Tar Sands Pipeline a Step Backward

By Bob Dinneen | September 15, 2009
At a time when biofuel bashers are blaming ethanol for deforestation in the Amazon as part of the unscientific indirect land use change claim, along comes the U.S. Department of State. The department is agreeing to permit the construction of a brand new pipeline to ship tar sands oil to the United States. This would undoubtedly damage land, pollute water and contribute even more to carbon dioxide emissions than current oil production.

The ethanol industry, in its various submissions to the U.S. EPA and other agencies, will continue to argue that it is totally unreasonable and unfair to evaluate the impact of biofuels on land use while completely ignoring the impact of oil production, especially production of oil from tar sands.

The U.S. State Department seems to not be on board with President Barack Obama's clearly stated goal of reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil. Rather, its decision to approve a permit to build a tar sands pipeline is bad energy policy and even worse environmental policy.

With regard to the environmental impact of this decision, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg stated that concerns about higher-than-average levels of greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil sands crude would be "best addressed in the context of the overall set of domestic policies that Canada and the United States will take to address their respective greenhouse gas emissions." This is double-talk at its finest. Actions that exacerbate carbon emissions at this time in our fight to save the planet should not be treated so cavalierly. This strategy will simply reinforce the resistance of leaders of Saudi Arabia and China to cut their own carbon emissions.

Environmentalists, especially those in Canada, are highly critical of tar sands development. Aside from a huge clean-up problem and water contamination, the Canadian branch of the Sierra Club has pointed out that tar sands are the worst type of oil for the atmosphere. Not only is the production of tar sands-based petroleum environmentally damaging, so is refining the oil that is recovered. The Chicago Tribune recently reported that researchers have calculated that "refining the Canadian petroleum produces 15 percent to 40 percent more carbon dioxide emissions than conventional oil."

An attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice said, "By approving this pipeline, we are committing to another generation of dependence not only on fossil fuels but on the dirtiest, most greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels."

It should be clear to both policymakers and the public that biofuels offer a far better fuel alternative for energy security and the environment than projects like tar sands that cause so much damage.