Oil & Gas

NWF's Symons discusses Keystone XL pipeline safety concerns

With both chambers of Congress moving quickly on pipeline measures, will safety concerns from the environmental community over the Keystone XL pipeline derail legislation? During today's OnPoint, Jeremy Symons, senior vice president at the National Wildlife Federation, explains why he believes the U.S.-Canada pipeline would not be advantageous to the United States.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Jeremy Symons, senior vice president at the National Wildlife Federation. Jeremy, thanks for coming back on the show.

Jeremy Symons: Thank for having me back.

Monica Trauzzi: Jeremy, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is taking on the issue of the XL pipeline later this week. The pipeline will connect the U.S. and Canada and import fuel from the Canadian oil sands. Why has this erupted into such a deep controversy?

Jeremy Symons: Well, the first thing to know about this dangerous and unnecessary tar sludge pipeline is that it's more than just a disaster for wildlife or a disaster for clean water. This pipeline is also a disaster for consumers who are already paying high gas prices at the pump. So at a time where our gas prices are already high, you have oil companies that cook up a new scheme that will raise gas prices in the Midwest. That's bound to become a big political issue.

Monica Trauzzi: But we're talking about bringing more supplies into the United States. Isn't that a win-win? Doesn't it make sense for us to do that?

Jeremy Symons: Well, that's what oil companies want us to believe. They use bumper sticker talking points to sound like this is—to make it sound like this is about energy security. Really, it has nothing to do with that. What's happening is Canadian oil is already coming into the Midwest and Midwest refineries. This pipeline is designed to take that oil and instead shift it down to Gulf Coast refineries. When they do that, they can manipulate the supply between two pipelines and charge higher prices. By their own documents, TransCanada, the company building this, says that as soon as they build this pipeline and oil companies can start manipulating prices, prices for oil we're already paying will go up $4 billion a year. This is all about cooking the books, getting a higher profits, once again, for oil companies and nothing to do with increasing energy security.

Monica Trauzzi: So is your main issue here a safety issue or the fact that you think prices are going to go up?

Jeremy Symons: Well, what brought us into this, first of all, was the destruction happening with tar sands to begin with. I mean you look at the boreal forests of Canada, there's three times as much carbon in those forests than the tropical forests of Brazil. And we're talking about a 50-year pipeline that will turn what is one of the most important breeding grounds for waterfowl and other wildlife and birds into a wildlife deathtrap. And so this is a wildlife issue first and foremost for us and it's about climate change, but once we looked at this and started investigating and finding, you know, documents like this, the company's own documents saying that they're trying to increase gas prices, it raises the issue why are we doing this at all?

Monica Trauzzi: So, if we just shut off the flow of energy from Canada to the U.S., what would that then mean for the U.S.'s energy supply and energy prices moving forward?

Jeremy Symons: Well, no one's talking about shutting off the flow. The real question is when you build a pipeline, this is a $14 billion pipeline, if you're building a $14 billion pipeline you're planning on operating it for 50 years or more. So the question is what direction we want to take America's energy future and this is a bet by oil companies to keep us addicted to foreign energy and some of the most destructive oil on the planet. And we have to decide instead are we really going to keep on track to drain our economy, to drain our wallets and pay for our oil that destroys our environment or are we going to shift now, invest our money instead in clean energy alternatives here at home that create jobs here in America?

Monica Trauzzi: But we can't fulfill all of our energy needs just through clean energy alternatives at this point.

Jeremy Symons: Right, but, again, there's absolutely no evidence anywhere that there will be an increase in oil supplies within the next 10, 15 years. There's already plenty of oil pipeline capacity to bring anything that Canada can produce down to the United States. So the question of this pipeline is what's it's really about? And that's where you get the hidden agenda. They want to move this oil down to the ports of the Gulf so they can actually export. They've always been looking for the China row, the China route to move Canadian oil out to China. So, in fact, rather than increasing our energy security, you're talking about a pipeline that would give Canadian oil companies the ability to export to China. In fact, we're becoming increasingly the middleman. America is becoming the middleman in the oil business. We're taking in crude oil, we're refining it here and getting the pollution and then we're exporting the refined diesel and gasoline to other countries around the world.

Monica Trauzzi: And doesn't that mean great economic benefits for us?

Jeremy Symons: Not when we're just the middleman, and particularly when you're looking at a pipeline that will be the next oil disaster for America. I mean this isn't just normal oil moving through this pipeline. You're talking about 2000 miles of corrosive tar sludge. This particular type of oil, because it's so corrosive, has been atrocious safety record and we haven't updated our safety regulations, just like we didn't in ultra-deep water drilling before the Deepwater Horizon disaster. You can see the same thing happening here. The technology with this tar sludge is giving us a whole new product. We're trying to shove it through pipelines with outdated safety regulations. We need to be studying all the disasters that have been happening, including the big spill, 800,000 gallons in Michigan in the Kalamazoo River that happened just last year and we're still trying to clean up.

Monica Trauzzi: The American Petroleum Institute intends to make this their lobbying focus for the summer. They recently released a new study that says connecting the U.S. and Canada through the pipeline could supply 92 percent of the country's liquid fuel demand by 2030. I mean doesn't that make it a no-brainer?

Jeremy Symons: Well, it tells you a lot, that the American Petroleum Industry, the lobbyists for big oil, are pushing this pipeline. Big oil isn't interested in our energy security. Big oil isn't interested in us paying lower prices. They're getting huge windfall profits right now from high price at the pump and they want to keep a good thing going.

Monica Trauzzi: So, the timetable that Republicans have set for approval of this measure is pretty aggressive. They'd like to see it done by November. Do you believe that Congressman Markey's recent outreach to the State Department on this issue will have the legs to sort of stop this aggressive pace?

Jeremy Symons: I hope so and I appreciate what Congressman Markey is doing. I think this is a broken process. One of the reasons that it's broken is you have a State Department in charge of an issue that's about our energy future, that's about our environmental future. They're not qualified to deal with the pipeline safety issues and the Department of Transportation which is, is shut out of that process. So this process, there needs to be a timeout. We need to actually look at doing the studies and completing the investigation of this spills that have been happening in these tar sand pipelines all over the place. They're hemorrhaging. And then we need to make sure that anything we build is going to be safe. So we do think that this process needs to be stopped. We also think -- or I think that the president needs to get engaged.

Monica Trauzzi: The Senate has already advanced pipeline legislation with bipartisan support. Is there any reason to believe that the House is going to be any different?

Jeremy Symons: Well, I don't think that—I think Congress is moving a lot of bits and pieces of energy legislation that doesn't add up to any kind of a plan. And the President of the United States is in charge of making sure that we get on the right path for energy. There have been a lot of good moves that President Obama has made. This would clearly be a U-turn, it would take us in the wrong direction. And we think that ultimately the buck stops at the White House on this and that's where we'll see this decided one way or another and we hope it's the right decision.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, this will continue to heat up many committees --

Jeremy Symons: It will.

Monica Trauzzi: Over the next several weeks. Thanks for coming on the show.

Jeremy Symons: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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