An Impartial Fight

March 4, 2015

About the author: Elisabeth Lisican is managing editor of Water & Wastes Digest. Lisican can be reached at [email protected] or 847.391.1012.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (kidding—I would never assume that any iWWD readers live under rocks), you’ve probably heard about Phase IV of TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline, or Keystone XL. The proposed pipeline, which would transport about 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil from western Canada to oil refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast, drew cries of outrage from individuals and groups that said it could devastate ecosystems, pollute water sources and wreak havoc on public health.

On Feb. 24, President Obama vetoed the bill, which had received a 270-to-152 OK from the House. It had been reported that the president does not totally oppose the pipeline, but wanted to wait until a State Department study of its safety was finished before granting approval. 

On Feb. 16, the firestorm surrounding Keystone XL soared to a head when a train hauling 109 tankers filled with crude oil derailed and exploded along the Kanawha River in West Virginia. Both sides of the argument used the incident to support their stances. Those against Keystone XL, like the author of a recent refinery29.com article, “Why everyone should care about this exploding train,” cited the incident as an example of why we need to come up with safer ways to transport the increasing amount of oil that is shipped by rail—safer ways that are not Keystone XL. Pro-pipeline people, like the author of a recent houstonchronicle.com article, “109 reasons why we need pipelines, including Keystone,” said that transporting oil by rail is dangerous, sure—and it’s a great example of why we need pipelines like Keystone, and suggested that opposing Keystone XL won’t stop the mining of tar sands—the environmental threat at heart—so the issue of Keystone XL really is neither here nor there.

Whether you feel that oil pipelines are flat-out bad, or a necessary part of modern life, though, it’s important to connect the dots between Keystone, dirty tar sands oil and water, and at least be aware of the potential risks to water quality that could come down the pipeline. Extracting tar sands and turning bitumen into crude oil uses up a lot of water—not to mention energy. And, as far as groundwater goes, even if there is no significant impact to it during normal operations—what happens if something goes wrong?

For true champions of water, that is worrisome, and the hesitation to accept projects like Keystone XL stretches past any political party lines. We have governmental agencies doing a fine job of keeping an eye out for threats to our water; but again, true water champions will keep on asking tough questions. As an industry, we cannot control every threat to water, but we do have an undying responsibility to be aware of the potential threats to the precious resource—and to care deeply about them. I’ll also take it a step further to say that, once again, as true champions of water, we should be fighting unbiasedly for its ultimate protection and security.

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About the Author

Elisabeth Lisican

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