Maverick is one word for it, I guess…
And he [Brownsberger] said he would not favor any congressional intervention to block the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the tar sands of Canada to the Gulf Coast, arguing that the project is little more than a footnote in the fight against climate change. […]
The pipeline, Brownsberger acknowledged, would allow for the extraction of more Canadian oil. But “the truth is what causes climate change is not taking oil out of the ground, it’s burning it,” he said.
My first response to Senator Brownsberger is to ask what he thinks people do with the oil after taking it out of the ground. They tend to burn it. My second response is that Brownsberger’s response is also factually wrong. When it comes to dirty tar sands, yes, Senator Brownsberger, just the taking of the tar sands oil out of the ground is also environmentally costly:
Extracting tar sands, and turning bitumen into crude oil, uses vast amounts of energy and water, and causes significant air and water pollution, and three times the global warming pollution of conventional crude production. The rush to strip-mine and drill tar sands in the boreal will destroy and fragment millions of acres of this wild forest for low-grade petroleum fuel.
The most obvious reason is that tar sands production is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities. It wrecks vast areas of boreal forest through surface mining and subsurface production. It sucks up huge quantities of water from local rivers, turns it into toxic waste and dumps the contaminated water into tailing ponds that now cover nearly 70 square miles.
Also, bitumen is junk energy. A joule, or unit of energy, invested in extracting and processing bitumen returns only four to six joules in the form of crude oil. In contrast, conventional oil production in North America returns about 15 joules. Because almost all of the input energy in tar sands production comes from fossil fuels, the process generates significantly more carbon dioxide than conventional oil production.
If Senator Brownsberger or another proponent of Keystone were to respond that, sure, extracting the dirty tar sands oil is extremely environmentally costly, but at least it creates jobs, well, not so fast:
The report said the pipeline’s construction would support 42,100 indirect jobs and 3,900 direct jobs during the one- to two-year construction period, which would bring in wages of about $2.05 billion, as well as another $3.3 billion in other spending. But once up and running, the operation of the pipeline would only support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, mostly for inspections, maintenance and repairs.
The project would create a number of short-term construction jobs (funding for which, in my opinion, would be better allocated on construction jobs to repair and upgrade our nations’ crumbling bridges and roads, as well as to erect wind farms that can truly help America move toward energy independence) but extremely little in the way of any long-term employment, making the jobs argument a mirage.
There is also the risk to communities through which the pipeline passes. Many of us heard on the news of the Pegasus pipeline bursting, sending dirty tar sands oil into Mayflower, Arkansas, in a major spill that still harms area residents months later. And Mayflower wasn’t alone:
And the fact is that Mayflower is not an isolated incident. A previous TransCanada pipeline, also called “Keystone,” experienced 12 separate oil spills, including one that released 21,000 gallons, during its first year of operation in 2010. Nationwide, about 3.2 million gallons of oil spill from pipelines every year. Spills such as these pollute drinking water, ruin American farmland, potentially destroy sacred tribal grounds, and create an uninhabitable environment for homeowners.
To make matters worse, TransCanada would not be liable for cleaning up the mess that Keystone XL will create. Because tar sands oil is not subject to the 8-cents-per-barrel excise tax that funds the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, American taxpayers would likely be forced to bear any clean-up costs.
Why should we be concerned about Keystone spills, beyond the obvious harm to the environment and public health? Because a spill could send food prices skyrocketing:
The line will run through critical areas such as Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, where a leak or an oil spill could easily contaminate the water source for nearly 20 percent of the country’s agriculture.
Ultimately, there’s a reason that Senator-elect Ed Markey’s campaign website included the following:
Ed’s also taken on the Republicans’ “Drill, Baby, Drill” campaign by opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and helped prevent drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Meanwhile, “Green Republican” Gabriel Gomez’s campaign website included the following:
The Obama administration is wrong in stopping the Keystone pipeline, a project that will create jobs, drive down our energy costs, and help us to become energy independent.
Unfortunately for Brownsberger, he’s running in the Democratic primary, not the “Green Republican” primary.
Disclosure: The author of this post is a constituent of one of Brownsberger’s primary opponents (Katherine Clark), a former constituent of another of Brownsberger’s primary opponents (Carl Sciortino), and a former State House staff member of another of Brownsberger’s primary opponents (Karen Spilka), though the author remains neutral in the primary.