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Part 2: Keystone XL pipeline poses risks to environment, people

With seven offices across the country, Calgary’s national energy policy think tank, the Pembina Institute, has an enduring positive influence in Canada. In their Backgrounder The link between Keystone XL and Canadian oilsands production published in April 2011, it warns of the impending conflict and opposition that will ensue with the current and future projects. At this time, the U.S. is the only export market for oilsands. Less than .56% of oilsands production is exported to overseas markets. While there are proposals to expand the oilsands market to the Canadian West Coast and ultimately to Asian markets, the proposed projects face permitting challenges and public opposition. As a result, the price signal needed to expand production for these markets will take longer to materialize.

Furthermore, this Backgrounder reveals another real concern. In summary, it is likely that Keystone XL would, in fact, drive increased oilsands production in Alberta. Therefore it is essential that the increased GHG emissions and other land, water and air impacts associated with upstream production are assessed as part of the environmental impact analysis being conducted by the U.S. State Department.

“Building an oilsands pipeline has impacts both in Alberta and in the United States. KXL will allow for a near doubling of oilsands production. This means a doubling of environmental impacts in Alberta unless there is a significant improvement in how the industry operates, either through innovation or regulation. Meanwhile the U.S. is faced with locking themselves into 40+ years of dependence on a very high-carbon fuel source. This is the opposite direction from the clean energy economy that President Obama has professed is a priority,” explains Nathan Lemphers, Senior Policy Analyst at the Pembina Institute.

The U.S. government has stipulated that they want 57 specific conditions met for Keystone that will ensure public safety. This includes implementing deeper trenches and more frequent inspections beyond the normal pipeline safety regulations. In The New American article Will Oil from Canada’s Keystone XL Pipeline Go to U.S. or China? many questions were raised about the safety of pipelines and whether they can stand natural disasters such as earthquakes and other hazards like corrosion and leaks. In this article, Jeff Rauh, spokesman for TransCanada, states that if there were leaks it would only affect about 300 feet around the spill because the oil’s movement through groundwater is “steady and gradual.”

However, on the Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog Switchboard, it reveals a very different story of the unpredictable hazards that these pipelines present and the current problems of the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. that is already operational from Hardisty AB to Steele City, Wood River and Patoka. The questions posed on this website support the North American environmentalists’ apprehension of potential pipeline leaks, risks to the environment and people of Canada and the U.S.

There will be some positive outcomes with the implementation of this Keystone XL pipeline deal, as it will create more than 100,000 American jobs from the Canada-U.S. collaboration and result in less dependency on foreign oil. Another benefit is the $5.2 billion enhancement in property tax revenue for bankrupt states in the U.S. and an overall stimulus to the economy. For Canada, this $7 billion dollar deal will boost the economies of Alberta and Canada however thousands of jobs will be lost in Canada along with other secondary manufacturing industries because the bitumen isn’t being processed here.

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