the keystone pipeline: just another pipe dream

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A look at the keystone XL pipeline and how implementing the pipeline will cause damage to our ecosystem. In addition, the social and political consequences behind obtaining oil is examined. Finally (to be edited) a solution is proposed to try and change our "consumption culture" and population growth


  • Isaac WiebeUniversity of Manitoba

    The Keystone Pipeline: Just Another Pipe Dream

    Growing up as an Albertan, I have witnessed the impact that oil has on society. Oil has

    made Alberta powerful and wealthy, yet is a growing environmental concern. The Keystone XL

    pipeline is a proposed project from TransCanada that transports oil from the Albertan Tar Sands

    to Port Arthur Texas (National Post, ) that stretches 1179 miles. In this paper, I argue that the

    Keystone pipeline is a highly unstable project.This project is analyzed in terms of the ecological

    impact it has on our planet based on articles from the World Wildlife Fund as well as the

    National Post. In addition, CBC is used to show the political and social aspect of this project.

    The concept of political ecology is introduced as well as how politics influences the decision to

    build the XL project. I also look at how the trend for consumption, and how there are other

    mediums to safely supply the worlds oil. The Keystone pipeline should not be built and

    alternatives must be considered.

    Ecology is the study of relationships between populations (Bates 1999: 34). Ecological

    interaction can be thought of as a biological life cycle in which energy is transferred in a closed

    system known as an ecosystem. The energy that supports life is provided by producers, such as

    plants and in some cases, animals and life forms that use energy are aptly named consumers.

    Humans are an important part of the global ecosystem (Bates 1999:38). They are the worlds

    largest consumer and cannot produce natural resources. However, humans are the most

    technologically and politically advanced species on Earth and so with the proper awareness on

  • their environmental impact, they can adopt safe practices in obtaining energy. Implementing the

    keystone xl pipeline is not one of these practices.

    In the 21st century, humans as the consumer of our ecosystem are living beyond their

    means. According to the living planet report, debtor countries (countries that have a large

    ecological consumer footprint) are engaging in activities of overconsumption (2008: 5). The

    World Wildlife Fund states that humans on Earth are using three times the amount of resources

    and that countries who have a large ecological footprint are exceeding their carrying capacity by

    30 percent. Carrying capacity refers to the population that can be supported with the available

    resources within an ecosystem (Bates 1991: 47). Bates discusses that certain groups of people

    can temporarily solve the problem of resource disparity through engineering and technology.

    Technology can be used to make resource management more efficient, but it comes at a cost.

    Bates agrees and states that using technology unexpected consequences, such as malfunction

    (Bates 1991: 47) and creating new problems that demand whether or not technology should solve


    The keystone pipeline is an example of technology that will benefit humans, but causes

    damage to the environment. According to CBC, the oil consumption without the pipeline is

    predicted to be 100 000 barrels per day in 2045 and can only last a century (Doc zone: The

    selling of Alberta). Studies also from CBC show that oil from the keystone pipeline results in

    emissions 17 percent greater than American oil, due to its impurity. With issues such as

    decreasing biodiversity and global warming, a pipeline that encourages patterns for this has to

    reconsidered. In addition to the theoretical predictions on the pipeline, there is an element in our

    ecosystem that the pipeline threatens to harm, the Ogallala Aquifer.

  • Keystones proposed route passes through Nebraskas Ogallala Aquifer, which is a

    dubious move against good environmental practices. There exists there is the slightest of

    problems, the entire water supply will become poisoned and ruin Nebraska crops (CPAC). In

    February, the pipeline was rerouted in Nebraska, however it still comes into contact with the

    Ogallala Aquifier, and is an environmental hazard. Another issue that shows the pipeline is

    ecologically unfriendly is the maintenance. A pipeline that large will need daily maintenance.

    Not only is this oil consumed by the masses, but exists many impurities (such as sulfur) that

    require additional energy and resources to remove (CPAC). To maintain such a pipeline requires

    even more resources must be used up, (labour, and capital which ultimately damage the

    environment). Such a task has been proven to be difficult. Such is the case of the Exxon

    pipelines malfunction that was costly to our ecosystem (National Post).

