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Do Pipelines Actually Harm the Environment?

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Living in Canada, I've obviously heard a lot about the Keystone XL over the last couple of months, especially now that Trump's reversal of Obama's policy has pushed the issue back into the mainstream media conversation. From a regional perspective, and considering Canada's reliance on its 'petro-dollar', the economic benefits of connecting the slowly withering Alberta oil sands industry with arguably the world's most important consumer state are enticing.

However, despite all its benefits, the biggest issue in this conversation is the potential environmental impact, which we've all been hearing about for what seems like years. Forgetting about other important issues like the violation of First Nation's land rights for the time being, how real is the purported impact of the construction of Keystone XL pipeline, and others like it (Dakota Access and so forth)? I'm not the type of person to habitually turn a blind eye to activities that could potentially harm the environment, but I really don't see how the construction of oil or natural gas pipelines is a great environmental risk in and of itself. The dangers of the pipelines' causes and effects, in the form of increased oil drilling and a greater risk of spills, have also been discredited.

As a November 2015 article in The Seattle Times said of the Keystone Pipline:

Quote

Environmentalists said Keystone XL, which TransCanada Corp. first applied to build in 2008, raised the risks of climate change. But a U.S. environmental review found its contribution to global greenhouse-gas emissions would be small...

The pipeline itself, though not the larger oil sands, is a drop in the global carbon bucket.

The State Department, which is responsible for reviewing cross-border oil pipelines, found it would at most lead to the extra release of about 27.4 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year. That’s equivalent to about eight coal plants, but just 0.4 percent of the U.S.’s total.

The U.S. accounts for about 15 percent of global climate emissions, second only to China.

Keystone has “become more symbolic than substantive,” said Michael Webber, deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas in Austin. “The security and economic arguments have been undermined. The environmental arguments had been undermined as well. Now it’s mostly about proving the other guy wrong.”

Obama had the following to say:

Quote

“And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.

As for the argument that this 'encourages' the extraction of crude oil which is harmful for the environment, FactCheck.org had the following to say:

Quote
  • Oil from Canadian bitumen deposits — which the Keystone would carry from Alberta to the U.S. for refining — results in 14 percent to 20 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than oil typically consumed in the U.S. at present.
  • But that doesn’t mean that stopping the pipeline would prevent Canadians from extracting their crude and getting it to market to be burned, either in the U.S. or other countries. “Such a change is not likely to occur,” State concluded.
  • In fact, much of that oil is reaching the U.S. already — by rail — and more tank-car capacity is being added quickly. Canadians also are proposing two other pipelines to tanker ports on the Pacific coast, and a third project to nearly double the effective capacity of an existing line to the U.S....

State said Canadian oil will probably end up being produced and burned anyway, even if the Keystone is not built. It said new data and analysis indicate that “rail will likely be able to accommodate new production if new pipelines are delayed or not.”

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency officially questioned a similar conclusion contained in an earlier draft of the report, and said State should “provide a more careful review of the market analysis” that supported it. State did so, conducting economic modeling of 16 different sets of supply-demand assumptions and pipeline constraints, which it said showed that “cross-border pipeline constraints have a limited impact on crude flows and prices.”

And meanwhile, more and more Canadian oil is already coming to the U.S. in tanker cars, just as State predicted.

And as a counter-point to the problem of pipeline spills, the same website says this:

Quote

Rail transport is even more hazardous than pipelines, however. Last July, 47 people died in a single disaster when an unattended train including 72 tanker cars loaded with crude oil rolled downhill, exploded and burned in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec province. Forty buildings were demolished, and an estimated 5.6 million liters (1.5 million gallons) of crude oil spilled or burned....The tempo of oil-train accidents has increased along with the sharp rise in tanker shipments, as has the amount of oil discharged. Soon after the Casselton spill, an investigative news report by the McClatchy news agency concluded, based on federal data, that last year more oil spilled in the U.S. from rail tank cars than in all the nearly 40 previous years on record combined....

Based on relative safety records to date, the State Department estimated that an average of six deaths per year would result if the Keystone isn’t built and the same amount of oil is shipped by rail instead. More than twice as much oil is likely to be spilled as well, State estimated.

More on this issue: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-keystone-rail-idUSL2N0L800920140203

A Financial Post fact check derived similar conclusions:

Quote

CLAIM: Keystone is worse for global warming.

