Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently promised that the Obama administration would finally make a decision on whether or not to permit construction of a new pipeline that would deliver Canadian crude oil to the United States. The Keystone-XL pipeline would create jobs, provide a significant and stable new source of oil and give the economy a badly-needed shot in the arm. So, naturally, environmentalists are outraged by the plan.
On Tuesday, protesters led by actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah demonstrated in front of the White House, calling on the administration to stop the pipeline, which would eventually deliver over 800,000 barrels of crude per day to refineries in Texas. To put that in context, the United States currently consumes about 18,000,000 barrels per day of petroleum products, so 800,000 barrels is a substantial number. Hannah has likened the protest against the pipeline to the civil rights movement and maintains that civil disobedience is necessary to fight what she and her fellow environmental activists see as a monstrosity. True to her word, Hannah was arrested after ignoring orders from U.S. Park Police to move from the spot where she was sitting down in front of the White House.
Following their playbook, environmentalists have tried to demonize the Keystone-XL pipeline in any way they can, no matter how spurious the argument. For example, the crude that will flow through the pipeline originates in the tar sands of Alberta. It is “dirtier” (in the sense that it has more contaminants that must be removed) than “sweet” crude. Because it’s dirtier, environmentalists claim that refineries will pollute more when processing it. Like so many aspects of the environmental movement, this seemingly logical conclusion doesn’t hold up once you scratch beneath the surface a bit.
Refineries are subject to a plethora of standards that limit the amount of pollutants they can release into the air and into the water. None of these standards is based on the type of crude oil that a refinery processes. The EPA does not care if a refinery is processing the sweetest crude available or if it’s processing crude so foul that it’s sometimes called “dinosaur dung” in the trade. The limits are the limits – period – and refineries that process crude from the tar sands will be held to the same standards to which they have always been held. So rather than polluting more, refineries that process dirtier crude have to improve their processes in order to handle them and still meet pollution limits. This modernization process has already begun.
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