Oil Pipeline Failure in L.A. Fuel for the Anti Keystone XL Fight


A massive crude oil pipeline exploded in Los Angeles (L.A.) on May 15, covering the surrounding area in oil and threatening water sources which lead to the Pacific Ocean. Ten thousand gallons of crude oil flooded the streets of northeast L.A. before action was taken to stop the massive spill. This L.A. pipeline failure adds fuel to the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would mark the completion of the pipeline that stretches from Canada to Texas.

The Keystone XL Pipeline has received a lot of negative publicity since it was envisioned on paper. The XL extension of the Keystone Pipeline will stretch from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska. The remainder of the Keystone Pipeline already exists and is waiting on the completion of the XL extension to operate at full capacity. The final project of the pipeline, if approved by President Obama, will permit 830,000 barrels of crude oil to pass through the pipeline every day on route to refineries in Texas. TransCanada owns this project and has released environmental impact statements regarding the entirety of the pipeline and has even rerouted a previous path due to disturbance of important natural areas.

Even with TransCanada’s environmental assessments, many Americans are protesting the completion of the pipeline. Their reasoning is based in fact, with much of the argument focusing on the possibility of the pipeline rupturing and dousing fragile ecosystems in crude oil. The oil pipeline failure in L.A. on the morning of May 15 is a perfect example of what the anti-Keystone fighters are concerned about – capping a rupture and controlling a spill before it becomes a problem is extremely unlikely in many instances. The pipeline rupture in L.A. affected a city full of people, but if the Keystone XL were to rupture in the middle of a rural area, the knowledge of the spill would be delayed, which in turn would delay crucial response time.

NASA scientist and avid climate supporter and expert, James Hanson, has famously said that if the Keystone Pipeline were to reach completion it would be ‘game over’ for the climate. Many protesters agree with Hanson’s sentiment. Crude oil, which is what will be transported through the pipeline from the tar sands of Canada, is much denser than normal oil. The oil contains many chemicals in order for it to flow through pipelines. Crude oil from the tar sands also contain sand, which may or may not have a negative effect on the pipeline’s interior. In 2010, a crude oil pipeline ruptured in Michigan, causing 40 miles of the Kalamazoo river to be drenched in heavy oil, which sank to the bottom and was still there when a reporter went to investigate a couple of years later.

Of course, there are many people who believe that importing crude oil from the rich tar sands of Canada is important for the United States’ energy independence. Late last year, over half of Americans supported the operation and benefits of the Keystone Pipeline. Though, as many anti-pipeline protesters point out, the Americans who are pro-pipeline are ignoring the possible environmental impacts of the pipeline.

Pipeline spills of tar-sand oil magnitude are responsible for respiratory health ailments, and towns near Alberta are experiencing advanced cancer rates. Humans are not the only victims – important migratory paths for many species will be jeopardized by the pipeline’s presence and possibly decimated in the event of a spill. Also, some people argue that TransCanada is not interested in keeping the oil for use in America and has plans to sell the crude oil overseas from its Texas refineries.

Whether the Keystone XL Pipeline is given the go-ahead or not, the decision will face opposition. However, ignoring the extreme problems that will be faced if the pipeline ruptures is becoming impossible with examples of such destruction happening with above-ground oil pipelines around the country. The oil pipeline failure in L.A. has provided factual concerns for those who fight against the Keystone XL oil pipeline that will likely be heeded as a warning for proceeding with the cross-country crude oil mover.

Opinion by Courtney Heitter

Pew Research 
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Huffington Post
Climate Progress

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