31 votes

Biden indicates plans to cancel Keystone XL pipeline permit on first day in office, sources confirm

19 comments

  1. [19]
    Wes
    (edited )
    Link
    Speaking as somebody that supports clean energy and is greatly concerned about climate change: I've never really understood the opposition to pipelines. The oil is still going to be drilled, no?...

    Speaking as somebody that supports clean energy and is greatly concerned about climate change: I've never really understood the opposition to pipelines. The oil is still going to be drilled, no? It will just need to be moved by truck, train, or other transportation instead. That seems decidedly less environmentally-friendly to me.

    Is the idea just to slow down or make these methods less economical? I suppose that could work, but is a bit less direct a solution than I'd prefer.

    While I happily support the environment, I find I often don't support environmentalists. It's a strange contradiction.


    edit: Knew I was in trouble when I came back to "6 new replies". Some great answers below. Potential damage from spillage and land usage seem to be the major concerns, and deservedly so. Thanks for the informative answers, all.

    10 votes
    1. Eabryt
      Link Parent
      I think it's more about all the wildlife that the pipe itself disrupts, not to mention the havoc caused by the actual building of it. Plus, failures and spills are pretty common from what I've...

      I think it's more about all the wildlife that the pipe itself disrupts, not to mention the havoc caused by the actual building of it.

      Plus, failures and spills are pretty common from what I've seen, so now you've got even worse of an environmental disaster.

      Also, theoretically those trucks and trains can be used for something else once we transition away from Oil.

      19 votes
    2. [2]
      precise
      Link Parent
      It's an understandable viewpoint, but I think it weighs heavily on the "moving petroleum from point A to B" without regard to the negative aspects aside from carbon fuels themselves. The stance...

      It's an understandable viewpoint, but I think it weighs heavily on the "moving petroleum from point A to B" without regard to the negative aspects aside from carbon fuels themselves. The stance that the problem (oil consumption) is never going to be fixed shatters any basis for any further discussion of problems incurrent or solutions. I know you don't intend to offer the "why bother" position, but I think the line is close for sure.

      • Pipelines are prone to leaking and spills, I don't have the numbers with me and I'll get them later, but a huge proportion of land based spills are from pipelines (in both volume and number).

      • Pipelines often run over tribal or environmentally sensitive lands. Given their reputation for environmental harm, it's understandable why this would be opposed.

      I could go over tons of more talking points and issues, but those are the two I can type on my phone, haha.

      You aren't far off with environmentalist strategy. The point of stopping these pipelines is to make any and all endeavors not worth it for oil and gas corporations. Do you have any suggestions for less direct solutions? We've clearly seen decades long complete inaction and demonstrated incompetence from political leaders at all levels, a total abandonment of environmental responsibilities in the name of profits and lobbyist money. We've seen corporations quite literally hire private detective agencies, enlist private armies, buy their way into local police forces and conduct surveillance of oppositionist in an effort to intimidate and physically assault protestors.

      I think the only difference between people concerned about the environment and climate change like yourself, and environmentalists who take it a step further is that the latter has come to wits end and lost all hope in the system to save us. After all, if it weren't for the years of environmentalist protests and actions, this wouldn't even be on Bidens's radar.

      13 votes
      1. vord
        Link Parent
        While @Loire provided a great post about how some of the environmental concerns are mitigated, I really, really want to stress the tribal part of this. Native Americans have gotten a raw deal from...

        Pipelines often run over tribal or environmentally sensitive lands.

        While @Loire provided a great post about how some of the environmental concerns are mitigated, I really, really want to stress the tribal part of this.

        Native Americans have gotten a raw deal from the immigrants to the US from the very beginning, but especially with the way the US government have treated them, continually pushing them into smaller and smaller areas of land.

        Tribal lands are supposed to be completely autonomous from the US government, and honestly should be expanded. Running a pipeline through their lands without their permission is tantamount to running a pipeline through Mexico without their authorization....pretty much an act of war.

        20 votes
    3. suspended
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      The problem starts with the type of oil extraction. Namely, tar sands. To get to the oil they have destroyed large areas of boreal forest. There is a lot more but those are some of the highlights.

      The problem starts with the type of oil extraction. Namely, tar sands. To get to the oil they have destroyed large areas of boreal forest.

      The ponds of leftover toxic waste threaten millions of migrating birds, and studies have identified health problems in the nearby indigenous communities linked to pollution. source

      Tar sands oil is thicker, more acidic, and more corrosive than lighter conventional crude, and this ups the likelihood that a pipeline carrying it will leak....People and wildlife coming into contact with tar sands oil are exposed to toxic chemicals, and rivers and wetland environments are at particular risk from a spill. source

      There is a lot more but those are some of the highlights.