    The study of the Exxon pipeline shows that maintaining a large pipeline project is very

    difficult and mismanaging will lead to the loss of resources. In the Exxon pipeline, there was a

    leak which caused a spill of many barrels of crude in Arkansas. Both pipelines lead to the Texas

    Gulf Coast, however the Exxon pipeline begins in Illinois and is much smaller to the Keystone

    XL Pipeline by comparison. Over 120 000 barrels of oil and water were lost (National Post). A

    growing concern for the Keystone project is that the oil that is used from the Tar Sands is impure,

    unlike the oil transported via Exxon. These impurities cause damage such as corrosion of the

    pipeline, and more attention and resources is required to support this project. The study of the

    Exxon pipeline shows that many unexpected problems can occur in such a project, and careful

    consideration is needed for keystone XL.

  • Political Ecology is the study of how society manages its resources among certain groups

    in a region (Bates, 1991: 47). This is an adaptive strategy that is strongly connected to politics

    (Bates, 1991: 48). This is obvious, as the governing body makes the decision on what is done

    with the resources. They are ultimately the policymakers on whether or not our resources are

    exploited. The consequence of how political ecology affects keystone is analyzed in terms of its

    political and social consequences.

    Humans can create technology to preserve our ecosystem, but in the majority of cases

    political ecology prevents development, as economic and social factors come into play . In

    todays world, technology is not created out of reciprocity, it is made for capital gain. Economy

    goes hand in hand with politics (Bates, 1991: 48), it is out of the politicians best interest to make

    decisions to support the economy, and as a result the government looks to make decisions to

    support technology that is inexpensive to make and generates a profit. As well, social factors

    prevent developers from obtaining any resource they want for a product, a group needs to

    establish relationships with the private landowners before obtaining their rightful resources.

    According to CBC and CPAC, here are some reasons in which the keystone pipeline harms the

    Earth as a result of political ecology.

    The allocation of oil to the United States has resulted in negative social consequences. To

    begin, many Canadians travelled to Fort McMurray to try and work on small pipeline projects.

    They have been promised riches and wealth, some making a Five figure salary (Doczone: The

    Selling of Alberta), which encourages more immigration to find good jobs. However, such

    opportunity comes at a price. Many Newfoundlanders are immigrating to Fort McMurray with

    the idea of becoming rich and heading home, they did not expect they would lose their identity

  • (Doczone: The selling of Alberta). The demand is intense, 30 000 people work hard from 7 AM

    to 7 PM. The work continues until the job is done, in many cases workers are on the job for

    fourteen days straight (Doczone: The Selling of Alberta). This work schedule separates men and

    women from their families. There is hardship in this town, due to inflation on product prices.

    Many residents are losing money and living below the poverty line. The homeless rate as well as

    food bank usage is high. Fort McMurray has the highest rate of soliciting drugs in all of Alberta

    (Doc zone: The selling of Alberta). An important decision to make before implementing the

    keystone pipeline is whether or not this will be the reality in cities across America. TransCanada

    corporation claims that over 42 000 jobs can be created, but it is possible that an economic boom

    can put the workers in social and economic hardship.

    As mentioned earlier, the keystone pipeline will pose a great threat to our ecosystem.

    Although the majority of America does not mind (National Post), this poses a direct problem to

    our way of life. Farmers in Nebraska after discovering the route passing through the Ogallala

    Aquifer were up in arms. If the aquifer is damaged, then they cannot grow corn and other food to

    feed the rest of world. Food Inc. describes corn as being the most important product in our food

    production system. Despite all this, TransCanada included a clause in the keystone pipeline

    contract that included a term known as eminent domain (CPAC). Eminent domain means that

    TransCanada can forcibly buy peoples land and claim it as capital, forcing the farmers to move

    off their land and lose their way of life and the ability to supply energy to our ecosystem. Despite

    all of the negative consequences explained by political ecology, the decision to re