The Controversy Surrounding The Keystone Xl Pipeline

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For those of you who are not fully aware of it, the Keystone Pipeline is an oil pipeline system that is used by the United States and Canada for the purposes of transporting crude oil and diluted bitumen to refining centres, where it can then be turned into petroleum and diesel fuels.

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Photo credit: Shannon Ramos (obtained from Flickr).

The Keystone Pipeline currently runs from Alberta in Canada to American oil refineries in Nebraska, Illinois and Texa, and this pipeline infrastructure is capable of supplying more than half a million to three-quarters of a million barrels of crude oil on a daily basis.

Although three phases of the Keystone Pipeline have been completed thus far, with the third having only been completed in January 2014, the fourth phase is currently awaiting government approval.

Dubbed Keystone XL, the proposed route of this pipeline would begin in Hardisty, Alberta (Canada) and finish in Steele City, Nebraska (United States). This route was approved by Nebraska’s governor, Dave Heineman, back in 2013, but construction approval still hasn’t been made by the United States government as of yet.

That is because there is a lot of controversy surrounding this proposed fourth phase of the Keystone Pipeline. Here are some reasons why:

1. Greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands

The source of the oil being sent down the pipelines is the oil sands of Alberta in Canada. Although many people believe oil is found by drilling into the ground or extracted from offshore oil rigs, another way of extracting oil is from highly viscous oil sands.

In fact, the oil contained in this concoction of oil, clay and sand is so thick, it has to be turned into a diluted bitumen mix so that it can be pumped through the Keystone Pipeline! The problem here is that the extraction processes developed by firms such as Ausenco typically produce anything up to 17% more greenhouse gases than conventional oil extraction methods

2. The US government is undecided

The State Department recently published a notice inviting interested parties to publicly comment on the Keystone XL project before a deadline of March 7, 2014. This invitation is clear evidence that the US government is somewhat undecided – and divided – on the matter.

US president Barack Obama initially objected to the original route which would have seen the Keystone XL pipeline being routed through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska due to environmental concerns, and even though the governor of Nebraska has approved the modified route, it’s obvious that the president is feeling somewhat skeptical over the project in general now.

. President Obama is caught between a rock and a hard place

One thing about having such a high-profile job like the president of the United States is that everything you say can and will be scrutinised. The reason why President Obama is not completely for or against the Keystone XL pipeline is that back in June 2013 he gave a speech about climate change and how he wants the United States to reduce greenhouse gases.

If he approves Keystone XL, his efforts on tackling the issue of greenhouse gases will be dismissed as pure lies (owing to the increased greenhouse gases from oil sand production), yet if he disapproves the pipeline, it would not make the oil industry, or indeed many thousands of Americans who would have been able to get new jobs, particularly happy.

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