      9 votes
    4. [12]
      babypuncher
      Link Parent
      The environmental impact of a burst pipeline has the potential to be catastrophic.

      The environmental impact of a burst pipeline has the potential to be catastrophic.

      8 votes
      1. [11]
        Omnicrola
        Link Parent
        Wow, had to dig back further than I thought for this comment I made on the topic ~2 years ago. This was about the Line5 pipe that already runs under the bedrock of Lake Michigan and not the...

        Wow, had to dig back further than I thought for this comment I made on the topic ~2 years ago. This was about the Line5 pipe that already runs under the bedrock of Lake Michigan and not the Keystone, but I think the argument holds.

        An oil tanker train car has about a 30,000 gallon capacity. (1) The number of cars in the train can vary a lot depending on the weather, engine count, destination, what other cargo there is, etc but let's just ballpark that at 150 cars.(2) So 4.5million gallons in a train.

        Line 5 currently carries 540,000 barrels per day of oil (3). That's 22,680,000 gallons per day or 15,750 gallons per minute. So if the line ruptured, it would let out about one train car worth of oil every 2 minutes. Sure, it would take a little less than 5 hours to reach as much as that entire train, however that's assuming you're comparing it to a disaster where the entire train fell in Lake Michigan.

        Pipelines can have worse accidents, because they are (by design) better at moving more oil faster.

        9 votes
        1. [11]
          Comment deleted by author
          Link Parent
          1. precise
            Link Parent
            Those don't always work as seen during the Kalamazoo River oil spill. Line 6b, run by the same company that runs Line 5 (Enbridge Energy) ruptured in 2010. The rupture occurred about 0.6 miles...
            • Exemplary

            Modern pipelines also monitor pressure at repeated sections across the span and have shut off ability (often remote and automatic these days but that's especially modern).

            Those don't always work as seen during the Kalamazoo River oil spill. Line 6b, run by the same company that runs Line 5 (Enbridge Energy) ruptured in 2010. The rupture occurred about 0.6 miles downstream from the nearest pump station which had the sensors and early warning systems. According to the EPA, more than 1 million gallons of diluted bitumen were spilled over a 17 hour period. During an NTSB investigation...

            "The investigators found that the operating firm, which had received an automated signal from the pipeline that a breach had occurred, misunderstood or did not believe the signal and attempted to continue to pump dilbit oil through the pipeline for 17 hours after the breach."

            What's even worse about this is that during the investigation, it was discovered the Enbridge Energy was aware of the flaw in this section of pipeline. Enbridge conducted an internal audit on the status of Line 6b and found that the pipeline had accrued 15,000 defects in it's 40 years of operation. The 6ft gash near the Talmadge Creek was just one of these defects and it caused the largest inland oil spill in American history costing tax payers $1.21 billion as of November 2014.

            For more information on this particular Line 6b spill, the Wikipedia article has a pretty decent synopsis and you can find root sources like the EPA and NTSB investigations therein, along with further reporting from investigative reporters. If you'd like even more reading material, you can consult this Wikipedia page which lists the spills and environmental destruction extolled by Enbridge Energy's malfeasance. Some highlights:

            Using data from Enbridge's own reports, the Polaris Institute calculated that 804 spills occurred on Enbridge pipelines between 1999 and 2010. These spills released approximately 161,475 barrels (25,672.5 m3) of crude oil into the environment.

            Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline was responsible for the largest ever inland oil spill in the United States.[25] In 1991, 1.7 million gallons of oil ruptured from the pipeline in Grand Rapids, MN.

            On July 4, 2002, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in a marsh near the town of Cohasset, Minnesota, in Itasca County, spilling 6,000 barrels (950 m3) of crude oil.

            So why should we replace Line 5? Why should we have even let Line 5 operate in the first place? Enbridge Energy has an absolutely horrible track record when it comes to environmental safety, now they are asking to dig up the lake bed under the Straights of Mackinac? As a Michigander I'm going to say no. The Great Lakes contain 21% of the world's surface fresh water by volume, in a world where fresh water is becoming of more importance and geopolitical significance due to climate change. The location that Enbridge placed Line 5 and wishes to install a replacement is especially sensitive. The University of Michigan ran a simulation (YouTube Warning) of the wide spread impact of an oil spill from Line 5, and it would be disastrous.

