplier for some time now. Fifty years ago, the U.S. had no need for foreign oil, now our reservoirs have been so depleted that we can supply only about 25% of our requirements, and increasingly this oil is coming from higher-risk operations, such as deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska's North Slope and planned Arctic Ocean operations, and increasingly from much more inefficient sources, such as the tar sands in Alberta or the oil shales of the Rocky Mountain States.

For oil and engineering companies, such as Bechtel, the Keystone pipeline general contractor, profitability favors continuing those operations you do best and most efficiently, that is building new pipelines and wells. Diverting energy to explore renewables, in the short term, hurts the bottom line.

For some background on this project, see:

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) PR page (Note the soft, soothing colors.)

Another industry PR machine: Consumer Energy Alliance

The resistance: OilSandsWatch.org and photos from the Alberta oil sands project.

And, in breaking news, one of Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.'s  many aging pipelines has spilled nearly a million gallons of oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

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