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The Prime Minister and new US President discussed Keystone on Saturday when Justin Trudeau called Trump to congratulate him on inauguration.
OUT OF THIS WORLD | Earth, Space and Everything In-Between - a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist/science writer Scott Sutherland

Five facts about the Keystone XL pipeline project

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, January 25, 2017, 6:35 PM - By executive order, U.S. President Donald Trump has revived the Keystone XL pipeline project, and it seems to only be a matter of time before the pipeline is approved and completed. Here are the top five facts about the pipeline, its purpose and the controversy surrounding it.

1. A Keystone pipeline already exists

Although the Keystone XL project has generated plenty of attention over the past few years, there is already a Keystone pipeline.


The Keystone Pipeline and Keystone XL expansion.
Credit: TransCanada

Marked in orange on the map, it runs a total of 3,456 km, from Hardisty to Bindloss, in Alberta, east across Saskatchewan to Elm Creek, Manitoba, then south, through North Dakota and South Dakota, to Steele City, Nebraska, and then east again, through Missouri, to the villages of Roxana and Patoka, in southern Illinois.

Since completed, extensions have been added to Keystone, stretching south from Steele City to Cushing, Oklahoma, and then on to Nederland and Houston, in Texas.

2. So, what is Keystone XL?

Keystone XL is essentially a shortcut, proposed by TransCanada Corporation, which is meant to deliver diluted bitumen from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, along a shorter, more direct route than the existing pipeline (the blue dashed line on the map).

Bitumen is the thick, sticky crude oil that is extracted from sandy soil or sandstone deposits in Northern Alberta. On its own, it has roughly the same consistency as molasses, and thus it does not flow well through pipelines. In order to make it flow easier, it is mixed with a much lighter oil product to produce diluted bitumen.

This stretch of the pipeline will also have wider pipes, so that it can transport more diluted bitumen than current pipelines, and is supposed to have better technology in place to detect leaks along the pipeline's route.

3. It was rejected for broken promises

Much of the rhetoric surrounding Keystone XL's rejection by the Obama administration was about the pipeline's potential environmental impacts due to spills, and its contribution to global warming and climate change by increasing the amount of dirty bitumen oil that is processed and burned. The proposed extension was ultimately rejected, however, because it was not going to live up to the promises it was making, with regards to permanent job creation, reduction of gas prices and reduction of U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

According to a report from the Cornell University Global Labor Institute,

• the pipeline was expected to generate only between 2,500 and 4,650 new constructions jobs over a two-year span - much lower numbers than were originally estimated - and these jobs would only be temporary, rather than permanent.
• the steel used in the pipeline was very likely to come from Canada and India, rather than being produced locally.
• the project was expected to result in higher gas prices in some parts of the United States, especially in the Midwest, because the refining of this oil would be done farther away, in Texas.
• with the oil coming from Canada and the Texas oil refineries where the oil is to be processed being half-owned by the Saudi Arabian oil company, Saudi Aramco, the project would not truly improve U.S. independence from foreign oil.

4. Other methods of transport aren't necessarily better

Whether you transport crude oil by truck, boat, pipeline or rail - and, at the moment, the oil will get transported one way or another, regardless - there are going to be accidents and spills. There is no 100 per cent fail-safe method.

Comparing the different methods, pipeline and railway seem to be the most popular choices, and they each represent different kinds of dangers. Pipeline spills are typically larger than railway spills, and thus have a greater economic and environmental impact. Railway spills are usually smaller, but more dangerous than pipeline spills, though, because damaged rail cars contain the spill, but also tend to catch fire and explode. This results in more damage to infrastructure and property, and potentially more lives lost from an accident.

Overall, which do you choose? Is either option truly better? It would actually be best to keep this project shelved and put more resources into clean energy, but since that's not likely to happen...

5. Canada may benefit more from this than the U.S.

When it comes down to it, although this new pipeline project will likely not deliver on its promises to the U.S. economy or the American people, Canada stands to benefit more from it. This benefit will come partly due to new construction jobs (albeit temporary ones), but also simply because it is Canadian oil that is being purchased for transport through this pipeline.

The Trump administration's new approval for the project, which came on Tuesday, includes a renegotiation of the terms of the deal. The major sticking points mentioned so far are that the steel to build the project should come from American manufacturing sources, rather than Canada or India, and that the United States should have some kind of profit-sharing in the deal. The rest of the details will have to wait for now, and may heavily influence exactly how much, or how little, anyone benefits from the project.

Overall, this is a move in the opposite direction

Climate change is real, most, if not all of the global warming that is causing it is due to the increases in carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning, and the impacts of climate change are only going to grow worse with time. Even with these facts at hand, it's still an unfortunate truth that we cannot simply abandon using fossil fuels immediately. Too much of our economy and infrastructure depends on them at the moment.

At the same time, however, it is a mistake to promote new projects that expand the use of fossil fuels, like Keystone XL, without compensating for this by also advancing clean energy research and projects. Ultimately, we may see increased investment in clean energy projects here in Canada due to the approval of this project. It is extremely unlikely that the Trump administration will show any support for clean energy, however, even though it promises to be cheaper, more secure, more local, and better for the job market, which is exactly what the United States - not to mention the whole world - needs right now.

Sources: TransCanada | BBC | EarthJustice.org | CBC | Cornell University (pdf)

Watch below: Trudeau answers heated question about pipeline approval

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