If Harvard students had lost track of the threat presented by climate change in the election-heavy, ISIS-centric news cycle of the past few months, Boston’s record snowfall this winter served as a sobering reminder. As made clear by the increasingly hot summers, rising sea levels, and increasingly frequent natural disasters over the past decade, climate change poses a pressing threat to humanity. Despite these concerns, the Keystone XL pipeline has taken on an unnecessarily symbolic role in the fight against climate change; we believe that—barring harsh reports from environmental agencies—the benefits of building the pipeline outweigh the costs.
One of the primary arguments against the pipeline focuses on the source of the oil, which is extracted from Canadian oil-sands—a process that releases 17 percent more greenhouse-gas emissions than standard methods. Oil sands are undoubtedly dangerous for our environment; however, as the U.S. State Department found in its exhaustive review of the pipeline, “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed [Keystone XL pipeline], remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the U.S.”
There are currently no assurances that rejecting the pipeline would prevent Canada from producing and transporting millions of barrels of oil-sands. In the first quarter of 2014, Canada shipped over 165 thousand barrels of crude oil per day via rail alone. Moreover, there are several other pipelines being built—such as TransCanada’s Energy East project—that have the capacity to transport over a million barrels of oil every day (a far greater capacity than the KXL). In short, stopping the construction of the Keystone XL likely will not affect oil production, and consequently the greenhouse gas emissions, from the Alberta tar sands.
While the U.S. would ideally already be past the age of oil ubiquity, oil is nevertheless still a critical part of the life of the average American. Until all Americans have easy and affordable access to alternative energy, it would be preferable for the United States to lessen its dependence on oil from the Middle East, especially given the instability in that region and Saudi Arabia’s consistent infringements on personal liberties. The Keystone pipeline would provide such an avenue.
In spite of our likely support of the pipeline, pending the completion of a full environmental review, we believe Republicans in Congress acted irresponsibly in trying to accelerate the timeline of President Obama’s decision on the KXL. This move by the GOP is indicative of the larger problem surrounding the debate around Keystone: This project should not be a political issue. It is neither the job creator the GOP advertises it to be (it would add only 42,000 jobs in America, almost all of which are temporary), nor the catastrophic environmental disaster Democrats make it out to be. It is simply a move, albeit a rather insignificant one, to make America more energy independent.
This is why, upon receiving the last of his reports, President Obama should make a decision on whether or not to build the pipeline as quickly as possible, in a manner uncolored by political ideology. We hope that we will be able to quickly move past this specific debate and start focusing on the more important issue: fighting climate change.
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