The Keystone XL pipeline debate: Local concerns or global cause?

Vol. 43 No. 3

Joseph M. Dawley is an in-house environmental attorney at EQT Corporation.

The Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed crude oil pipeline project that would extend from the tar sands oil fields of Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, has recently become ground zero in environmental and climate change policy. While the attention that the Keystone XL has garnered is clear, the debate over the pipeline is multifaceted and shows how local issues can be used to challenge a global issue. Specifically, the State of Nebraska and state and federal environmental organizations have raised concerns about the pipeline’s potential environmental impacts on Nebraska’s Sand Hills region, which contains numerous wetlands of special concern, a sensitive ecosystem, and significant areas of shallow groundwater. At a broader level, national and international environmental organizations are strongly critical of the environmental impact of the tar sands oil extraction process, which requires large quantities of water and results in carbon dioxide emissions. Also on the national level are pipeline supporters who believe the project will enhance U.S. energy security and provide much needed jobs. As with many issues, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. While many of the local issues can be resolved through the permitting process, the larger debate over tar sands oil development must be addressed at an energy and environmental policy level by the executive and legislative branches of our government.

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