            Furthermore, Line 5 is actually just a shortcut. It is at the expense of American tax payers and the very real risk of environmental catastrophe, simply to help Enbridge increase their profits. An Enbridge funded report (PDF warning, page K-2) shows that around 5-10% of the product running through the the pipeline ever reaches Michigan, the rest is for Canadian interests. This demand for oil isn't ours, we are neither point A or point B. Enbridge says that without Line 5 people in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan won't be able to heat their homes, but their own report says otherwise. As this publication from the National Wildlife Federation illustrates (crappy PDF warning), there are several viable options to continue supplying propane to Michigan residents that use increased local capacity or use of trucks or rail. You could argue we Michiganders are point C, but Enbridge has made clear that if we say no to Line 5, they will just pack up and leave.

            We need to focus on eliminating our reliance on the product.

            You are absolutely correct, we must do this. The reality of Line 5 though, is that we as Michiganders don't really rely on Line 5 to the extent Enbridge says we do.

            As for a broader picture of oil consumption, in another comment you said that clamping down on oil and forcing change would be too painful and is unrealistic. I'd agree that it would be painful, but it's not unrealistic. I think you'd agree that such a sudden change is necessary to address climate change, I think such a change will take place on our roads.

            An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report shows that 49.87% of world-wide oil consumption in 2018 was from road vehicles. Current trends show that electric vehicle market share will experience a "compound annual growth rate of 29 per cent achieved over the next ten years". Now the first thing that comes to my mind when anybody talks about electric vehicles is "Where is the power coming from?" Firstly, I'd be careful to scrutinize this point too much. According to a study conducted by The Union of Concerned Scientists, "...the average EV produces global warming pollution equal to a gasoline vehicle that gets 88 miles per gallon (mpg) fuel economy." It's not ideal, but it's getting better. A report from the same consortium also shows: "Electricity from coal has fallen from 45% to 28% in less than a decade. At the same time, solar and wind electricity has grown from less than 2% to 8% in 2018. In even better news, there's been significant push from within the EV industry by outside lobbying groups for increased renewable energy use in EV charging.

            The next step is government regulation, which I believe will come hand-in-hand with President Biden rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. Further regulating energy production, along with increased emissions restrictions will price out many internal combustion engine based vehicles leading to an increase in EV use. Hopefully this would also lead to even more efficient transportation practices like public transportation.

            The last step is public pressure. We need to ensure that corporations are held accountable for the negative externalities on the world, and prevented from wreaking further environmental havoc. We need to hold congress and the Biden administration accountable to their promises on climate policy and environmental regulation. I realize that my statements about EVs, renewables and the future seems all butterflies and rainbows, it's not. This is going to be hard, it's going to take continual pressure and constant change, but we don't have a choice. Companies like Exxon, Enbridge and others have driven us and our consumerist culture to this point, we have to say stop.

            10 votes
          2. [9]
            bloup
            Link Parent
            Would we actually stop relying on the old, unsafe pipelines if new ones were built, though? And if that is the case, why can't existing rights of way be used for new pipelines instead of creating...

            Would we actually stop relying on the old, unsafe pipelines if new ones were built, though? And if that is the case, why can't existing rights of way be used for new pipelines instead of creating big controversies where oil companies try to get the pipeline built on indigenous land? And if Keystone XL being built doesn't mean that pipelines like Line5 get decommissioned, isn't it a bit of a moot point?

            6 votes
            1. [9]
              Comment deleted by author
              Link Parent
              1. bloup
                Link Parent
                Does Keystone XL directly replace any existing, old and unsafe pipeline? Will we be able to shutdown any existing, old and unsafe pipelines once Keystone XL is built? I can definitely get behind...

                Old pipelines do get decommissioned if there is a direct replacement built for them. Keystone to Line5 isn't the best comparison because KXL isn't built to transport the same product as Line5.

                Does Keystone XL directly replace any existing, old and unsafe pipeline? Will we be able to shutdown any existing, old and unsafe pipelines once Keystone XL is built? I can definitely get behind improving or replacing old pipelines if it can be demonstrated that such a project would improve environmental outcomes for a bioregion that is basically being actively threatened by a 70 year old pipeline carrying toxic sludge. But if Keystone XL does not allow us to shutdown any old and unsafe pipelines, then it doesn’t really seem like a good reason to build Keystone XL in particular.

                I’m not really advocating for anything here, and I’m perfectly willing to accept the possibility that liter for liter, modern oil pipelines are the least environmentally impactful way to transport the quantities of oil needed to meet global demand. But, I think my problem is it seems like we are almost saying “oil pipelines are good for the environment because they aren’t as dangerous as a supertanker”, and that feels pretty Stockholm syndromey to me. I can definitely relate to a lament about how stopping the construction of oil pipelines does nothing to actually address the root problems, though. But I don’t know, for me this makes me have an extremely somber view of pipelines, like “hey, did you hear there is yet another mega-engineering project in order to satisfy the global oil demand that’s killing us all?”.

