Report: Keystone XL tar sands pipeline more of an economic liability than benefit

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March 13, 2012 - A new report from the Cornell University's Global Labor Institute shows how the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is an economic liability with the potential to cause significant job losses from a major tar sands spill. Because tar sands oil is more corrosive and toxic than conventional oil, it can increase the frequency of pipeline spills. Moreover, a tar sands spill causes far more damage than a conventional oil spill. Take, for example, the 1.2 million gallon tar sands spill on the Kalamazoo River in Marshall Michigan in 2010 where the clean up costs have been 10 times higher than a typical conventional oil spill. While there has been a lot of attention to the possible jobs created from the Keystone XL pipeline – far less than what proponents claim – there has been very little attention to jobs that could be lost from a tar sands spill. Keystone XL is expected experience up to 91 significant spills over a 50-year period. Which jobs are at risk? Hundreds of thousands of workers in the agricultural and tourism sectors contribute tens of billions of dollars to the economy in the Keystone XL pipeline states. The Cornell report helps illustrate yet one more reason why the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline should be rejected.

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

Tar sands spills more likely

Tar sands oil is more corrosive and toxic than conventional oil and can therefore increase the frequency of pipeline spills. According to the Cornell report, "Between 2007 and 2010, pipelines transporting tar sands oil in the northern Midwest have spilled three times more per mile than the U.S. national average for conventional crude."

Keystone XL likely to experience significant spills

An independent analysis conducted by the University of Nebraska concluded that Keystone XL over a 50-year period is expected to experience 91 significant spills (greater than 50 barrels). In fact, the University of Nebraska study found Keystone XL could spill as much as 6.9 million gallons of raw tar sands crude oil at the Yellowstone River crossing. In just its first year of operation, the first Keystone pipeline operated by TransCanada has spilled 35 times in the United States and Canada in 2010. This spill frequency is 100 times higher than forecast by TransCanada.

A spill from Keystone XL threatens jobs and the economy in pipeline states

While tar sands spills can have a tremendous impact on the environment, a tar sands spill on the Keystone XL pipeline through America's agricultural heartland could cause significant economic damage and job losses. The farming, ranching, and tourism sectors are major sources of employment along the pipeline's route employing 571,000 workers with an output of $76 billion. The pipeline will also cross over 90 miles of recreational lands in the pipeline state including state parks, national historic trails, and wildlife refuges.

"Despite TransCanada's assurances, we know there will be leaks and spills…It is not a matter of it, it is a matter of when, how often, and how much leakage there will be…When a leak happens, it will be [the farmers'] drinking water, their livestock water supply, and their irrigation supply that will be contaminated. Their economic well-being is directly impacted by spills and leaks." Nebraska Farmers Union

Tar sands spills more devastating than conventional oil spills

The Cornell report also looked closely at the largest tar sands spill in U.S. history on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 where the costs have escalated to $750 million – 10 times as much per litre as conventional crude. The clean up of the Kalamazoo river spill which has lasted almost two years has been especially difficult because conventional oil response techniques have been ineffective according to the EPA. Today, 20 months since the tar sands spill, the entire length of the river (35+ miles) remains closed. While conventional oil floats on the surface, tar sands is thick and heavy and sinks in water making it very difficult to clean up.

"Enbridge compensated us for the initial shutdown of our business, but we are concerned about the long-term impact that the spill has had on our business…one and a half years later our business is still suffering financially…" Debra Miller, Carpet Story Owner

An accurate assessment of the economic risks still needed

Ultimately, the report said that while there has been significant attention to the Keystone XL pipeline's potential to create jobs, "scant attention has been given to how existing jobs and economic sector would be impacted from Keystone XL leaks and spills." The report said a more detailed risk assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline – one that considers job losses and economic harms from one or more tar sands spills – has not been completed.

Until such as assessment is completed and a full accounting of potential job losses from pipeline spills are considered, the Obama administration should not issue any approvals allowing TransCanada to move ahead with construction of the pipeline.

Cross-posted from the NRDC Switchboard Blog:

A Video Insert is Here:

Sacramento Dave's picture
Sacramento Dave
Nov. 27, 2010 9:46 am


This is such an exhausting way to analyze insanity and try to argue against it. What tar sands are doing to the planet's ecosystem at the source is beyond any sane notion of "economic". Of course we can't expect sane economics out of people desperate for the energy to continue driving this economic growth machine designed to run on cheap and bountiful energy, so then someone, generally with some extra time at a University, goes through this exhaustive process of showing even further details that will simply be ignored. All the revenue from tar sands oil cannot put a Humpty Dumpty ecology it destroys back together again. Nor can all the revenue from the neoliberal global economy put back together the ecosystems it destroys on an even broader scale.

.ren's picture
Apr. 1, 2010 6:50 am

If you think about it—the whole world is being held hostage as oil greed takes power.