THE FACTS: Extracting oil from Canadian oilsands does require more energy — and results in 17% more greenhouse gas emissions from oil well to tailpipe than a traditional barrel of oil refined in the United States. But a March 2013 analysis by the State Department concluded that the oilsands are likely to be developed regardless of whether the pipeline is approved. And it said shipping the oil by rail to existing oil pipelines or to oil tankers would release more greenhouse gases than shipping the oil via pipelines from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

CLAIM: The oil — and product refined from it — will be exported, so the U.S. bears the environmental risk from the pipeline with little economic reward from the oil.

THE FACTS: Without lifting the decades-long export ban on crude, the oil that would be transported via the pipeline couldn’t be exported. 

Thoughts?

The environmental risk associated with pipelines seems a little overblown to me. And as I said, I have no conscious ideological bias on this issue, so feel free to point out anything important I missed, or mistakes I might have made.

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The problem is that pipelines spill, all of them. Now this wouldn't matter as much, but the keystone access pipeline goes over a giant pool of groundwater that is used for farming in more than one state, if the pipeline gets built and leaks all the water for crops is tainted. For the Dakota access pipeline it goes through ancient Indian burial grounds and other sacred sites so that's really the reason for the protesting, it would actually be better for the environment because currently we use oil tankers and trains which are even more harmful than pipelines.

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6 minutes ago, Learner2526 said:

The problem is that pipelines spill, all of them. Now this wouldn't matter as much, but the keystone access pipeline goes over a giant pool of groundwater that is used for farming in more than one state, if the pipeline gets built and leaks all the water for crops is tainted. For the Dakota access pipeline it goes through ancient Indian burial grounds and other sacred sites so that's really the reason for the protesting, it would actually be better for the environment because currently we use oil tankers and trains which are even more harmful than pipelines.

The objection of pipelines spills is mentioned in the OP- the problem is that alternative methods of transportation such as rail cars "spill" even more frequently. This article from the OP expands upon this:

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-keystone-rail-idUSL2N0L800920140203

The problem of ancient First Nations sacred sites is important, but separate from this issue.

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Since we're leaving out First Nations issues ( the correction I would make there is that the burials the Lakota felt would be disturbed directly or by proximity were not all " ancient". According to a friend of mine living there, the  area was an active village site until the 20's and one of her  sons is buried up there.)

Here are some articles regarding relative " safety" and " damage".


https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/oil-pipelines-are-not-safer-than-transporting-oil-by-train/2014/05/11/871171da-d7b8-11e3-8f7d-7786660fff7c_story.html?utm_term=.f2aa562a55fb



sorry don't have much time tonight,but thought these were interesting.

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6 hours ago, LeftCoastMom said:

These articles bring up some intriguing figures.

However, I'm not sure how accurate the data brought up in the 'Letter to the Editor' on the Washington Post's website is. Certainly, the author's strategy of using spill figures from single incidents to compare to spill totals from different years, does not work in her favor. Stadler mentions that "more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil spilled from rail cars in 2013", while your second article says that the Quebec train derailment alone spilled more than that: "The Quebec train wreck last year [2013] killed 47 people and spilled 1.5 million gallons of crude onto land (Bloomberg.com)."

On the other hand, the State Department does not quote overall spill data to back up its claims, either. It instead focuses on Keystone itself in its report:

Quote

If Keystone XL is built as planned, according to the study, it would likely spill an average of just over 500 barrels per year, with a leak occurring once every two years. Under the most optimistic scenario involving rail, however, nearly 300 spills would occur per year, with over 1,200 barrels released in total, according to estimates provided in the report.

^Only barrel figures are quoted in this article, and no attempt is made to substantiate these numbers.

Still, I find it hard to believe that Obama's (now seemingly relatively progressive) State Department would embellish on oil spill figures for the sake of a pipeline that Obama would eventually reject, anyways.

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3 hours ago, Shaykh Patience101 said:

Living in Canada, I've obviously heard a lot about the Keystone XL over the last couple of months, especially now that Trump's reversal of Obama's policy has pushed the issue back into the mainstream media conversation. From a regional perspective, and considering Canada's reliance on its 'petro-dollar', the economic benefits of connecting the slowly withering Alberta oil sands industry with arguably the world's most important consumer state are enticing.

However, despite all its benefits, the biggest issue in this conversation is the potential environmental impact, which we've all been hearing about for what seems like years. Forgetting about other important issues like the violation of First Nation's land rights for the time being, how real is the purported impact of the construction of Keystone XL pipeline, and others like it (Dakota Access and so forth)? I'm not the type of person to habitually turn a blind eye to activities that could potentially harm the environment, but I really don't see how the construction of oil or natural gas pipelines is a great environmental risk in and of itself. The dangers of the pipelines' causes and effects, in the form of increased oil drilling and a greater risk of spills, have also been discredited.