                5 votes
              2. [2]
                cfabbro
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                And yet despite that: Keystone XL pipeline faces opposition from 'historic union' of Canada, U.S. Indigenous tribes Indigenous leaders sign opposition to Keystone XL in Calgary Have those tribal...

                These days oil companies in Canada put a lot of resources into Indigenous relations to mitigate this problem. The bigger companies up here have full blown departments dedicated to managing Indigenous engagement. You simply can't do anything up here without contacting Indigenous Canadians. Making local bands or reservations financial stakeholders in the projects has become very popular lately up here.

                And yet despite that:
                Keystone XL pipeline faces opposition from 'historic union' of Canada, U.S. Indigenous tribes
                Indigenous leaders sign opposition to Keystone XL in Calgary

                Have those tribal coalitions changed their stances on the pipeline since then? I can't find any updated information on that.

                4 votes
                1. [2]
                  Comment deleted by author
                  Link Parent
                  1. cfabbro
                    Link Parent
                    Thanks for the more up-to-date info.

                    Thanks for the more up-to-date info.

                    3 votes
              3. [5]
                skybrian
                Link Parent
                It seems to me it's like decommissioning nuclear reactors? Yes, it's possible for a government to decide to shut them all down like Germany did, but the next alternative may be worse. But I'm...

                It seems to me it's like decommissioning nuclear reactors? Yes, it's possible for a government to decide to shut them all down like Germany did, but the next alternative may be worse.

                But I'm guessing the alternative is importing oil from somewhere else. Is that really all that bad? I'm thinking if prices went up a bit then it's not all that different from a carbon tax? Moving in the right direction, anyway.

                But maybe it's bad because it props up oil regimes somewhere.

                2 votes
                1. [5]
                  Comment deleted by author
                  Link Parent
                  1. emdash
                    Link Parent
                    It seems like the best way to solve this problem in its entirety is to eliminate oil production and consumption as much as feasibly possible. I presume, given your detailed comments, that you work...

                    It seems like the best way to solve this problem in its entirety is to eliminate oil production and consumption as much as feasibly possible. I presume, given your detailed comments, that you work in the industry?

                    2 votes
                  2. [3]
                    skybrian
                    Link Parent
                    That seems like an interesting comparison to make, pipelines versus supertankers.

                    That seems like an interesting comparison to make, pipelines versus supertankers.

                    1 vote
                    1. [2]
                      emdash
                      Link Parent
                      It's also a false dichotomy: we don't have to choose between just awful and terrible. What we need is to make oil production, oil transportation, and oil consumption socially and economically as...

                      It's also a false dichotomy: we don't have to choose between just awful and terrible. What we need is to make oil production, oil transportation, and oil consumption socially and economically as undesirable as possible—while affording alternatives to those who cannot make the transition with their own, with governments that support subsidies for the research and development, and expansion of a clean-energy society. Introduce chilling effects which discourage the consumption of this product. Incentivise metallurgical firms to embrace steel produced with hydrogen and aggressively push that rock through its learning curve. The world's richest corporations and people are flush with cash, they can afford the transition to electric energy or to hydrogen energy.

                      Fuck this whole talk about the "least worst" option. We can do so much better. Getting mired in a crab mentality where we look for tiny little improvements whilst the world is entering a climate crisis is the dumbest thing.

                      3 votes
                      1. skybrian
                        Link Parent
                        Well of course it’s not the only choice, but I think it would still be an interesting comparison to make and I would read it. You seem to be reading more into it than that.

                        Well of course it’s not the only choice, but I think it would still be an interesting comparison to make and I would read it. You seem to be reading more into it than that.

                        4 votes
    5. WendigoTulpa
      Link Parent
      Strictly talking out my ass here, but I think this is a good move since the new pipeline would have needed to cut through a lot of places (and given the states it goes through I imagine a lot of...

      Strictly talking out my ass here, but I think this is a good move since the new pipeline would have needed to cut through a lot of places (and given the states it goes through I imagine a lot of it is wilderness area), and need additional roads for maintenance. Without it they can use the existing pipe, and existing roads to achieve the same thing.

      I get your point. Maybe this is more symbolic than anything? Like, actual drilling operations don't take up that much space relatively speaking, but this pipeline can be viewed as a great big gash cut through the middle of the country.

      And in any case, any and all moves to stop changing our environment, especially for what should be a dying industry, can be seen as good.

      6 votes
    6. petrichor
      Link Parent
      That's not a contradiction at all. Single issue groups often draw those who know little about a topic to them.

      While I happily support the environment, I find I often don't support environmentalists. It's a strange contradiction.

      That's not a contradiction at all. Single issue groups often draw those who know little about a topic to them.

      5 votes