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May 08, 2012

The Zombie Pipeline: TransCanada’s Keystone XL Is Alive Once Again

TS rally 1

Keystone XL remains a dangerous and unnecessary project. Americans agree that this pipeline should not be built once they learn the details. Our challenge is confronting a multi-million dollar lobbying and a PR campaign by TransCanada to force through their pipeline. It's hard for anyone to hear the truth with all that money being spread around, but we're working with people whose land is being taken and whose health and livelihood are threatened. The Sierra Club is fighting for a thorough scientific review of the project, something that TransCanada and other pipeline proponents are avoiding at all costs.

On Friday, TransCanada applied to the State Department for a Presidential Permit for the northern segment of Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would cross the Canadian-U.S. border in Montana and run down to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect with the existing Keystone 1 tar sands pipeline.

The Keystone XL northern segment is part of a larger pipeline system designed to deliver tar sands from the mines in Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast refineries for export to the international market. The pipeline would have an initial capacity of 830,000 bpd and would have the carbon footprint equivalent of building seven coal plants or putting five million new cars on our roads each year. TransCanada hopes to receive a Presidential Permit in early 2013, take 18 months or so to build the pipeline and commence operation by late 2014.

To receive the Presidential Permit, the Obama administration would need to find the pipeline in the "national interest," a term that is not formally defined, but -- according to the State Department -- includes "consideration of many factors, including energy security, health, environmental, cultural, economic, and foreign policy concerns."

As with its original application, TransCanada makes many misleading claims in the most recent application. The Sierra Club is working with its partners to analyze this permit application in detail. In the meantime, the facts about the Keystone XL remain the same:

  • A Future of Dirty Energy: Keystone XL is a dirty energy project that would open a major export artery for toxic tar sands across the United States for at least 50 years. A permit for Keystone XL would constitute a massive infrastructure commitment to some of the world's dirtiest oil.

  • Unnecessary Risk: The United States does not need Keystone XL. We have reduced our oil consumption by nearly two million bpd over the last five years, and with new fuel efficiency standards and the growing number of electric and hybrid cars, our oil use will continue to decline. A national increase of just 2.5 mpg average fuel economy negates the need for Keystone XL entirely.

  • Water Pollution: Keystone XL still passes through the Nebraska Sand Hills endangering the Ogallala Aquifer, drinking water for millions and the water source of one third of American agriculture. The Nebraska Farmers Union continues to oppose the dangerous project.

  • Raising Gas Prices: According to TransCanada, Keystone XL will raise oil prices in 16 Midwest states. This increase in the price of heavy crude is estimated to increase annual revenue to the Canadian producing industry in the first year of operation of the pipeline of $2 billion to $3.9 billion.  "U.S. farmers, who spent $12.4 billion on fuel in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could see expenses rise to $15 billion or higher in 2012 or 2013 if the pipeline goes through. Of course, American consumers will pay the price of this highway robbery. Food prices will rise because they reflect farm operating costs. In addition, millions of Americans will spend 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel fuel as tribute to our 'friendly' neighbors to the north."

  • Respiratory Disease and Cancer: The pollutants released by refining tar sands cause acid rain, smog, and haze, and are associated with elevated levels of lung disease and cancer.

  • Climate Disaster: The tar sands mean "game over" for the climate, according to NASA scientist James Hansen. 

In short, Keystone XL is not in our national interest. The Sierra Club is committed to halting the expansion of tar sands and will be working with our allies and activists to ensure that Keystone XL receives a rigorous and transparent environmental review process that includes:

1) a full environmental impact statement with public notice, comments, and hearings;

2) a third-party contractor with specific expertise in this project and without a prior conflict of interest;

3) a review of the climate impacts of bringing 830,000 bpd of tar sands into the United States.

The facts are clear: an honest review will demonstrate that it's time for the Obama administration to kill this zombie pipeline for good.

-- Kate Colarulli, Sierra Club's Beyond Oil Campaign.

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