As we wait on the Obama administration to make a final decision on whether to give the go-ahead to build the Keystone XL pipeline — he’ll approve it eventually — the company that owns it, TransCanada, is now proposing a massive new pipeline that would go all the way across Canada.
That’s interesting. Unlike Keystone XL, which would ship tar sands crude to the Gulf Coast to be refined and then shipped off, this one would evidently ship the crude to an Atlantic port where it would then be shipped off to be refined somewhere else. But it doesn’t really matter where it is refined. The real problems with tar sands crude are the cost of extracting it and the dangers of transporting it. It takes an extraordinary amount of water and energy to extract the oil from the tar sands at a time when clean water is becoming more scarce. And the amount of energy it takes makes it significantly worse than conventional crude oil for the environment.
With a decision regarding its proposed Keystone XL pipeline delayed indefinitely in the U.S., TransCanada Corp. has set to work promoting another major tar sands pipeline that would carry almost as much crude as Keystone. On Tuesday, the company released a study projecting that construction of the massive Energy East pipeline will result in 2,300 jobs from now through 2015 during the development phase and 7,700 jobs during the construction phase between 2016 and 2018. After the pipeline is completed, the study estimates it will support 1,000 full-time jobs.
Energy East, the most expensive pipeline in TransCanada’s history, would run from Alberta to the Atlantic seaboard, ending where a new deep-water marine terminal would be built to export the crude overseas. In early August, TransCanada said it received the long-term contracts for about 900,000 barrels of crude per day and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already indicated his support for the project.
And sending the thick sludge through pipelines presents unique problems that are far more dangerous than regular crude oil. We found out with the leak of nearly a million gallons of the stuff here in Michigan in 2010 that tar sands oil sets of thousands of false pressure alarms in the pipeline, making it all but impossible to detect a leak until it’s actually seen on land or in the water, when it’s too late. It also reacts very differently in the environment than regular crude oil, making it far more difficult to clean up (it’s thick and sinks to the bottom in water, so boom and skimmers don’t work as well). It is also much higher in heavy metals, which presents a much higher risk to public health.