Build the pipeline -- safely -- and create jobs


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel | Editorial

Saying no to the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline across the Great Plains states would not change the demand for oil by one barrel nor would it lessen the impact of getting that oil out of the tar sands of Canada's Alberta province.

Despite the promise of alternative fuels and more fuel-efficient vehicles, and our need to develop them, demand for oil will remain high for several decades yet even in the most optimistic projections, here and in places such as China and India. And, given that demand and the Canadian government's position, that oil is going to come out of the ground and be sent somewhere. What's in question is where.

Building the pipeline does at least two things: It will provide thousands of jobs in the construction of the pipeline and many more thousands in ancillary jobs, and it provides a reliable supply of oil from a friendly neighbor. What's a better supply line of oil? Tankers moving through the Strait of Hormuz or a pipeline that goes through the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma to refineries in Texas?

The pipeline already has gone through three years of review, and two environmental impact studies have been done on the route; the Department of State, which is conducting the review, has said there is no significant environmental risk.

But in the debate over the project, which became a bargaining chip in recent negotiations between Republicans and the Obama administration, exaggerated claims have been made by both sides. TransCanada, the company that owns the project, has claimed that it will create 20,000 new jobs. The actual figure, according to independent estimates, is probably closer to 10,000 to 13,000.

For their part, environmentalists argue that drawing all the oil from Canada's tar sands means "game over" for climate change. But building the pipeline does not mean all the oil has to be withdrawn nor does it preclude development of alternative fuel sources or developing technology to withdraw the oil more cleanly. And even in the worst-case scenario, extraction of all the oil in the tar sands would take so many years that any impact on climate change would be gradual, according to other experts.

For Wisconsin, building the pipeline means jobs for skilled workers and contracts for suppliers, Erin Roth of the Wisconsin-Minnesota Petroleum Council, told us this week. Wisconsin workers and the state's economy will benefit from construction of the pipeline, he stressed.

Environmentalists also argue that the pipeline poses a threat to sensitive areas along its route. That's a legitimate concern, and accidents do occur with pipelines, as Michigan showed us earlier this year. Every precaution must be taken, especially with the most sensitive areas in question, the Sand Hills region of Nebraska and Nebraska's portion of the Ogallala aquifer.

But precautions are being taken. TransCanada has agreed to more than 50 safety conditions suggested by the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. And this will be a new pipeline, built with the latest technology. There's also the fact that hundreds of miles of pipelines already cross the affected area and that pipeline transportation is safer than other kinds.

If the pipeline is not built, the oil will be shipped to the west by pipeline, train, truck or barge and then across oceans on tankers. That's not a safer route.

The safest thing to do is build a pipeline and create the jobs and fuel security the nation needs.