The “Keystone Pipeline” won’t make gas any cheaper 

By Ted Williams

”A report that the Biden administration is weighing greater imports of Canadian oil is putting a renewed focus on the canceled Keystone XL pipeline and whether it would have made any difference with today’s tight oil supply.” — Energywire

Ever since boycotts started blocking Russian petroleum products, social media has been rife with memes that blame rising gasoline prices on “the cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline.”

Example: “Sooo, if shutting down Russia’s pipeline(s) will hurt their economy, wouldn’t shutting down ours hurt our economy? Asking for a buddy.”

Most of the criticism comes from people who recycle truthiness. Former vice president Mike Pence: “Gas prices have risen across the country because of this administration’s war on energy — shutting down the Keystone Pipeline.” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan: “Biden shut off the Keystone Pipeline.”

Here’s what really happened: No one shut down, canceled, or shut off the Keystone Pipeline. It is fully operational, daily delivering 590,000 barrels of tar-sands oil in Canada to U.S. refineries.

What some pipeline advocates think is the “Keystone Pipeline” is a 1,700-mile “shortcut” called Keystone XL, or KXL. It would have sliced through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast, delivering 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day. Many residents of those states fought fiercely against the pipeline cutting through their land.

Now, “Build the Keystone Pipeline” has become a social-media mantra, as if the United States could so decree. It is the Canadian firm, TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, that officially terminated the project once President Biden withdrew its permits.  

Even if construction on the pipeline began tomorrow, KXL could not be up and running in less than five years. The KXL pipeline was a project developed by a foreign company that would have delivered foreign oil products to mostly foreign markets.

When President Trump re-permitted KXL in 2017, his own State Department reported that it would not lower gasoline prices. The price of oil is set by the global market and certainly not by U.S. presidents. What’s more, the project was just about dead for a number of reasons, including litigation from aggrieved property owners whose land TC Energy seized by eminent domain.

We should also remember that rendering gasoline from tar-sands oil, the planet’s dirtiest petroleum, is far more polluting and energy-intensive than conventional refining. Some carbon content is burned off in a process that belches greenhouse gases and generates toxic waste called petcoke, which is dumped around the United States in piles six stories high. Petcoke billows through neighborhoods and infiltrates schools and houses even when windows are shut.

Bitumen, basically asphalt, continues to be strip-mined from what used to be Canada’s boreal forests in Alberta. Too thick to be piped, it’s spiked with volatile liquid condensate from natural gas and thus converted to a toxic tar-sands cocktail called ”dilbit,” short for diluted bitumen.

Dilbit, sent through the existing Keystone pipeline, contains chloride salts, sulfur, abrasive minerals and acids, and must be pumped under high pressure. It’s murder on pipes.

In addition to greenhouse gases and petcoke, tar-sands waste products include lakes, rivers, fish, wildlife and people. Between 1995 and 2006, when tar-sands extraction was accelerating, Alberta’s First Nations suffered a sudden 30 percent increase in cancer rates.

KXL, if built, also threatened the world’s largest aquifer — the Ogallala. Anyone who thinks Nebraska lacks water should visit Green Valley Township, where I encountered Ogallala water so close to the surface it flowed along dirt roads and ditches. Pintails, mallards, and widgeon billowed out of them. But parts of the aquifer are now depleted, and a major dilbit spill could finish those parts off.

In 2011 a pipeline representative named Shawn Howard assured me that ramming a dilbit pipe through the Ogallala aquifer would be risk free.

“Why,” he demanded, “would we invest $13 billion in a pipeline and put a product in it that was going to destroy it like these activists are trotting out? It makes absolutely no business sense.”

The existing Keystone pipeline has ruptured 22 times, including spills in 2017 and 2019 that fouled land and water with 404,000 gallons of dilbit. Business sense, as the oil industry consistently reminds us, is an attribute more often desired than possessed.

Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring conversation about the West. He writes about fish, wildlife and the environment for national publications.

