American labor Unions, ranchers, farmer, and Canadian labor unions have all joined forces in the recent days to protest the KXL pipeline that is projected to stretch from Alberta to Houston. This Pipeline wouldn’t be an addition to the already massive pipeline but a new pipe that would make a straight shot through America’s heartland all the way to Houston and the refineries in the south. The construction of the pipeline would create thousands of jobs  but once the pipe was built only about twenty jobs would remain in order to maintain the pipeline.

Bitumen sands are thick deposits of oil mixed with sand and clay that sit near the surface at different locations around the world including Eastern Utah, Venezuela, and the north woods of Alberta Canada. These sands cannot be pumped out of the ground like a crude oil deposit but must instead be mined off the surface or blasted from deep reserves using steam to create pressure in order to force causing irreparable damage to the surrounding environment. “Bitumen is virtually solid at room temperature — to move it through a pipeline producers must dilute[sic] it with light, highly volatile natural gas liquids. The thick, abrasive mixture called diluted bitumen, is then pumped through pipelines at high pressure generating enough friction to reach temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit.” (Anthony Swift)

Trans-Canada has been waiting for a final decision from the Obama Administration. Obama has approved the building of a pipe from Houston to Cushing but has not released an official statement on the expansion through the northern states. (See Image) For four and a half years Obama has not released a conclusive statement about his decision on building the new pipeline through the United States. Trans-Canada has already started construction of the pipe near Houston and has been encouraging states to purchase land from its current owners in order to acquire land to put the pipe through. Trans-Canada would save money by pumping the oil directly into the United States and is still confident the pipeline will be approved even though the pressure from both sides of the argument are huge.”The ‘sleeper’ argument on Obama’s desk is that TransCanada, having already invested big money in the U.S., can invoke Chapter 11 of the NAFTA trade agreement and sue the U.S government for big damages if its permit is denied.” States Ralph Nader in his recent article Perils of the Keystone XL Pipeline Confront Obama.

all tar sands pipelines in the us
(Image courtesy of the NDRC)

Protesters want a clean environment, and tar sands are one of the most harmful types of fossil fuel to mine and refine. Tar sand spills are deadly, hard to clean up, and extremely expensive. According to Kari Lydersen in her article written for onearth covering the spill in Marshall Michigan she states that “When that combination, known as DilBit, spilled out of the ruptured pipeline, the benzene and other chemicals in the mixture went airborne, forcing mandatory evacuations of surrounding homes (many of which were later bought by Enbridge because their owners couldn’t safely return), while the thick, heavy bitumen sank into the water column and coated the river and lake bottom, mixing with sediment and suffocating bottom-dwelling plants, animals, and micro-organisms.”

According to Alberta Energy in 2011 Alberta exported 1.3 million barrels per day of crude oil to the United States or about 14% of America’s total oil consumption for the entire year. This decrease in dependence on overseas oil has been a step in the right direction for most Americans. Tar sands being used in the United States is not anything new, but living in a nation that has been making such a heavy push for the use of clean renewable energy it seems like a step in the wrong direction. Protesters are protesting the harmful effects of mining, refining, and spillage that bitumen has on the environment. They are calling for Transcanada, Enbridge, and the United States to take responsibility and make sure the tar sands are not negatively harming the environment. Bitumen will continue to be a major oil source in the world at large, however, hopefully the pipelines will not. Oil can be transported by rail, truck, or ships easily enough eliminating the risk of more deadly, destructive spills.

Featured image thanks to Discovery News