A year after President Barack Obama rejected the original construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the proposed project has once again become a popular discussion topic among policymakers. Critics of Keystone have been outspoken about the potential environmental risks the pipeline could pose, but these objections have largely drowned out those extolling the significant benefits associated with it.
Many do not understand that environmental friendliness and economic growth need not be mutually exclusive. Policymakers must work to implement a plan that will allow the construction of the pipeline without further delay while also providing thorough environmental oversight. Continued inaction would only result in delayed progress toward energy independence and unnecessarily deprive the United States of some much-needed economic growth.
The pipeline, which would bring about 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Canada to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast every day, would not only generate revenue and create thousands of jobs for our underemployed workforce, but would also bring the country closer to energy independence from far-off, potentially hostile nations in the process creating more resources for developing cleaner alternative energy sources.
Just this past Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird to discuss their countries’ shared interests with regard to the pipeline. Though Kerry remained vague on any specific plans and when (or if) they would be finalized, Baird summarized something that everyone engaged in the Keystone debate needs to consider: “We all share the need for a growing economy to create jobs, the desire [for] energy security in North America. And we also share the objective of protecting our environment for future generations.”
The economic benefits should not be understated. According to builder TransCanada, for example, the Keystone pipeline could generate 20,000 jobs in the construction phase alone. And oil sands development following construction could create or support well over 600,000 U.S. jobs by 2035, according to the Canadian Energy Research Institute. Additionally, $20 billion could be pumped into the U.S. economy through Keystone, a figure that does not even account for the estimated $5 billion that the Keystone project would pay to local counties throughout its lifetime.
Perhaps the most far-reaching advantage of Keystone is the potential that it brings for American energy independence. Tapping into the abundant oil resources on our own continent would greatly decrease our dependence on oil from ideologically different countries and with that allow us to end expensive — and not to mention environmentally detrimental — entanglements with oil-producing nations. The money and resources subsequently saved could then be reallocated toward research and development of alternative energy sources.
Environmentally speaking, Keystone has passed three different environmental reviews at the behest of the State Department. Past controversy over the originally proposed route of the pipeline is now a moot point as well, since the route has been re-adjusted to avoid sensitive areas in Nebraska.
Those who make the argument that Keystone would damage the environment and contribute to global climate change also overlook the fact that the oil the United States imports often comes from nations that do not give much consideration to environmental impact or work to combat climate change. By relying on Canadian oil sources, the United States would not only reduce its crippling dependence on oil from potentially hostile countries but also have more oversight of environmental precautions when it comes to oil production. Continuing to adhere to the not-in-my-backyard mindset displayed by some environmental activists with a one-track mind would thus be both hypocritical and damaging.
Instead of taking us further from clean and independent energy in America, the Keystone pipeline would actually allow the country to take a step toward it by removing our reliance on Middle Eastern nations for their oil and focusing attention on developing clean, renewable energy sources. The sooner policymakers and the public realize this, the sooner real and lasting change will begin to take root for the future of energy.
Sarah Cueva is a junior majoring in Middle East studies and political science. Her column “Homeland” runs Wednesdays.