The Keystone Pipeline: Just Another Pipe Dream
Post on 19-Jan-2016
DESCRIPTIONA 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 reject Keystone is
not cut and dry.
For the United States, the oil is not just a resource, it is also a symbol of cultural
significance (Doczone: The Selling of Alberta). Rejecting a secure supply upsets a majority of
the population (National Post). For the world, oil and gas products supply power in a form of
heat energy and fuel for our transportation. In addition to its physical power, oil has great
political power. The majority of oil is in corrupt locations such as Venezuela and Iraq (Doczone:
The selling of Alberta), and powers all of industry. To obtain a resource that is located in a
corrupt region shows political power globally. After the 2003 Iraq war, the United States realized
that oil from Iraq was unstable. In order to secure oil in Alberta, the United States government
must establish a political relationship with Canada, and that relationship defines political position
In 2014, there is now pressure on Barack Obama to make a difficult decision on the
keystone pipeline. His advisors also do not agree with the project, unfortunately Obama is not
ready to make a decision (National Post). Obamas original political campaign has been
established in 2008 when he insists that America is to change its image as the power hungry
nation that it is. He originally insisted in his political campaign that he will join the fight in
stopping climate change. In the present, this is not the American peoples intention. As a result,
Obamas political campaign is in jeopardy due to states that rely heavily on energy production
such as Alaska and Louisiana. He will lose 45 percent of votes in Louisiana, 46 percent in
Arkansas, as well as 49 percent in North Carolina (National Post) if the pipeline is not approved
by the senate. As a compromise, the government will approve the pipeline if it doesnt emit
As explained earlier, large corporations are seizing peoples land for commercial
development. This has caused outcry all over the globe. From Alberta to Nebraska to
Washington, people are uniting under a common cause to stop the pipeline from being built.
Although many may protest, not everyone can make a critical decision to solve such a complex
problem. No purely technological solution can solve an ecological problem (both from an
environmental and economic standpoint), but if our society can change its views on how it uses
energy, perhaps the demand for resources will diminish, and we may save our ecosystem.
Western culture invites mass consumption of resources (
The Keystone XL pipeline is a proposition that poses problems for society. One reason
being is due to societys exploitation of resources. Over time, the consumer will need to find
resources abroad, and in doing so, creates economic, social and political problems. Such an
example is the 2003 Iraq War, in which the aftermath left the United States without a stable
supply of oil. Now, the United States looks to Canada as their supplier which lead to the idea of
the Keystone pipeline. The keystone pipeline transports the dirtiest oil in the world from the
Alberta Tar Sands. Such impurities are harmful to the pipeline, and to maintain the pipeline
without damaging the environment. more technology and resources are required, which
eventually leads to shortages elsewhere.
The National Post2014 Keystone XL pipeline support at its highest level ever in U.S., poll shows. National Post http://business.financialpost.com/2014/04/23/keystone-xl-poll/?__lsa=fe15-b2e8, accessed on 04/06/ 2014 U.S. further delays final decision on Keystone XL pipeline. National Post. http://business.financialpost.com/2014/04/20/u-s-further-delays-final-decision-on-keystone-xl-pipeline/?__lsa=fe15-b2e8 accessed on 05/06/20142014 Democrats urge Obama to decide on Keystone XL pipeline by May 31. National Post. http://business.financialpost.com/2014/04/10/democrats-urge-obama-to-decide-on-keystone-xl-pipeline-by-may-31/, accessed on 05/06/20142014 Obama aides anti-KEystone views clash with risk of Senate loss. The national Post http://business.financialpost.com/2014/03/20/obama-aides-anti-keystone-views-clash-with-risk-of-senate-loss/?__lsa=fe15-b2e8, accessed on 05/06/2014
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 2XXX Doczone: The Selling of Alberta
Bates, Daniel G.
World Wildlife Fund 2008 Living Planet Report
CPAC Documentary: Pipeline Politics