Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering junior and Mustang News conservative columnist. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Eric Stubben
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Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering junior and Mustang News conservative columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.

My past Friday night wasn’t spent like most others. Rather than good friends, good music and good times, my evening was filled with reading the 27-page State Department executive summary on its findings regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

As Michelle Obama might suggest, “Turn up, for what?”

Last week’s presidential veto of Keystone XL wasn’t surprising, to say the least. Per his past promises and citing environmental concerns, President Barack Obama killed the Pipeline bill just hours after it arrived at his desk. But after reading the State Department’s executive summary (published in 2011), I’m beginning to doubt whether the president and I read the same document.

For those who aren’t exactly sure what the Keystone XL Pipeline project is, here’s a short summary: A 1,179-mile pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, will meet the current Keystone Pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska, in an effort to quickly route more crude oil to Gulf Coast refineries. The current Keystone Pipeline pumps 550,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Canada to the Gulf Coast. If the Keystone XL Pipeline is approved, roughly 830,000 barrels of crude oil will be pumped from Alberta to the Gulf Coast.

As with any major construction process, environmental concerns quickly arise with its development. Over the course of the nearly 1,200 miles, the pipeline would be placed underground, crossing several rivers, streams and miles of plains.

After weeks of research on and monitoring Keystone XL, I found one key aspect of this entire project most striking. It is meticulously and carefully planned down to the most specific details. Dozens of organizations and government departments have devoted significant amounts of time and resources into risk mitigation and accident prevention.

From the most basic emission estimates to plans for how to deal with Indigenous Peoples’ land conflicts, the Keystone XL Pipeline project is one of the most thorough and complete projects I have ever seen run through Congress.

Though many complain the Keystone XL debate is complicated, it truly comes down to two pieces: the environment and the economy. Can they coexist? Does one outweigh the other? Or will government gridlock continue to halt this project in its tracks?

Let’s take a look.

Protecting the environment

I love majestic mountains, healthy trees and a strong-yielding crop. I’m not one to disagree that the environment should be protected, but at what cost? Environmental arguments over the Keystone XL pipeline seem to be unjustified and out of line.

As with any pipeline, leaks and spilling are main concerns. But after sophisticated government modeling, the State Department report refutes the likelihood of a major environmental crisis from a Keystone XL Pipeline failure. It states: “In most cases, the oil from a small leak would likely remain within or near the pipeline trench where it could be contained and cleaned up after recovery.” The report also suggests that larger spills would be containable so long as they did not reach migration pathways such as streams, steep slopes or drainage ditches.

Anticipating possible environmental concerns during the building of the pipeline, the State Department report includes a series of recommendations and safety nets to prevent major catastrophes. The plan implements a “horizontal directional drilling method,” which forces the pipeline to run under wetland and stream areas to minimize the chance of leaked oil entering water supplies.

Speaking of water supplies, a major environmental concern of the pipeline is the risk it poses to the Northern High Plains Aquifer System (NHPA). The aquifer supplies 78 percent of public water and 83 percent of irrigation water in the state of Nebraska, as well as 30 percent of the United States’ entire irrigation and agricultural water supply. After a complete spill incident model was completed, the State Department concluded, “In no spill incident would the entire Northern Plains High Aquifer be adversely affected.” Though there are minor risks for parts of the aquifer becoming affected, the report points to plans to reroute the water without much flow disturbance.

The pipeline project also places heavy emphasis on quick replacement of native vegetation and agricultural land after construction completion. A heavy focus would be placed on minimizing erosion and replacing grasses for wildlife and livestock.

Overall, environmental concerns are valid, but the pipeline project takes in careful consideration to protect the environment and to transport oil as safely and efficiently as possible.

Bolstering the economy

The bulk of Republican support for the Keystone XL Pipeline lies in its economic benefits and “shovel-ready” jobs. Though the nearly $7 billion price tag on Keystone XL is high, much of the money will be plugged directly back into the American economy in the form of materials, supplies, easements, engineering and permitting.

Though some outlets like to point to predictions that model only 35 direct long-term jobs created from the project, the immediate impact is what stands out. Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is estimated to result in 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs totaling anywhere from $344 to $419 million in wages.

The State Department report seems to also back the idea that the Keystone XL Pipeline could create a profound long-term economic impact. It states:

“Operation of the proposed project would also result in long-term to permanent beneficial socioeconomic impacts, including employment and income benefits resulting from long-term hires and local operating expenditures and increased property tax revenues.”

Following that statement, the report projects a generation of $140.5 million annually in property tax revenues directly from the pipeline.

Job incentives and tax revenues alone should be more than enough reason to proceed with the signing of the Keystone XL pipeline, especially for a president who heralds himself on promoting “economic recovery.”

Finding a solution

Alternative solutions have been suggested, two of which the State Department aptly names the “No Action Alternative” and “System Alternative.”

As one would expect, the No Action Alternative is simply what has been done thus far. With crude oil demand expected to rise in the Gulf Coast over the next 10 years, this lack of action would not meet the Gulf Coast’s need. The State Department “does not regard the No Action Alternative to be preferable to the proposed project.”

The System Alternative would use currently in-place minor pipelines, tank trucks and railroad cars to fulfill the oil need. However, trucking adds congestions to our nation’s major highways, especially at international border crossings. Rail cars add more emissions than a pipeline ever would and have significant safety concerns. Hauling oil by truck or rail is far more dangerous than crude oil flowing through an underground pipe.

A solution on the Keystone XL pipeline can be reached, but compromise must be made. The State Department recommends only minor route alternatives for safer construction and risk mitigation.

Other political outlets have even suggested partnering with Canada on a deal that benefits both countries. With Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s lax environmental policy, President Obama could consider a package deal that conditionally approves the Keystone XL Pipeline in exchange for Canada meeting certain environmental guidelines similar to President Obama’s recent environmental deal with China.

With the new Republican Congressional majority and a push for Congressional action, approval of Keystone XL is a perfect place to begin. Compromise must be made and the pipeline must be approved. Canada will produce and transport the oil regardless of our actions, but will we provide the pipeline that ensures it will be transported safely across American soil?

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