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June 16, 2011

Tar Sands Oil Facing Growing Criticism, Doubt

The past few weeks, several congressional members have joined a growing coalition by openly questioning the wisdom behind the proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline that would cut through six states, pump up to 900,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day, and endanger the Ogallala Aquifer and clean water for countless Americans.

Anticipating this, pipeline proponents are cutting corners to expedite the decision process. That's because TransCanada's Keystone 1 pipeline that is currently operating is spilling oil with regularity, illustrating why the massive Keystone XL blueprint is such a bad idea.

After a recent spill of 16,000 gallons in North Dakota, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration last week turned off the Keystone 1 pipeline. The next day, the government changed its mind, and the oil began flowing again. But the cat was out of the bag, or the oil was out of the pipe, so to speak. The Keystone 1, flaws and all, has experienced 12 spills in less than a year. Sadly, spills from TransCanada are a dirty dime a dozen.

Congressional members are openly asking (pdf) the State Department to extend the Keystone XL process and make it more transparent. This comes in addition to the Environmental Protection Agency taking strong issue with the general lack of analysis behind the proposal.

And this week, groundwater experts at the University of Nebraska rebuked the Keystone XL plan, emphasizing "how their state's fragile sandhills region is particularly vulnerable to crude oil pollution from a pipeline spill and why a research information gap needs to be closed."

Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have prioritized the pipeline's passage and will bring it to the full committee next month. This legislation would set a deadline and place pressure on the Obama administration and the State Department to make a decision.

Recklessly rushing the process to approve the Keystone XL pipeline makes sense if you're pro-oil and its clumsy cousin, the Keystone 1, keeps spilling. If Keystone XL is approved, "we will live with the pipeline and its impacts for 50 years or more," said committee member Rep. Henry Waxman.

TransCanada's supporters will no doubt use gas prices as an excuse to rush the project. But there's no evidence that this project will deliver any relief to drivers at the pump. Click here and watch Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation explain:

"What's happening is that Canadian oil is already coming into the Midwest refineries, and this pipeline is designed to take that oil and instead shift it down to the Gulf Coast refineries. When they do that, they can manipulate the supply between two pipelines and charge higher prices," Symons says. Toxic oil from tar sands will not decrease gas prices and will not make the country safer. It will ensure business as usual.

Tell the State Department that it must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

(Photo: The Enbridge pipeline from last year's Kalamazoo River oil spill. Photo credit: National Transportation Safety Board.)

-- Brian Foley

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