As a Canadian, I have often heard about the mystical and controversial Keystone XL pipeline (KXL) that was set to deliver Canadian oil to the United States. It was supposed to be constructed to deliver oil in a bee-line to the border of Nebraska/Kansas, branching the already existing Keystone Pipeline. The current Keystone Pipeline carries oil from the tar sands in Alberta through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, then cuts south through the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and into Texas. There is also a branch that delivers some of the oil to Illinois via Missouri. The aim of the new pipeline was to increase the supply of crude oil from Alberta to refineries in the United States. The Keystone Pipeline is divided into three 'phases' (the KXL was supposed to be phase IV). The first two phases deliver oil to the American Midwest at a capacity of 590,000 barrels per day. The third phase, which runs from the Midwest down to Texas, has the capacity to deliver up to 700,000 barrels per day. Phase IV would have seen Canadian oil mixed with crude oil from Montana and North Dakota and would have delivered more oil more quickly to the south.
In 2015, President Obama delayed the project over environmental concerns, then Trump tried to get the ball rolling again in 2017. In January 2021, President Biden signed an executive order to revoke the permit, and finally the project was abandoned on June 9th, 2021 by TC Energy causing them to lose about CAD$2.2 billion. Over the past few years, the general populace seems to have become more interested in green energy and lowering their emissions. Thanks to environmentalists like Greta Thunberg, Wangari Maathai (RIP), Vanessa Nakate, David Suzuki, Al Gore (I guess), and many more... It appears that certain world leaders, at least, are taking the current climate crisis seriously. I was pretty impressed when President Biden announced that he was planning on replacing the entire governmental ground-vehicle fleet with electric cars, but the reality is that we are still depending way too much on petroleum products to be able to call it a victory for the environment, yet. Drilling, fracking, seismic reflection, and pipe laying ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) have environmental consequences that go far beyond on the scope of emissions and greenhouse gasses. Therefore, and many people agree on this, we need to stop using petroleum products and gas altogether, and as soon as possible.
I'm writing this just after something truly shocking and absurd occurred in the Gulf of Mexico:
Yes, a fire erupted, underwater, and burned for five hours until workers were able to put it out using nitrogen. The blaze was due to a gas leak in an underwater pipe connected to, and this is the real name, the Ku Maloob Zaap oil platform. The company responsible for this insane disaster is Pemex, who claims that bad weather caused this Eye of Sauron to appear in the ocean, though they insisted that there was no "spill" per se. The site of this demon-summoning-gone-wrong is very close to the location of a 88,200 gallon oil spill that occurred in 2016, though this time at a field owned by Royal Dutch Shell. Since 2012 there have been 147 oil spills in the gulf of Mexico alone, and that's not counting the infamous Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 which released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the ocean. I think we've all seen images of seabirds covered in oil, mass fish kills, whales floating belly up in the water; all deaths caused by our avaricious hunger for black gold.
And this is not the first time that the ocean has caught on fire this year. In May, the water caught on fire near the shore in Lagos, Nigeria. Some people thought it was an act of God, but it was more likely that an NNPC pipe carrying petroleum sprung a leak. Then, on July 4th 🦅, a fire ball shot into the air from somewhere in the middle of the Caspian Sea. This time, it probably wasn't a gas leak that caused the flames, but a mud volcano. Either way, the water being on fire three times in the first half of one year is not a good omen.
There have always been, and rightly so, complaints against oil drilling. Drilling is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation which destroys habitats, poisons water sources, and disrupts other aspects of human, animal, and plant life. Not only that, but oil and gas production are some of the main contributors to air pollution. The Alberta oil sands operations alone emit 70 megatonnes of greenhouse gasses every year, upon which there are currently no restrictions. Not only that, but wells that are no longer in operation are also a major problem, "More than a century of oil and gas drilling has left behind millions of abandoned wells, many of which are leaching pollutants into the air and water" (Groom, 2020). More than 3.2 million abandoned wells in the US emit around 281 kilotons of methane, which is about 30 times more potent than C02, into the air. The US and Canada are currently the only two countries who track abandoned oil wells and record their emissions, so you can imagine the amount of toxic fumes that flit through the air every hour, every day, every month, every year.
Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) is another beast that has many ugly heads. France, Bulgaria, Spain, Switzerland have banned fracking on their country's soil while other countries, states and cities have either banned the practice in their jurisdiction or placed a moratorium on further operations until environmental impact assessments can be completed. Fracking is a process by which a hole is bored a mile deep into the Earth, then a chemical-laden sludge is pumped into said hole to cause fissures in the layer of shale at the bottom. From the cracks in the shale, seeps forth oil and natural gasses. The point is to collect the oil and gas, but unfortunately some of it escapes into the atmosphere and surrounding earth. Fracking uses millions of gallons of water to crack the shale layer to get to the oil underneath. Not only is it a colossal waste of water, but that water is mixed with many harmful chemicals including, but not limited to, hydrochloric acid, methanol, and ammonium bisulfate. It's not uncommon for the slurry to contain uranium, mercury, and lead as well.
All of that liquid, including the harmful chemicals, usually end up percolating through the surrounding soil and entering other water sources. If the land nearby is being used for cultivation, it could contaminate crops, not to mention how it could contaminate drinking water; poisoning plants, animals and humans. The chemicals used in fracking have been known to cause cancer, the impairment of the endocrine system and degenerative neurological diseases. There is also some concern that fracking can trigger seismic activity since it literally cracks subterranean rocks all day, every day. Somewhere in the north west of England, two small earthquakes happened just 500 meters away from an area where fracking was taking place in 2011. They were only minor tremors, but it still raises cause for concern.
It was actually a little hard to find websites that describe the environmental impacts of seismic reflection, so I'm relying on Wikipedia for this one. As the name implies, seismic reflection uses seismic waves cause by an explosion, air gun or seismic vibrator (˵ ͡~ . ͡°˵). Experts then analyze how the waves are "reflected" off objects and can somehow manage to guess where underground oil deposits are located from the data. On land, forests might need to be cleared and roads built to allow access for vehicles and equipment, disturbing the environment and animal life. In the water, seismic waves can have a severe negative impact on marine animals that are sensitive to sounds and vibrations such as whales, porpoises, and dolphins; many species of which are either threatened or endangered. Humpback whales have been observed to circumvent seismic reflection zones by as much as 3km.
"Changes in diving and surfacing patterns, displacement from important feeding
habitats, disorientation, stress, and either temporary or permanent shifts in hearing
thresholds are some of the known impacts to marine mammals, according to
Richardson. 'And since sound is so important to their survival, the fact that they may not
be able to hear each other is extremely concerning and may lead to impacts at the
population level,' she said. 'Imagine trying to raise a baby or communicate with friends
while navigating in a concert hall where the band, essentially, never stops.'" (“Does
Seismic Blasting Harm Marine Life?”, 2021)
Originally, seismic surveys only lasts a few weeks at most, now, however, they can span across thousands of kilometers of oceans and last for years. I'm sure we've all experienced living near a constructions site. You bear the noise because it's only between certain hours and you know it won't last forever. Now imagine living next to PERPETUAL CONSTRUCTION. You would go insane. That's what's happening to marine life. Probably.
Now I want to go back to pipelines for a second. We saw how they can set the ocean on fire, but what else can go wrong? In the case of the Keystone pipeline expansion, the reason why it was proposed in the first place was because it was expected that it would create jobs and lower the United States' dependency on oil from the Middle East in addition to lowering gas prices. President Obama was hesitant to sign off on this because he thought that was all phooey and hogwash, though Canada's Justin Trudeau was all for it. Even though the trend these days, in most countries, is to move towards greener energy sources and reduce oil consumption, the expansion of the Keystone pipeline would increase the demands of oil extraction from the Alberta oil sands, which we've already learned emit huge amounts of green house gasses into the atmosphere. Not only that, but Environment Canada has found proof of chemicals from operations seeping into surrounding groundwater sources and the Athabasca River. Numerous communities are located on the banks of the Athabasca River, including Jasper, Brule, Entrance, Hinton, Whitecourt, Fort Assiniboine, Smith, Athabasca, Fort McMurray, and Fort McKay. First Nations groups have gone so far as to sue the federal and provincial governments for causing irreversible damage to the area and encroaching on their treaty-guaranteed rights to hunt and use their ancestral lands.
Alberta oil sands:
Looks pretty awful, eh? And, astonishingly, the amount of oil produced here is supposed to double by 2030.
