Key·stone ˈkēˌstōn/ the central principle or part of a policy, system, etc., on which all else depends.
An example of the term is a keystone species, specie that have a large and important effect on their ecosystem and are necessary for the continuation of the ecosystem are described as keystone species. Without this species, the entire structure of an ecosystem is likely to collapse.
Contrary to its namesake, the Keystone pipeline has the capacity to destroy the habitats and ecosystems of these invaluable keystone species across the North American continent.The pipeline is an oil pipeline system in Canada and the United States. The Keystone XL pipeline stretches all the way from Alberta, Canada down to the Gulf Coast of the United States. Overall, the pipeline would consist of 2,151 miles of oil distributing pipeline. The extension of the pipeline, known as the the XL portion of the Keystone XL (eXport Limited) was approved back in 2010 by the Canadian National Energy Board but the pipeline is still waiting approval in the United States.
Over the past four years, this controversial extension has faced unparalleled push back from environmentalist, homeowners in the routed states, and the general public alike. This collective effort against the proposed pipeline was seen on February 17th, 2013 when history was made with the biggest climate change rally in Washington D.C as 50,000 protestors, students and grandmothers, scientists and children, gathered and marched to the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and demand action on climate.
The president and CEO of TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, said the Keystone XL is a positive project “putting 20,000 US workers to work and spending $7 billion stimulating the US economy.” But, those statistics come from an analysis done by a company hired by TransCanada, which opens up the claim to a high level of bias and has been disproved by the State Department which reported that the pipeline would directly create 3,900 temporary construction jobs and only 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs after construction is complete.
However, many do say that the pipeline can stimulate the economy. The State Department concluded that the pipeline’s construction would contribute 3.4 billion to the U.S. economy. Yet this only represents a 0.02 percent increase in the nation’s gross domestic product and further the report noted that most of the tar sands oil transported through the pipeline would be exported and as a result would not have an impact on fuel prices or energy independence in the United States. Although, even from an economic point of view, the company that is responsible for the pipeline isn’t even an American one and has had an incredibly shaky past with accidents in Canada. For example, recently there was a major pipeline explosion that left 4,000 residents in the area without heat as the temperature dropped to -34 C among many other unfortunate events all related back to TransCanada and their work.
More recently, after the State Department came out with their last report on the Keystone XL pipeline, which they called the final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), headlines read, ”Report on Keystone Pipeline’s Environmental Impact ‘Passed Mr. Obama’s Climate Criteria.’” President Obama has made it clear that the only way he would approve the pipeline would be if “it has no significant impact on the climate.” But, reading the State Department’s assessment on the potential environmental impacts of the proposed XL pipeline, effects range from groundwater spills, wetland damage to serious carbon dioxide emissions (which would be 17% higher than that from oil), the Keystone XL does not nearly pass Obama’s ‘climate criteria’.
The substance that would be carried within the pipeline is known as tar sands, a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, heavy black viscous oil. The goal is to extract the oil from the tar sands, which is done through pit mining or in-situ production. In order to begin the extraction, all wetlands in the area must be drained and rivers diverted. Then, the surface is scraped until the sandy deposit is revealed of which is then processed at extreme temperatures, to separate the thick bitumen. It must be pre-processed through an “upgrading” process before it can be sent through a pipeline to an oil refinery. Nevertheless, only about 20% of the sand is shallow enough for it to be shoveled up. The portion of the deposit that is at a depth of more than 328 feet cannot be obtained with open-pit mining. Instead, steam as hot as 1,000 ºF is injected into the sand, which reduces the bitumen’s thickness or viscosity and allows it to drain and then be pumped up to the surface for further processing according to United Nations University.
During tar sands oil production, levels of carbon dioxide emissions are three to four times higher than those of conventional oil production, due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into the United States daily, and result in climate-damaging emissions equal to adding more than 5.6 million new cars to U.S. roads according to Friends of the Earth.
Other issues include waste water and pollution during the process of extracting oil from the tar sands as well as forest destruction of the world’s largest intact ecosystem, the Boreal forests of Alberta. Further, indigenous populations have been forced off their land due to construction of the pipeline. Additionally, the Keystone XL crosses over bodies of water including the Missouri River, Yellowstone, and Red Rivers, as well as key sources of drinking and agricultural water, such as the Ogallala Aquifer which supplies water to more than one fourth of America’s irrigated land and provides drinking water for two million Americans. The risks of this proposed ‘Keystone XL’ pipeline on the environment and its inhabitants far outweigh the potential economic gains, which would be to a Canadian company known as TransCanada anyways.
The public has been waiting for over four years for an answer on this pipeline and it is said that a definitive response will come soon. Those fighting against the pipeline say they will never stop, never give up until the tar sands are kept in the ground and the KXL remains just a proposition. As they gather and protest, they chant “The people, united will never be defeated.”