As a November 2015 article in The Seattle Times said of the Keystone Pipline:

Obama had the following to say:

As for the argument that this 'encourages' the extraction of crude oil which is harmful for the environment, FactCheck.org had the following to say:

And as a counter-point to the problem of pipeline spills, the same website says this:

More on this issue: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-keystone-rail-idUSL2N0L800920140203

A Financial Post fact check derived similar conclusions:

Thoughts?

The environmental risk associated with pipelines seems a little overblown to me. And as I said, I have no conscious ideological bias on this issue, so feel free to point out anything important I missed, or mistakes I might have made.

"Harmful to the environment" is relative. Industrial sites discharge chemical waste, all over the world, continuously every day.

I think this is all predominantly a political battle.  It is a battle between green energy/renewables, verses fossil fuels. Its a battle between a risk of future detriment to the environment, and the current state we live in. Its about atmospheric pollution versus clean energy etc.

The Keystone pipeline is just like a poster child for a much larger debate.

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Oh, and as for the question of if pipelines harm the environment.  Oil use in general, no matter what its mode of transport, can and does harm people and the environment.

The truth though is, nobody actually cares about the environment though, they simply care about themselves. Nobody would care if the pipeline were not in their own back yard, and nobody would care if the pipeline were through an area home to wildlife. It is only when the pipeline crosses someones back yard that they begin to complain.

Edited by iCambrian

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12 hours ago, iCambrian said:

Oh, and as for the question of if pipelines harm the environment.  Oil use in general, no matter what its mode of transport, can and does harm people and the environment.

The truth though is, nobody actually cares about the environment though, they simply care about themselves. Nobody would care if the pipeline were not in their own back yard, and nobody would care if the pipeline were through an area home to wildlife. It is only when the pipeline crosses someones back yard that they begin to complain.

I actually do end up being asked to come to numerous meetings in which plenty of people get the " big picture".... Whether it is happening in their backyards or not. But I live in an ecology-conscious place and not too far from a college. Maybe that makes the difference?

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12 hours ago, LeftCoastMom said:

I actually do end up being asked to come to numerous meetings in which plenty of people get the " big picture".... Whether it is happening in their backyards or not. But I live in an ecology-conscious place and not too far from a college. Maybe that makes the difference?

Maybe. A lot of environmental works are financially driven.  People pay money to combat contamination. But wildlife doesnt have money to pay, nor do they have a voice.   Many people complain about the dakota access pipeline, and its this big shpeal in the media...meanwhile the amazon forest is getting pummeled, but i rarely hear about it. The difference?  Well, the pipeline is near water that we drink. But who talks about the pipelines going near the drinking places of wildlife?

Sure, some stand for the environment and wildlife.  But, in general, most people in my opinion, are focused on themselves. Its only when the pipeline came near the place of a human communities drinking water, that everyone stepped in and got involved. Before then? Sure some were there standing against it, but most are elsewhere doing other things, not really worried about the environment where it isnt in our own backyard.

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^ I guess we are having different life experiences. I hear about / deal with issues regarding environmental problems/ wildlife and ecosystems  in other parts of the planet all the time. But we participate in such things as the UN forum on Indigenous Peoples and the groups in that  are some of the main ones concerned with these issues.

Edited by LeftCoastMom

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Is the issue that pipelines cross more environmentally sensitive areas than other modes of transport, or that they sometimes cross previously relatively untouched lands?  If pipelines paralleled interstate highways or major railways, would they be as controversial?

Edited by notme

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45 minutes ago, notme said:

Is the issue that pipelines cross more environmentally sensitive areas than other modes of transport, or that they sometimes cross previously relatively untouched lands?  If pipelines paralleled interstate highways or major railways, would they be as controversial?

I don't think that would make a difference, as pipelines don't really damage the environment in themselves- the complaint is more centered around the fact that the construction of pipelines encourages the extraction of oil (which in most cases, would be extracted anyways).

The construction of roads or rail along the route Keystone is planned on would undoubtedly cause more environmental damage and damage to the land than the construction of pipelines.

As @iCambrian pointed out, the response to the Keystone pipelines is more of a symbol of the environmentalist movement now than a reaction to something that would greatly endanger the environment.

