Chronicle Editorial

Pushing for the pipeline


     If last Tuesday's State of the Union address felt like a rerun, you weren't alone.

     Many of President Barack Obama’s suggestions to Congress were the same as past years. However, he turned a few heads when he vowed to utilize every ounce of his executive powers to narrow the economic gap between the wealthy and the poor. Obama's not waiting for Congress, he says, and he'll get it done whether they like it or not.

     The merits of the president's claims could be debated at length, but Obama's renewed executive-minded attitude allows him the opportunity to revisit some old job-creating conundrums that have troubled his presidency for the past few years. Topping the list is the Keystone XL pipeline, a multi-billion dollar project that would begin in Alberta, Canada and bring tar sands oil 1,700 miles south to Nebraska, connecting it to refineries in Texas.

     It’s been a hot-button issue for the last five years. Proponents claim the Keystone XL will spur both job creation and rural economic growth while simultaneously decreasing America's dependence on foreign oil – the pipeline's 830,000 barrels-per-day capacity would lessen imports by replacing them with North American sources. Workers would flock to the small communities that line the pipeline's route during construction and inject those economies with a flood of outside money. It would appear everyone gets a piece of the pie.

     As one might imagine, the project's opponents aren’t so easily sold. They point towards tar sands' heavy environmental impact as one of the main reasons to put the kibosh on Keystone XL. The extraction process pollutes the environment and worsens global warming by increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and they also fear potential spills along the pipeline's route could ruin vast drinking water sources for many communities. Additionally, some believe the Canadian crude piped to Texas won't even stay in America – it'll be processed into diesel fuel and shipped to Europe and other international destinations.

     It's certainly a dividing issue. One half of the project stimulates the economy and creates job growth, while the other conflicts with Obama's promise to reduce America's carbon footprint and look for alternative fuel sources. Though it might seems like an unsolvable problem, an announcement last week could finally tip the hand in Keystone XL's favor and spark its completion.

     A report released by the U.S. State Department found that blocking the pipeline was unlikely to significantly impact extraction rates of the oil sands or lower demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in America. We want that oil, and Canada is willing to cater to its paying customers. The report indicated expanded railroad routes and other means of transportation would take the place if the pipeline weren't built. Such shipping methods would generate around 28 percent more greenhouse gas emissions compared to Keystone XL. Obama said he wouldn't approve the project if it exacerbated carbon pollution, but transporting the tar sands via pipeline sure seems more energy efficient than hauling it across two countries with trains, trucks or barges. Keystone XL is simply safer and more environmentally conscious than other options. Derailment, spills and other disasters are all possibilities with railroads and barges, but risks associated with the pipeline are significantly less.

     As reiterated in the president's State of the Union address, job growth and economic improvement are always top priorities. The Keystone XL project seems tailor-fitted to those ideals. Hopefully Obama will flex some of those executive muscles he's recently developed and send it on its way to completion. People might admonish tar sands oil and its consequences on the environment, but it’s going to get to Texas and other destinations one way or another. The president might as well choose the best method available to spur job growth and economic development while at the same time lessening the overall environmental impact.