This column was published in the following newspapers:

07/18/2022 Vail Daily Vail CO
07/18/2022 Aspen Times Aspen CO
07/19/2022 Montrose Daily Press Montrose CO
07/19/2022 Steamboat Pilot Steamboat Springs CO
07/19/2022 Twin Falls Times News Twin Falls ID
07/19/2022 Kingman Daily Miner Kingman AZ
07/19/2022 Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City UT
07/19/2022 Boulder Daily Camera Boulder CO
07/19/2022 Denver Post Denver CO
07/20/2022 Montana Standard Butte MT
07/20/2022 Craig Daily Press Craig co
07/20/2022 Wyoming Tribune Eagle Cheyenne WY
07/20/2022 Bozeman daily chronicle Bozeman MT
07/20/2022 Greeley Tribune Greeley CO
07/20/2022 Billings Gazette Billings MT
07/21/2022 Park Record Park City UT
07/21/2022 Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Grand Junction CO
07/21/2022 Glenwood Post Independent Glenwood Springs CO
07/21/2022 Taos News Taos NM
07/21/2022 Idaho Statesman Boise ID
07/18/2022 Big Pivots Denver CO
07/21/2022 Helena Independent Record Helena MT
07/21/2022 Lake Powell Chronicle Page AZ
07/22/2022 Big Horn County News Hardin MT
07/22/2022 Aspen Daily News Aspen CO
07/21/2022 Missoulian Missoula Montana
07/22/2022 Moab Times Independent Moab UT
07/23/2022 Cortez Journal Cortez CO
07/23/2022 Durango Herald Durango CO
07/23/2022 Yahoo sunnyvale ca
07/23/2022 St. George Spectrum St. George UT
07/24/2022 Las Vegas Sun Las Vegas NV
07/24/2022 Casper Star Tribune Casper WY
07/25/2022 Explore Big Sky Big Sky MT
07/18/2022 Limon Leader Limon CO
07/23/2022 Daily Interlake Kalispell MT
07/25/2022 Bandon Western World Bandon OR
08/01/2022 Sterling Journal-Advocate Sterling CO
08/11/2022 In These Times Rural Edition OR
07/26/2022 Arvada Press Arvada Co
08/04/2022 Moscow-Pullmand Daily News Moscow-Pullman ID
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John legrice
4 months ago

Thank you for this great article. There are so much disinformation being put out. Keep up the great work and writing.

Jay Young
4 months ago

Good summation.
I would add that some of the political push for the XL comes from Saudi Arabia. The Motiva refinery complax in Port Arthur, Texas, is wholly owned by the Saudi royal family.and it was engineered to process heavy Venezuelan crude that cannot be imported at present.

GigabitCH
3 months ago

Too bad they couldn’t use it to pipe northern snow melt to the Colorado river

Marty A
2 months ago

Just found this website. Extremely interesting. My work involves mapping out large complex networks, with small teams of collaborators, on the ground worldwide. Started doing this when I worked on US environmental regulations like the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations. Later expanded to many other networks- like traveling the world with bag of mobile devices tracking expansion of global internet and how that changed global dynamics forever.
So what? I grew up in US Western deserts, and our group has been traveling US water systems for years, documenting the processes and technologies mentioned here.I think the most important book that helps describe the “political DNA” of US water management is still “Cadillac Desert”. And the most important foundational theme in that book is this. If you dam up free-flowing rivers, the water in them evaporates much faster, because the surface of water expands far beyond historic river banks.. So most of the current “adjustments” to the large rivers are like angels dancing on the heads of pins – because the root cause of water loss is still presenting a larger surface of water- behind dams and in irrigation ditches – to the evaporative atmosphere of Earth.
There are very few ways to correct this, except to radically reduce the pull on the water system from several hundred million people. I have no idea how to do this, because for decades savvy engineers who have developed water conservation systems, have been defeated by wealthy housing/industry developers, and the politicians who receive their “contributions” that allow more growth of the evaporative systems described here.. I would suggest that people research the “less developed” cultures of the world to see how they manage to support billions of people without fancy “water conserving” washing machines, “water recycling” car washes – and the production of billions of tons of fruits and vegetables – about 20-30% of whose volume is trashed, not eaten.

Marty A
2 months ago
Reply to  Marty A

…adding to my comment above. A very interesting thing to explore is the effect on large scale water systems from new Electric Vehicles, and solar and wind farms. Remember – I’m basically an environmentalist – but if you examine the amount of water used to make and recycle millions of tons of solar/wind e-waste, you might be surprised.

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