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Timing couldn't have been worse for Keystone XL
The news from South Dakota couldn’t have come at a worse time for supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline.
TransCanada Corp. announced Thursday that its older pipeline had sprung a leak, spilling 5,000 barrels of oil — 210,000 gallons — onto agricultural land in Marshall County. It was discovered quickly, the pipeline shut down, and officials don’t believe it has reached any bodies of water.
But the fate of the pipeline that would extend TransCanada through 275 miles of Nebraska, will be decided by the Nebraska Public Service Commission on Monday.
First proposed in 2008, the pipeline’s fate was in limbo until it was rejected by President Barack Obama, then resurrected by President Donald Trump.
Along the way, in 2012, the Nebraska legislature gave the governor power to approve the pipeline route, but that law was overturned, throwing the decision back to the Public Service Commission.
The 36-inch pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil from northern Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
We can thank Canadian tar sands for the relatively stable price of gasoline, but tar sands can’t be pushed through pipelines. That requires dilution of the bitumen that will be refined into oil, to give it the consistency of crude so it will flow.
The exact chemicals used to dilute the bitumen are a trade secret, but pipeline opponents say they include known carcinogens.
In previous spills into rivers, the substance at first floated, as one would expect from oil, but soon separated into its components, the heavier bitumen sinking to the bottom of the stream, making cleanup extremely difficult.
The current Keystone pipeline can handle nearly 600,000 barrels of oil a day, passing through the eastern Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma.
Even if Nebraska’s PSC approves the route, groups like Bold Nebraska and the Sierra Club have vowed to challenge in court the use of eminent domain by a foreign corporation to obtain right-of-way for the pipeline.
Proponents say pipelines are the most efficient way to transport oil, requiring significantly less energy to operate than trucks or rail, and have a lower carbon footprint. As the Keystone XL controversy illustrates, however, they come with their own concerns over potential environmental damage and denial of property rights.
Rail uses existing infrastructure, but carbon emissions, speed and accidents are a drawback.
Trucks are often the last link in the transportation chain, but also have carbon and safety concerns.
Ships can actually be a cheaper way to transport oil, depending on the route, but have some of the same drawbacks as rail and trucks.
Tesla introduced a new electric semi truck this week with a 500-mile range, as well as a sports car with record acceleration, but it will be a long time before crude oil isn’t a key component of our transportation needs and overall economy.
We owe it to future generations to make sure energy is delivered in as safe a manner as possible, but we should be able to do that without penalizing responsible use of energy resources.