Senators Raise Concerns About Dirty Fuels Pipeline

Eleven U.S. senators, led by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), have written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on her to respond to detailed questions about the environmental impacts of the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada across the United States.

Secretary of State Clinton from a U.S. State Department Photo

Secretary Clinton must approve the pipeline’s permit in order for the project to move forward. A few weeks ago, she made controversial remarks saying she was inclined to approve the pipeline. 

“I’m deeply concerned about the risks that oil from tar sands pose to America’s clean energy future,” said Sen. Merkley. “The further we prolong our dependence on oil the more we undermine American entrepreneurs and workers who are ready and working to produce clean energy in the U.S. In addition, extracting oil from tar sands produces several times more global warming pollution than conventional oil production. I look forward to discussing in detail the issue with Secretary Clinton, as there are many questions and concerns about this proposal that need to be answered.”

The letter’s signers include Senators Leahy, Burris (D-IL), Cardin (D-MD), Dodd (D-CT), Gillibrand (D-NY), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Sanders (D-VT), Shaheen (D-NH), and Whitehouse (D-RI).

Specifically, the letter includes ten critical questions that the Senators want the Secretary to address and states that “approval of this pipeline will significantly increase our dependence on this oil for decades. We believe the Department of State (DOS) should not pre-judge the outcome of what should be a thorough, transparent analysis of the need for this oil and its impacts on our climate and clean energy goals.”

Producing tar sands oil creates three times the emissions of producing conventional oil.

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline would cut through farms, homes and one of the nation’s most critical aquifers which supplies fresh water to one third of U.S. agriculture. Nebraska citizens and elected officials have come out in vocal opposition to this threat to the Heartland economy.

The State Department has argued that the pipeline is needed for energy security reasons. But the pipeline would open up a market for international trade in tar sands oil through the Gulf. To date, Canada has failed to permit new pipelines to its coastal ports.

The U.S. has approved two dedicated tar sands pipelines since 2008 and already has the pipeline capacity to import well over 2 million barrels a day. Canada produces approximately 1.5 million barrels a day, one third of which is consumed in Canada, so it is unlikely that the Keystone XL pipeline would run at capacity for many years to come. According to Sierra Club analysis, an increase in fuel economy of just 2.5 mpg would eliminate the need for all the oil that would be carried by this pipeline and an increase of 12 mpg would eliminate the need for any tar sands oil.

Earlier this year, Representative Waxman (D-CA), and over 50 House members expressed their opposition to the pipeline. Additionally, Senators Johanns (R-NE) and Nelson (D-NE) recently sent individual letters to Sec. Clinton expressing concern over potential damage to the nearby Ogallala aquifer in the event of a spill.

The full letter can be found here.

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Published: November 3, 2010