Karolina's picture
Nov. 3, 2011 6:45 pm

Ren wrote: All the revenue from tar sands oil cannot put a Humpty Dumpty ecology it destroys back together again. Nor can all the revenue from the neoliberal global economy put back together the ecosystems it destroys on an even broader scale.

poly replies: In the meantime, on with the show. We'll worry about the planet's inability to sustain human life when we get there. A few may even form a successful colony on mars if they leave before the resources are gone to get there with.

'Tis just more madness in an endeavor to sustain an unsustainable system and an unsustainable way of life. The sooner we grasp that, the better.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Does anybody have a link to TransCanada's own reports showing that gas prices in the USA will go up as a result of the pipeline and subsequent pumping of oil to the Gulf of Mexico?

scottdw's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Murphy, 1994: RATIONALITY AND NATURE, Westview Press; ISBN 0-81332169-7

Nature's Equilibrium Disrupted by Human Rationality

"Although humans believe that they are rationalizing nature—ordering it according to human ends—they may be destroying more order than they construct. In their attempt to rationalize nature, humans upset the order nature has achieved, thereby creating disorder. There may be a social equivalent to the second law of thermodynamics: the disorder (entropy) of our planet is increasing as a result of human action. Humans have created local pockets of order, but their actions have had global disordering effects. Coal has powered an ordered industrial infrastructure, but the stripmining to acquire it has destroyed vegetation, and the factories using it are disordering nature's atmospheric equilibrium. Rivers were diverted in the Soviet Union to provide irrigation for a rational production of rice, and the consequence was the destruction of the Aral Sea. Humans mine Uranium-235 in order to produce energy, thereby contaminating the planet with intensely radioactive waste, whereas in the natural environment the 99.3 percent Uranium-238 in Uranium ore blocks the fission reaction of the 0.7 percent Uranium-235 from starting (Commoner 1976: 85-6). Ballast water taken on by cargo ships in one ecosystem and released in another has introduced species (e.g. mussels in the Great Lakes) having no predators nor reproductive controls. Economically rational shipping is breaking down nature's bioregional equilibrium of local ecosystems, thereby fuming the planet into one big ecosystem, with ecologically (and perhaps long-term economically) irrational results.

"The notion of transforming planet earth into 'spaceship Earth' implies the replacement of the regulatory mechanisms of nature by those of human planning. Humans have come to believe that progress consists of their socially constructed projects taking over the functions previously undertaken by nature. But it is unclear how this constitutes progress rather than merely an expression of human vanity. Ecologists warn that human planning may well be inferior to nature's regulation. In his discussion of the dangers of nuclear power and the advantages of using solar energy, Commoner (1976: 125) reminds us that "the sun is a huge, essentially eternal nuclear reactor, assembled by the play of cosmic forces rather than by the hand of man." Better, concludes Commoner, to use the reactor perfected by nature than to construct our own. Nature has established over time through photosynthesis and metabolic oxidation a finely-tuned equilibrium of twenty percent oxygen in the atmosphere that sustains oxygen-using organisms (Commoner 1976: 42). Less than this amount and present oxygen-using organisms could not survive. More and the planet would be ravaged by terrible fires. There is as yet no indication that human reason could achieve an atmospheric equilibrium on such a planetary scale.

"By destroying the capacity of nature to maintain the human-sustaining natural environment, humans would be forced to do it themselves in place of nature, a laborious, probably impossible, task. As the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987: 32-3) concluded Nature is 'fragile and finely balanced. There are thresholds that cannot be crossed without endangering the basic integrity of the system.' Ecologists have demonstrated that nature has its own requirements and if humans attempt to reshape nature as if it were plastic, they do so at their peril." [p.p. 18-19]

bamboo's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

/planet/the-true-cost-of-oil [might be a better link]Has some of the planned pipelines covering the majority of US. We have seen some Brits and Aussies travel with some of the indigenous tribes, some having lived here 10,000 years. Their way of life, their health, their tracking of caribou if some still follow their old migration paths. It is really more than sad. I doubt the US shows the documentaries. Bad for business.

I show my kids these stories when they are on, and also plan where we might visit that is still preserved. I can't even talk to my mother about it. She doesn't believe it, claims she hasn't seen mountain top removal, and when a song comes on the radio with some Ted Nugent style crap she comments how patriotic she is. I can find a flag decal made in china for her.

My Dad and some buddies did a Canada trip with Indian guides and portages in 1958, '59. He saw and experienced something now gone. He's gone now too, but I can imagine the hurt he would feel seeing such ravishing rampant destruction.

douglaslee's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

You can check this out>>

Check this out too. There are several document links on this webpage >>

Also, Keystone myths and facts..>

You can also go on the State Departments website and read through the Final Environmental Impact Report.

Hope this all helps answer your question.

MrsBJLee's picture
Feb. 17, 2012 8:45 am

Where is Donald Trump's Worldview Leading Us?

I want to step back a little from the constant strum of the latest Trump scandal to the most recent outrage, the Trump constantly popping into the news literally every day. I don't remember this during the Obama administration or any other presidency frankly of my lifetime.

Every day they look for some way to get in the news even if it's negative.

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