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Pipelines still the best way to transport oil gas

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President Obama now follows his earlier rejection of the $10 billion-plus Yucca Mountain nuclear storage project with a rejection of the proposed $7 billion KeystoneXL pipeline extension project.

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KeystoneXL is a supplement to the existing Keystone pipeline system which now brings Canadian heavy oil to Illinois refineries and to Cushing, Oklahoma via Steele City, Nebraska. The first phase of KeystoneXL is a pipeline from the over supplied oil storage terminal at Cushing to Texas refineries. The second phase is a new line from Hardesty, Alberta to Steele City which would double Alberta to the U.S. shipping capacity to 1.1 million barrels/day. U.S. produced oil would also flow in these new pipelines.

A report to the U.S. Senate from the General Accounting Office states that the Obama administration’s closing of the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage facility “was made for policy(political) reasons, not technical or safety reasons.”  The new KeystoneXL rejection appears to have the same political basis as large groups are lobbying to block the project.

 There are more than 200,000 miles of oil pipelines in the U.S. which operate with minimal safety problems. The KeystoneXL pipe lines will incorporate 57 new safety requirements, and continuously monitor thousands of sensors indicating pressure and leak issues. Valves are closed remotely to limit loss from leaks.

Opponents of the pipeline are concerned about the health of the Ogallala aquifer over which the pipeline will run. But perhaps the biggest threat to the Ogallala is from corn/ethanol production. Millions of tons of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water are continuously dumped on the soils that drain directly above the aquifer. A study by Professor Sangwon Suh of the University of Minnesota reported that in Kansas and Nebraska, 500 gallons of water are required to grow and process the corn for each gallon of ethanol produced. Much of that irrigation water is drawn from the Ogallala which is in steady decline.

Opponents are claiming that much of this new oil will be exported. Actually, it’s finished products like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel that will be exported, primarily to Latin America which lacks the capacity to refine this heavy oil. This is good business, earning export credit which offsets all those imports we buy, and creating well paying American refinery jobs.

Older domestic oil reservoirs are declining, and there are three major new nearby sources. There’s the sub salt oil in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico; the Alberta oil sands; and the oil shale in the Williston Basin(Bakken field etc) which requires hydraulic fracking with those nasty chemicals.  

Of the three, the largest and safest source is the huge Alberta oil sands deposit.   It can be pipelined here, or you can have long lines of  tanker trucks. Protesters can burn gas junketing to various capitol protests, but it won’t do much.  They could campaign for carbon taxes to reduce oil consumption, but that’s  harder than staging protests. 

 There are biofuels, But 100 percent of our corn crop might provide 15 percent of our gasoline supply.

As to green house gases, 80 percent of emissions from oil come from end use burning of the gasoline or diesel made from the crude; those emissions are the same for conventional and oil sands oil. So that the overall so-called well to wheel difference is small.  At present, all Canadian oil sands operations account for one tenth of one percent of world green house gas emissions. The province of Alberta has 147,000 square miles of boreal forest. A total area of 1,850 square miles is set aside for oil sands surface mining. As of January, just 275 square miles have been disturbed.

We do need serious carbon tax and fuel conservation measures to reduce fossil fuel consumption. But pipelines will remain the best way to transport oil and gas, our major energy fuel source for decades to come.

ROLF WESTGARD is a Deerwood resident, a professional member of the Geological Society of America and a guest teacher at the University of Minnesota Lifelong Learning Center.

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