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The fact remains that pipelines, like all man-made structures, will always eventually fail. There are fewer moving parts than other modes of transport, therefore it's less spill prone than ship or rail. That's why I asked about location. 

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Whether one thing or another would be more detrimental also depends on place. 

My Experience: The individual oil / pipeline companies often cut corners or delay maintenance. They want to maximize profits or simply are not making enough money to take care of their equipment. Leaks are often discovered by non-employees. Depending on location, they can go for hours or days. One spill we had several years ago...the alarm /detection equipment failed. The " inspections" failed to reveal the structural deficiencies of the aging pipe. Fortunately it was caught early by passersby and did less damage than it could have.

We have montaine/riverine ecosystem leading straight to marine ecosystem within a few steep miles. The oil will not stay in some flat cornfield around here.

The trains and trucks usually use existing infrastructure that has been there for decades. New pipelines are new construction. 

Plus, this area is very seismically active. Pipelines are very vulnerable to that. So saying they do less potential damage.. It depends on where you are. Not solely " symbolic".

Rats....have to go get stuff done.

Edited by LeftCoastMom

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On 3/27/2017 at 10:50 PM, iCambrian said:

"Harmful to the environment" is relative. Industrial sites discharge chemical waste, all over the world, continuously every day.

Salam iCambrian,

True.

Quote

I think this is all predominantly a political battle.  It is a battle between green energy/renewables, verses fossil fuels. Its a battle between a risk of future detriment to the environment, and the current state we live in. Its about atmospheric pollution versus clean energy etc.

100% agreed.

Quote

The Keystone pipeline is just like a poster child for a much larger debate.

Personally, I believe greed is a huge factor in this political battle. The petrol companies love the power they have over other people who enjoy the conveniences and technologies that require petrol. They've gotten rich off it, and they don't want to lose their source of income.

There are other ideas out there to decrease the modern word's dependence on petrol. For example, this is a pretty cool article from 2006: (I boldened some.)

As President Bush urges Americans to cut back on the use of oil in wake of the recent surge in prices, more and more people are looking for more viable alternatives to the use of petroleum as the main fuel for the automotive industry. IsraCast recently covered the idea developed at the Weizmann Institute to use pure Zinc to produce Hydrogen using solar power. Now, a different solution has been developed by an Israeli company called Engineuity. Amnon Yogev, one of the two founders of Engineuity, and a retired Professor of the Weizmann Institute, suggested a method for producing a continuous flow of Hydrogen and steam under full pressure inside a car...

http://www.isracast.com/article.aspx?id=43

I don't know what happened to these 2 ideas (if they are truly good alternatives or not) but I do know that oil tycoons don't want alternatives to petrol to become popular. That would decrease their income.

As for pipelines, I personally don't support them. Their risk is not worth the $ it brings to its owners, in my opinion. I am very disappointed with Marco Rubio for supporting the pipelines, because I believe it's important for people to be good stewards of the earth. Pipelining petrol is for the greed of the pipelines' owners, not for the well-being of this beautiful planet.

Peace and God bless you.

 

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Breaking News: Keystone Pipeline Oil Spill Reported In South Dakota

A Keystone pipeline in South Dakota spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil Thursday.

Quote

Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist manager at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the state has sent a staff member to the site of the leak in a rural area near the border with North Dakota about 250 miles (402 kilometers) west of Minneapolis.

from weather.com

Edited by Hameedeh
To add the quote and source.

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On 16/11/2017 at 6:58 PM, Hameedeh said:

A Keystone pipeline in South Dakota spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil Thursday.

Which is already ten times what Obama's State Department predicted for estimated spillage amounts over two years. 

They say hindsight is always 20/20.

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It would not be difficult to come up with better pipe, fitting, and support designs, provide better installation, and especially provide better maintenance, and I'm sure a system could be designed to automatically detect leaks and cut off the flow when a leak is detected, reducing the damage caused by catastrophic leaks. But all this costs money, and those owners aren't going to pay unless it is mandated by law. It's cheaper to just lose some product and clean up a mess once in a while. 

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12 hours ago, Shaykh Patience101 said:

I've heard people theorizing that sabotage is a possibility, given the notorious nature of this specific pipeline. Thoughts?

Definitely a possibility. I guess wait and see what information is made public. 

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On ‎11‎/‎18‎/‎2017 at 10:23 AM, notme said:

Definitely a possibility. I guess wait and see what information is made public. 

ABC News Sunday night said the Tribes are trying to find out more about the pipeline spill but there is a news blackout.

Big Mother Gov't again.

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