Opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline

April 4, 2013

In December 2011, I wondered if the opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline project was truly just, given that Americans do not have the same kind of reaction to actual oil spills in places like Brazil and Nigeria, as to the potential for spills in the United States. Since then, I have learned more about the climate impact of tar sands (which admittedly is still not entirely clear),and given more consideration to the justice and ethics. Thus while I still hold to the main points of my previous blog post – we need to focus on reducing energy consumption, and Americans should be equally concerned about ecological impacts of oil production / transport outside the United States – I am now firmly opposed to the construction of this pipeline, and have signed onto Interfaith Power & Light's letter-writing campaign against the pipeline.

(A) Previous thought: the alternative to piping through the US is piping through Canada or trucking, so the NIMBY principle would just push the transport into Canada. Well, that doesn't look so clear, as there is considerable opposition to a pipeline in Canada. It is being reported that other forms of transport are looking less viable, so it appears to be the case that the Keystone XL Pipeline is the key to unlocking, or bottling up, Canadian tar sands oil production.

(B) The cost of a spill in the middle of the nation would be huge, though just what that really means is debatable. Last week's spill in Arkansas helps drive that home. Previously I argued that we should accept that risk if we're willing to accept it elsewhere. Now I prefer to say we simply must not accept such a high risk, where risk = probability times cost → low prob of spill times very high cost equals high risk.

(C) There is the principle of not being party to evil. Just because "its going to happen anyway" (development of the tar sands oil) does not mean we, as a country, should passively condone and profit it from it. In fact, ethically it should mean just the opposite - we must refuse to profit from tar sands oil.

Now, having said all that, it is still absolutely clear that the only just response is for us all take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we're going to reduce our own use of fossil fuels.