Issues Defining the Proposed Keystone XL Oil Pipeline

Recently, the US Senate consented to the completion of the building of the controversy-ridden Keystone XL Oil Pipeline (KXLP). Even then, President Obama vetoed the consent. The putting up of the entire KXLP is expected to have considerable socioeconomic, ecological, and political ramifications in the not only the US but also Canada. Notably, Keystone Pipeline (KP) before now exists. The KXLP is a proposed extension of the KP. As of now, the KP runs from Cushing in Oklahoma to the Albertan oil fields of Canada. Once complete, the KXLP would add 1,700 pipeline miles to the existing KP network. Already, a part of 1,700 miles has been covered by the KXLP component already connecting the current Cushing-located oil bottleneck to the oil refineries located in the Texan Gulf Coast. The remaining Keystone XL Pipeline component is expected to connect Kansas to Alberta. The component will go through the North Dakotan and Montanan Bakken Shale area. Currently, the area is defined by a booming oil extraction industry (Avery, 2013; Wood, 2015).

The southern KXLP leg links into the present KP, which brings to the Texan oil refineries about 700,000 oil barrels daily from the Albertan oil fields. In the near future, it is expected to bring in not only light crude oil as it has done previously but also tar sand-harvested heavy crude oil. Canada has been keen on having the northern Keystone XL Oil Pipeline leg, connecting Kansas to Alberta, in place for several years. Given that the leg traverses the international boundary between Canada and USA, TransCanada requires getting an approval from the US Senate and presidency to put it up. The leg is the KXLP component that has attracted marked contestations. In 2014, Obama did not give the requisite permit for its construction, citing an ongoing court case regarding the route of the component in Nebraska. That has led to the stalling of the plans to construct the contested northern Keystone XL Oil Pipeline leg despite the expected benefits.

Proponents of the disputed northern KXLP leg are always quick to point out the benefits anticipated to stem from its completion and usage. The supporters, or proponents, include the majority of US residents, most of them Republicans; the Republican Party; and TransCanada. With respect to the US economy, TransCanada contends that the project will create tens of thousands of jobs for US residents and considerably stimulate the country’s economy. Even then, the number of jobs that may arise from the project as projected is contested by the presidency and organizations such as the Cornell ILR Global Labor Institute. Even then, there is consensus that thousands of employment openings, albeit temporary, will arise from the project.

There may be an unexpected economic outcome arising from the project: the shifting of Canadian jobs to the US. The increase of the amount of crude oil exported by Canada to the US may raise the revenues got by the Albertan oil producers. Their increased earnings will impact positively on the Albertan oil extraction industry. Consequently, the Canadian dollar will become stronger and stronger, particularly compared to the US dollar, reducing the competitiveness of the country’s exports and manufacturing industry. The industry’s reduced competitiveness may see probably hundreds of thousands of Canadians lose their jobs. Many of the jobs would probably stream into the US, positively impacting on the US manufacturing industry’s employment capacity.

Most Republicans argue that the project will benefit the US geopolitically. They contend that the northern Keystone XL Pipeline leg will enable USA heighten own energy security as well as limit reliance on foreign crude oil. TransCanada asserts that USA requires in excess of 10 million imported oil barrels daily (Avery, 2013; Wood, 2015). Most Republicans view the project as capable of helping the US substitute its import of Venezuelan heavy crude oil with the import of Canadian heavy crude oil. Diplomatically, Venezuela ties to the US are weaker than the ties that US has to Canada. Despite these diverse benefits expected to stem from the project, various downsides are expected to arise from it.

Opponents of the project are always keen to point out the harm that the US stands to suffer by approving it. Presently, the opponents include many Democrats, individual environmentalists, environmental organizations, landowners, sections of the US media, and Native Americans along with Indigenous Canadians. As regards environmental integrity, diverse politicians, environmental organizations, and citizens have expressed their worry that the project will affect the environment adversely in areas that it will traverse. Their worry especially relates to oil spillage threats posed by oil pipelines. As well, many the areas where the pipeline would go through have markedly sensitive soil structures.  Oil spillages pollute critical supplies of water and the air in the areas where they happen. In some areas, they harm wildlife, including migratory birds (Bigelow & Swinehart, 2014; Pagano, 2014). Originally, the northern Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Leg was planned to go over Sandhills, an expansive Nebraskan wetland ecosystem, as well the expansive fresh water reserve known as Ogallala Aquifer. The pipeline would pose significant threat to the ecosystem and the reserve according to environmentalist opposed to its construction.

As regards politics, the northern Keystone XL Oil Pipeline leg was one of the topmost-tier issues defining the 2014 elections in the US. Democrats were in a dilemma on whether or not to call on Obama to consent to its completion. Many environmentalists were keen on campaigning against the candidates who supported the completion. The matters that related to the candidates’ take on the project included the concerns raised by landowners in the proposed pipeline’s path. The landowners expressed fear that TransCanada would have made good its threat to confiscate their land via particular lawsuits. Some of them contended that TransCanada had already seized their land illegally before the Senate.

Native Canadian, as well as American, populations oppose the northern Keystone XL Oil Pipeline leg project for diverse reasons. The reasons include the probable damage of sites that they deem sacred and that they use for their religious rituals, water contamination as well as air pollution. Native Canadian, as well as American, populations fear that the project would involve the potential physical removal, demolition or disturbance of historic or prehistoric archaeological locations, sites, objects, buildings, districts, and structures having traditional socio-cultural value to them. The populations hold that the project could give rise to health threats over time. In 2011, leaders of a number of Native Canadian, as well as American, communities held protests against the project in front of White House, for which they got arrested (Cammorata, 2013; Nader & Hightower, 2013). They expressed their concern that the project would destroy their peoples’ vast historical and ancient socio-cultural resources held on own treaty lands.

Sections of the US media have expressed safety concerns regarding the project. The concerns relate to the oil spillage threats posed by oil pipelines. As noted earlier, oil spillages pollute critical supplies of water and the air in the areas where they happen. In some areas, they harm wildlife, including migratory birds. Even then, some sections of the media argue that the laying of the proposed pipeline would eliminate or at least reduce the threat of explosions and fires associated with the transportation of oil using rail cars and trucks (Avery, 2013; Wood, 2015).

The president does not come off as altogether opposed to the northern Keystone XL Oil Pipeline leg project. Even then, a timeline for his decision regarding the project remains uncertain as yet. As noted earlier, in 2014, Obama did not give the requisite permit for its construction, citing an ongoing court case regarding the route of the component in Nebraska. After the determination of the case, Obama may consent to the project’s completion. As well, the US government may consider supporting and expanding other projects to attain the aims of the northern Keystone XL Oil Pipeline leg project like the Mexico-Cushing Seaway Pipeline. The supporters of the northern KXLP leg project include the majority of US residents and TransCanada. Presently, its opponents include many Democrats and various environmentalists.

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