Pipeline or no, pollution tops out

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image: The Washington Post

Article: Dylan Criddle – Contributor

It’s been a while since environmental policy has garnered so much attention from popular media. Yet even among he conflict in Syria, the Keystone XL pipeline has our attention. The construction of the pipeline could create thousands of jobs, but could also ensure U.S. and Canadian oil dependency for years to come. The issue has divided many people and conflicting reports on job creation and carbon emissions by the pipeline haven’t helped resolve the issue. In the end, U.S. president Obama will allow or kill the project based on the environmental risk it poses. In a recent attempt to get the Keystone ball back rolling, Stephen Harper sent a letter to Barack Obama promising that if the President signed off on Keystone, the Prime Minister would work to meet carbon efficiency goals in the near future. The U.S. and Canada strengthen their hold on a key energy resource and they finally commit to reducing their effect on carbon pollution.

Unfortunately, the letter will probably amount to little more than a Hail Mary attempt to get Obama’s signature. Stephen Harper may believe that he can reach significantly improved carbon emission standards without a transition away from fossil fuels. However, environmental management without eliminating the source pollutant is doomed to have limited effects. While techniques like carbon capture can decrease the emission cost of fuel production, more drastic measures will have to be taken if the government wishes to improve Canada’s emission goals long term.

Even if Harper is able to lower emissions along with implementation of the pipeline, there is still little accounting for other negative effects of oil sands production. One only has to gaze into the murky depths that is the Athabasca River to determine that. A study in 2010 by Erin Kelly and David Schindler found pollution from Fort McMurray’s oil sands refinery has polluted the water to a point that mercury concentrations in fish are at a critical level. Its pollution may have also been the cause of increased cancer rates of communities that used the river as a water source. While climate change may get the most attention, other environmental effects also need to be considered when deciding to maintain dependency on fossil fuels.

Will the prevention of the keystone pipeline prevent Canada’s oil from being distributed? No. In fact, it would be naïve to think that oil development that is going to stop in North America any time in the near future. Blocking Keystone XL may not have any significant impact on present emissions, but its creation will encourage a maintained and possibly increased dependence on the oil sands industry for years to come. One of the biggest problems encountered in fighting climate change has been the inability at the effects of our actions in the future. Failing to recognize that now will only make it harder to start the transition away from oil in the future. On the bright side, Obama’s stalling may start the first legitimate conversation on carbon reduction between the U.S. and Canada in a long time.

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