Tar Sands: The Wrong Direction

By Julia Clapp

On March 29th of this year, a tar sands pipeline leaked black oil through a wide stretch of residential area in Mayflower, Arkansas – a timely visual to indicate what an oil leak is like. Even now, the U.S. government is working to decide whether to allow the same tar sands to be piped from Canada to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the public concern about oil leaking out somewhere along the 1,700-mile stretch is one of the main arguments against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The possibility of a leak is, from a broader perspective, almost beside the point. Why would anyone want tar sands – the sludgy cousin of our regular heating oil – to be taken anywhere? Why would we want to pursue this avenue of energy? Not only does it produce massive CO2 emissions as a fuel, but the process of preparing tar sands for use required large amounts of energy as well.

Alternative energy sources must be made available to the United States and the world. If there was ever a right time for tar sands and fossil fuels, it is past.

Fossil fuels are destroying us. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently expressed concern over the potential damage caused by CO2 emissions associated with tar sands, stating that over fifty years of running at the maximum amount of tar sands per day (830,000 barrels), 936 million metric tons of CO2 could be added to the already warming atmosphere. The EPA also noted that the energy alone to transport the tar sands along the pipeline would be harmful to the environment.

All of this is only numbers and estimations, however. The bigger picture here is the fact that so many people seem ready to commit to using fossil fuels in the long-term. Arguing over how to transport tar sands seems irrelevant when really we should not be transporting it at all. Would it be so difficult to just walk away and leave it where it is? Yes, of course. Tar sands are tempting.

The people who want this pipeline have solid reasoning to back them up. After all, the pipeline would create jobs, as republican representative Paul Ryan pointed out last March. “20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 indirect jobs” sounds like a dream come true. (These numbers were refuted by a Cornell University study, which stated that that estimate was unsubstantiated and that there would, in fact, be only 2,500-4,650 direct jobs created by the pipeline.) Ryan also emphasized American energy independence, the importance of which is something that most people would not argue.

But at what cost? Should we panic for fuel now, open the floodgates on millions of gallons of tar sands, and wait to see what happens? Would we risk our environment and our future by taking this step towards fossil fuel dependence and away from cleaner alternatives? This is too big a gamble to take. Nothing less than our world hangs in the balance.


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