Snyder: Keystone pipeline benefits outweigh harms

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The Keystone pipeline currently runs through eastern North and South Dakota and Nebraska and brings oil to refineries in Illinois and Texas.

Stephen Snyder

Debates about the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline — which have been working their way through the United States among politicians and citizens alike for six years — are going to heat up throughout the Midwest.

Not surprisingly, studies on both sides of the argument have produced opposite results, so for the sake of argument I will work off of the assumption that pipelines harm agricultural land. Still, even the worst presumptions do not change my opinion.

When it comes to concerns for an accidental leak harming the land, it should first be understood that agriculture, at least without proper crop rotation and management, negatively affects the ability of any soil to produce life of any kind. Let us never mistake agriculture for environmentalism because the issues are painfully separate.

Agriculture itself is an environmental hazard due to chemical runoff, but it is one we have accepted because it is necessary for us to sustain the ways we like to live, which is exactly what we have decided about petroleum as well.

Through our addiction to petroleum, we have decided that having it readily available to us is worth the risk of a spill — just like the constant availability of food provided through agriculture has been deemed more important than a hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

A section of the pipeline which is already in place in Texas — called the Gulf Coast section — has already raised concerns for farmers who have had the pipeline forced upon them. In a Fox News report, Texas farmer Julia Trigg Crawford expressed her frustrations with the fact that when she asked the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the government agency in charge of inspecting the pipelines, if it had inspected the pipeline on her land, she said that it could not answer her question.

She was simply told that “the pipeline is safe and that all issues have been resolved,” which led her to believe that only TransCanada inspectors had been to her land to check the quality of the pipeline.

This may seem like laziness on the part of the government, but upon researching the process of pipeline inspection, the truth becomes far more clear. According to the pipeline safety administration, there are only 75 full-time pipeline inspectors working in the United States. Ironically, an ordinary citizen is actually statistically more likely to discover a pipeline leak — 23 percent — than a professional inspector — 19 percent— according to the U.S. Department of State.

Therefore, it stands to reason that the pipeline in Texas was most certainly inspected by a government agent, but for the inspectors to observe every inch of the pipeline is a lofty expectation. The most likely answer is that the safety administration could not tell Crawford if it had inspected her specific patch of pipeline because it had no idea who owned the land where the pipeline was buried, only that all sections examined were functioning properly.

This realization also spins Crawford’s perception of the TransCanada inspectors who examined her land. The inspection now seems more like quality assurance for a concerned citizen than a scheming organization. I have no doubt that a majority of world corporations — TransCanada included — would play dirty to make more money, but that does not seem to be the case in this instance.

The most persuasive argument in support of laying the pipeline across our country is the fact that it would doubtlessly create jobs for Americans, at least throughout the construction and continued maintenance of the pipeline.

In an article written by Albert Huber, the president of Patterson Pump Company, and Peter Bowe, president of Ellicott Dredges, and published by Forbes on its website’s opinion section, the argument is made that even President Obama’s administration cannot deny the pipeline based solely upon the massive number of jobs it estimates it would create. The article throws around job numbers north of 40,000 during construction, claiming a State Department report as the source of the estimate.

Perhaps even more importantly, the article claims that the State Department found that the pipeline would not be environmentally hazardous.

When reading articles with biased authors, a measure of skepticism is more than healthy. Both of these men and their businesses stand to profit from a pipeline like the Keystone XL being laid, so of course anything they say will only promote their interests.

However, my skepticism led me to read the State Department report for myself. Not only is everything that Huber and Bowe published in their article true, they may have actually been too modest, according to the report. The findings of the State Department include not only the creation of 42,100 jobs but also point to the fact that pipeline leaks, though less likely to be noticed and thus last longer, actually cause less environmental damage than many other forms of petroleum transportation.

Whenever petroleum is transported, risks are assumed. Are we really going to pretend that moving an extremely volatile substance, no matter how carefully, is not inherently risky? As long as gasoline fuels our lives as much it does now, there will always be dangers.

There will never be a way to transport petroleum that makes every involved party happy. There is no perfect solution here. Were you to tell me that your opinion was the exact opposite of mine, I would not attempt to persuade you. What we have in the Keystone XL pipeline is the best option in a no-win scenario.