Alberta Tar Sands Oil Flows South As Keystone Pipeline Opened


Wood River Refinery, now connected directly to Alberta

Yesterday the valve was turned, opening the Keystone Pipeline. The converted natural gas pipeline ships 435,000 barrels of Alberta tar sands crude each day to Conoco-Phillips' refinery in Wood River, Illinois. Some have called it an "environmental Armageddon"; TransCanada Pipelines disagrees, saying in the Globe and Mail:


"This project is entirely logical. ... We're moving the world's largest and most secure source of crude oil to a nation that needs that crude oil, and what we're backing out is crude oil from places like Venezuela."

But even the Wall Street Journal, no fan of the environmental movement, notes the risks and the problems.

The $12 billion project has come under fire by environmentalists and some U.S. Democratic lawmakers who object to the higher greenhouse-gas emissions and ecological damage caused by oil-sands development. Oil-sands production emits roughly three times the carbon dioxide of conventional light-oil production and the strip-mining operations involved destroy the landscape in northern Alberta, creating large tailings ponds filled with toxic wastewater.

TransCanada wants to run the pipe all the way to Houston, but there is significant opposition, and worry that it might leak and cause a disaster as well. Sarah Hughes of the Sierra Club, in a guest post on TreeHugger, Tar Sands Poised to Become the Next Fossil Fuels Disaster, accuses TransCanada of "the same type of cost-cutting and corner-cutting methods that got us into the BP mess."

TransCanada responds to that fear: "The entire project is being viewed in the context of the ongoing tragedy in the Gulf Coast" but the risks are completely different, and that the pipeline can be continuously monitored and quickly turned off. We shall see.

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