US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Keystone XL bill passed by U.S. Senate's energy committee

By Caitlyn Schmid | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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In the Senate today, members of the energy committee passed a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline addition. In case you haven't been keeping up with this six-year conflict, here's a quick recap:

A project by the Canadian company TransCanada, this addition to an already built pipeline that traverses North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska would add 1,179 extra miles to cross down the middle of the county through six states. It would transport 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to its refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

The pipeline has caused much controversy for both politics and environmentalism. Those in favor of the construction argue that the addition would add jobs in the United States and help manage our oil demands.  (Although others argue that new jobs could also be created by focusing on green energy alternatives which would reduce our reliance on oil.)

Those opposed are nervous about the negative effects it would have on the environment. The production of tar sand oil, according to the EPA, has 81 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the average crude oil refined in the U.S.

Another negative effect would be the chance of oil spills. In 2010, former TransCanada president and chief executive officer Hal Kvisle claimed, “Construction and operation of the Keystone Pipeline system will continue to meet or exceed world-class safety and environmental standards. We are committed to being a reliable and safe operator that treats all stakeholders with honesty and respect.” Yet, in its first year of operation, the state-of-the-art pipeline had 12 oil spills. Spills from the new extension of the pipeline would be particularly dangerous since large sections would run through the Sand Hills of Nebraska (known for its high concentration of wetlands and fragile ecosystem) and the Ogallala Aquifer (which provides a quarter of the nation’s cropland with water for irrigation). Spilled oil would quickly seep into the porous and sandy soil and infiltrate groundwater sources before they could be cleaned making the water undrinkable.

Now that the bill has been approved by the Senate's energy committee, it will move in to be debated by the full Senate in the upcoming week. President Obama is poised to veto the project.

Why should we pay attention? As Catholics, it is our responsibility to defend against problems that would endanger all of us, especially those who are unable to defend themselves. This includes the small towns along the proposed pipeline whose local economy may be devastated by an oil spill. This includes the wildlife living the area where construction and environmental threats may make their homes inhabitable and frighten them off. This includes all of those in the central U.S. states who rely on fresh water and crops for survival.

As the project that has been pending for now six years continues moving forward, let us weigh the pros and cons and continue to think of safer alternatives for the future.