Many of the existing pipelines in the US are old, like from the 50s and 60s old. There are even some that are from the 1930s. Pipelines in general are considered to be low risk ways of transporting oil, but when things go wrong, boy, they can go very wrong. We're talking deaths, injuries, general destruction, and mass contamination. In 2010, a pipeline rupture in San Bruno, California killed 8 people and destroyed 38 homes. Also, the spill incident in the Gulf of Mexico was far from the first time Royal Dutch Shell was on the chopping block. A group of farmers in Nigeria filed a case against the company due to a series of spills near villages, Goi and Aruma, between 2004 and 2007. The lawsuit was filed in 2008 and Royal Dutch Shell was ordered to compensate the farmers at the beginning if this year. In 2008 there were two large spills in the community of Bodo where tens of thousands of barrels of oil were spilt. Fishermen from the region sued for damages and were awarded $84million in 2015. Actually, the entire history of oil in Nigeria is bananas, click here for a neat little timeline.
How can anyone live near that?!
In conclusion, the extraction, transportation, and consumption of oil is awful and we should give it up altogether. People's lives, animal habitats, and entire swathes of land have been destroyed in this objectionable pursuit. Nowadays, we have the technology, the science, and the drive to switch to renewable energy sources (I literally just read an article about a university in South Korea that uses students' 💩 to make methane to power a building), but there remains many obstacles to realize this dream any time soon. There are still too many people like Trump in the world who don't know when to throw in the towel and give up their seats of power. Those conglomerates and oligarchs who desperately cling to their cash cows fraught with diminution, will be recorded in history as foolish zealots. To hasten their demise, we should collectively support those who stand against them, those who fight for the Earth, and have a green vision for a brighter future. Cast your votes and spend your money wisely, my friends.
BBC News. “Keystone XL Pipeline: Why Is It so Disputed?” BBC News, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-30103078.
BBC News. “Shell Nigeria Ordered to Pay Compensation for Oil Spills.” BBC News, 29 Jan. 2021, www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55853024.
“Capping Oil Sands Emissions.” Alberta.Ca, www.alberta.ca/climate-oilsands-emissions.aspx. Accessed 9 July 2021.
Chacín, Aíxa. “In Which Countries Is Fracking Prohibited?” SGK-Planet, sgkplanet.com/en/in-which-countries-is-fracking-prohibited. Accessed 9 July 2021.
Crider, Johnna. “The Eye of Fire In The Gulf of Mexico Wasn’t The Only Time The Ocean Caught Fire This Year.” CleanTechnica, 6 July 2021, cleantechnica.com/2021/07/06/the-eye-of-fire-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-wasnt-the-only-time-the-ocean-caught-fire-this-year.
Dasgupta, Shreya. “Shell Spills 88,200 Gallons of Oil into Gulf of Mexico.” Mongabay Environmental News, 20 May 2016, news.mongabay.com/2016/05/shell-spills-90000-gallons-crude-oil-gulf-mexico.
“Does Seismic Blasting Harm Marine Life?” University of Miami, 7 Mar. 2021, news.miami.edu/stories/2019/01/does-seismic-blasting-harm-marine-life.html.
Groom, Nichola. “Special Report: Millions of Abandoned Oil Wells Are Leaking Methane, a Climate Menace.” U.S., 17 June 2020, www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-drilling-abandoned-specialreport-idUSKBN23N1NL.
Haro, Alexander. “Ocean on Fire: Undersea Pipeline Rupture Lights Sea Ablaze.” The Inertia, 5 July 2021, www.theinertia.com/news/undersea-pipeline-rupture-lights-ocean-on-fire-in-mexico.
“Keystone Pipeline.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystone_Pipeline. Accessed 9 July 2021.
“Keystone Pipeline Officially Canceled after Biden Revokes Key Permit.” CNBC, CNBC, 10 June 2021, www.cnbc.com/2021/06/09/tc-energy-terminates-keystone-xl-pipeline-project.html#:~:text=Biden%20had%20committed%20to%20canceling,the%20suspension%20of%20Keystone%20XL.
Lorenz, Ama. “What Is Fracking And Why Is It Bad? | FairPlanet.” Fair Planet, www.fairplanet.org/story/what-is-fracking-and-why-is-it-bad. Accessed 9 July 2021.
“Pipeline Risks.” Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, www.watershedcouncil.org/pipeline-risks.html. Accessed 10 July 2021.
“Reflection Seismology.” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflection_seismology#cite_note-52.