The year 2020 seems destined to be a year of drastic change. Since the beginning of the year, Canadian citizens have been involved in the Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute. The 670 km coastal pipeline will be used to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) to a liquefaction plant near Kitimat, British Columbia. Because the construction of the oil pipeline went through indigenous territories and had a negative impact on the environment, the project faced strong opposition from indigenous communities and environmentalists. People marched and demonstrated across the country, and even blocked railways as well as traffic. This series of actions showed people’s determination to fight to the end.
There hasn’t been a lack of disputes over pipeline construction projects in North America. These include the Keystone XL pipeline, Dakota Access pipeline, Trans Mountain pipeline and so on. As an unavoidable problem in oil-producing countries, these projects are of high concern and quite politically controversial.
Proponents believe that oil pipes greatly facilitate the transportation of resources, promote economic development, and provide more employment opportunities for surrounding areas. The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association claims that Canada’s energy sector provides tens of thousands of high-quality jobs nationwide, accounting for about 11% of its GDP. The construction of pipelines can also help the country achieve energy independence as soon as possible. According to U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, Americans “have everything to gain by building this [Keystone] pipeline because it not only addresses energy security and limits our dependence on foreign oil, but it would help create thousands of jobs right here at home.”
Indeed, pipeline construction can bring about positive economic benefits, but the cost of construction is also considerable. Over time, the funding requirements for the project have continued to rise. In February 2020, Trans Mountain CEO Ian Anderson announced that the cost of the pipeline expansion had soared from an initial $ 7.4 billion to $ 12.6 billion. Due to the increase in materials and labor costs, years of legal disputes, and renegotiations with indigenous communities, the costs continue to increase and lead to budget overruns. Nanos Research surveyed the public on “whether the Canadian government should borrow $ 6.5 billion to finance the Trans Mountain pipeline, even if the cost is overrun.” The results show that 50% believe that the government should not be in debt for pipeline projects.
At the same time, the pipeline will have negative environmental impacts. First, oil and natural gas transported within the pipeline are non-renewable resources, with limited supply, and cannot be used sustainably. These fossil fuels release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during combustion, worsening global warming. In 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency stated that the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline would allow oil companies to expand the exploitation of Canadian tar sands and increase greenhouse gas emission. Tar sands are a dirty source of energy that burns three times as much greenhouse gases as conventional crude oil. In addition, toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide will be emitted during the process, which may cause respiratory diseases.
Compared to the Keystone pipeline, the LNG to be transported by the latest Costal Gaslink pipeline is a colorless, odorless and non-toxic gas. Although its emissions from combustion are relatively low, its main component, methane, is a greenhouse gas that is difficult to control. As liquefied natural gas is more widely used, methane emissions will also gradually rise. This runs counter to the Paris Agreement. Most data have shown that the United States and Canada are still very dependent on fossil fuels at this stage, but the massive use of these energy sources will undoubtedly exacerbate climate disasters and delay the transition to clean energy.
Secondly, the pipeline will pass through various ecosystems such as forests, rivers and wetlands. Take the Keystone XL pipeline as an example. The pipeline route crosses the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, which is the habitat of the federally endangered species: the Pallid sturgeon. In recent years, the numbers of Least Tern and Piping Plover nesting along river banks have also been declining. According to Greenpeace, Canada’s more than 4 million hectares of the Boreal Forest of Canada are threatened with deforestation in order to extract tar sands. Pumps used in tubing require electrical support through electrical wiring. The wires will appear on the original migration route of Whopping Crane, which may result in a fatal blow to them. As Jim Murphy, a senior consultant at the National Wildlife Federation, puts it, “40% of the death rate of juvenile crane birds is caused by electrical wires.”
At the same time, ornithologists are also concerned that the noise generated in the construction of the tube will affect the successful breeding of birds. The Keystone XL pipeline crosses the North Valley Grasslands, an important bird sanctuary designated by the environmental organization National Audubon Society. Pipeline construction undoubtedly occupies the habitat of a variety of birds. This series of human interventions will certainly destroy the original ecological balance of nature.
More importantly, the risk of pipeline leakage is unavoidable. Pipeline accidents will cause irreversible damage to the natural environment. Soil, water resources, and the air can be polluted. According to statistics, there have been 62 oil spills of 7 tons and over in the past 10 years, causing 164,000 tons of oil loss.
In 2010, the Enbridge pipeline failed, and the 40-mile Kalamazoo River in Michigan and surrounding wetlands were polluted. In this catastrophe, a large number of animals and plants lost their habitat, and the pungent odor emitted by oil also made the surrounding residents unable to continue living. There are a lot of shocking pictures circulating on the Internet: rivers full of oil, black plants and animals covered with oil. Looking at these disturbing photos, we should start to reflect if pipeline construction really is as good as we imagined. The troubling reality is very different from the beautiful vision that politicians once promised.
To make matters worse, oil spills cannot be completely removed, and the removal process takes a lot of time and money. To clean up BP ’s oil spill near the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, BP has lost $ 62 billion, but pollution has not been completely removed.
LNG leaks are not to be taken lightly. Due to its physical properties, the difficulty of detecting escape has been greatly increased. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, low-temperature LNG is heavier than air, so they may stick to the ground. This will cause potential fire hazards. The devastation after the Australian mountain fire was such a painful price that it was enough to alert the world of the huge lethality of fire to the natural environment.
The damage caused by the construction of the oil pipeline to the surrounding environment is self-evident. Is it really worthwhile to get limited economic benefits with unlimited environmental damage? We should not abandon the protection of ecological nature for short-term benefits. With the worsening environmental problems today, increasing the construction of infrastructure such as pipelines will undoubtedly worsen the already scarred natural environment. If we do not realize the importance of environmental protection and take timely action, the homes we depend on will one day disappear. It is imperative for us to protect basic resources and develop renewable energy to achieve sustainable development.