Cleaning Our Hands of Dirty Pipelines

  This article was co-written by Marcus Denton, a second year master's candidate at the LBJ School for Public Affairs, studying social and economic policy. President Obama generates controversy with nearly every one of his decisions. But if he gives in on the most important environmental decision in years, we’re all going to feel the heat. By December 31, 2011 the president must decide whether a 1,700-mile pipeline carrying the dirtiest oil on the planet from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas is in the best national interest. This Keystone XL pipeline is not only an environmental disaster waiting to happen, but potentially a political one as well. The strip mining and drilling that will be employed to extract crude oil from the tar sands will have devastating implications for Alberta’s sensitive boreal forests, ecosystems and aquatic life. Furthermore, tar sands crude is mixed with highly volatile natural gas liquids and pumped at high temperatures to flow through the pipelines. This mixture is extremely corrosive. John S. Stansbury, a University of Nebraska professor and environmental engineer, predicts 91 major spills over the 50-year design life of the pipeline. One such leak could spill an estimated 7.9 million gallons of toxic crude into aquifers such as the Ogallala, which supplies drinking water to millions of Americans as well as supports 30 percent of the...

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