December 10, 2022
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Guest Commentary: Keystone Pipeline will lead to unhealthy oil addiction

When the oil and gas industry and government attach claims of jobs, lower gas prices and energy independence to a seemingly simple pipeline project, it is embraced by many as the God-sent solution to the uncertain future of American energy. However, the Keystone XL pipeline is not a common-sense energy solution. The reality is that tar sands oil, which would be transported by the pipeline, is an unconventional oil masquerading as cheap domestic oil.

Activists gather in Washington, D.C., to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that many believe would be detrimental to the environment.  Courtesy of RIchard Gaunt
Activists gather in Washington, D.C., to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that many believe would be detrimental to the environment. Courtesy of RIchard Gaunt

 Rather than being a conventional source, tar sands oil is bitumen-coated sand, which must be refined to be brought to a usable substance. According to the Fuel Chemistry Division at Penn State University, it takes two tons of mined tar sands to produce one barrel of oil. The mining destroys thousands of square miles of boreal forests, leaves lakes of toxic wastewater and devastates ecosystems and indigenous regions.

The State Department’s statement on the pipeline claims “the proposed project is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the rate of development in the oil sands.” Therefore they conclude it will have no contribution to climate change. This assumption is unsubstantiated. KXL’s beneficiaries have lobbied because they know the pipeline will vastly expand the tar sands industry to the global markets. It will greatly increase global usage of tar sands, prolong fossil-fuel addiction and, if scientists are to be believed, devastate the global climate.

 If TransCanada, the company that hopes to build the pipeline, is allowed to move forward, it will cut through the country’s heartland and rely on government and eminent domain abuse to build through land belonging to unwilling landowners. Spills from a pipeline this large are a near guarantee, and threaten farms and ecosystems.

Energy independence is commonly cited as a primary reason for building the KXL. The pipeline is not a domestic energy solution. As stated in studies by both the Global Labor Institute at Cornell and by Oil Change International, the pipeline’s extension will mostly carry oil to be exported to global markets and will have little to no effect on U.S. gas prices. Real energy independence is clean, renewable, local sources.

The promises of economy-boosting jobs are unfounded. According to the Global Labor Institute, the pipeline would involve 2,500 to 4,650 temporary construction jobs, which is a far cry from the 15,000 upheld by TransCanada. About 90 percent of these would not be local or in state jobs. The same study also finds that the divergence of oil to Gulf Coast export refineries will actually cause job loss. If KXL is built, GLI estimates it to have no effect on unemployment rates in the U.S.

America’s energy future should not be found in tar sands oil. TransCanada can only give us a future of more oil addiction and more harm to people and land. Renewable energy promises a future of local jobs, local energy and sustainability. Through the efforts of communities, businesses and college divestment, this future can be made reality.


Richard Gaunt is a freshman environmental studies major. Email him at