The Republicans are pushing hard to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project of TransCanada that would transport Canadian tar sands oil through the heart of America to the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday marks the tenth time that the Republican controlled House has sought to override the Obama Administration and push through the controversial project.
The pipeline project is controversial because it unleashes the tar sands oil which sits beneath an impressive stretch of boreal forests in western Canada. The extraction of this oil, which is mixed with tar and sand, will result in the destruction of this forest..but that is just the beginning of the story.
The extraction process itself is more energy intensive than any other form of fossil fuel extraction because the oil must be separated from the tarry mixture of sand and clay. In fact, while conventional oil produces 25 units of energy for every unit of energy invested in extraction, tar sands only produces 5 barrels of oil per barrel of energy invested. 
The extraction process also requires a great deal of fresh water. In fact, for every barrel of oil produced from the tar sands, the industry requires between .4 and 3.1 barrels of water. 
But it doesn’t end there. Because the boreal forest will be destroyed (and much of the wildlife that inhabits it, by the way), it will no longer be able to capture carbon. Boreal forests store twice as much carbon than any other ecosystem on earth.  The extraction of the tar sands will make it extremely difficult to curb the impacts of climate change as more carbon is released and less is captured.
In addition to carbon, the extraction of tar sands releases “large volumes of pollutants into the air” which will impact the health of surrounding communities.  Add to that a report that suggests the carcinogens released by the process have been grossly underestimated. 
Since pipelines are certainly not infallible, what happens when a spill occurs. Just imagine…as difficult as the tar sands are to extract is as difficult as they are to clean up when a pipeline spill occurs. We now know this by experience.
On March 29, 2013, residents of a small town in Arkansas became very aware of the hazards of tar sands when an Exxon Mobile pipeline burst and released over 200,000 gallons of the tarry substance into their community. Residents soon began to notice health related issues including nausea, respiratory problems, fatigue and throbbing headaches. 
Not coincidentally, residents of Marshall, Michigan also reported these same symptoms after an Enbridge Energy pipeline released over 800,000 gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek. 
Long after the spill in Arkansas, the clean up continues and many residents still suffer from illnesses they feel are a result of the spill; many have moved away. Others banded together in a class action law suit against Exxon Mobil.
Pipeline spills are actually more common than Americans may think. Between 2008 and 2012, U.S. pipelines (carrying primarily oil and natural gas) spilled more than 3.1 million gallons of hazardous liquids, on average, annually, according to data from the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. These spills, which could be attributed most commonly to corrosion and equipment failure, resulted in at least $1.5 billion in property damage altogether.
The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund was created in 1990 to ensure that taxpayers are not wholly responsible for subsidizing the clean up of oil spills. The trust fund is funded through a per barrel excise tax, penalties on the industry as well as transfers from existing pollution funds. However, a loop hole exists since the establishment of the fund which exempts tar sands from being taxed because it is not a conventional oil; therefore, energy corporations transporting tar sands do not contribute to the clean up fund. 
To make matters worse, Republicans in their November 2014 vote to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, defeated an amendment that would have ensured that TransCanada would contribute toward the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. 
The proposed pipeline would weave through prime agricultural lands in the midwest and threaten home grown food supplies as well as one of the world’s largest sources of ground water in the world – the Ogallala Aquifer.  The Aquifer provides freshwater for roughly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cattle and cotton in the United States and is the primary water supply for at least 1.9 million people. 
Republicans say they are pushing Keystone for the jobs and for oil independence. But when you look closely, the number of permeant jobs is wildly over estimated. In fact, the U.S. State Department estimates only 35 permanent jobs as a result of the project.  Also, the fact that the oil could be easily exported from Louisiana and sold on the world market challenges the Republicans’ claims that the pipeline will serve to bring lower energy prices here in America.
Are the Republicans (and the few Democrats) in support of this project beholden to the American people or are they beholden to the fossil fuel industry that will profit from this endeavor? Consider this: those who voted in favor of Keystone XL in November received six times more in oil and gas contributions than those who opposed the pipeline. 
The costs are much greater to all of us if this pipeline proceeds. This project threatens our air and water, our climate, our communities, our farmland, individual landowner rights through government takings…and for what? For a project that will do very little to benefit America.
Perhaps the more important question is at what point do we say enough is enough. Because much of the easy pickings has been picked through, the tar sands represent the future of oil development – more energy intense, harder on our environment and costlier. When will we say that it is time to move on to safer, cleaner, more affordable energy solutions? When will we stand up to the fossil fuel industry and our corrupted leaders and take control of our future? When will we consider the future of our children and grandchildren in our decision-making?
And when will we recognize real snake oil salesmen when we meet them?
 Nuwear, Rachel. “Oil Sands Mining Uses Up Almost as Much Energy as It Produces”, Inside Climate News, February 9, 2013. Available online at http://insideclimatenews.org/news/ 20130219/oil-sands-mining-tar-sands-alberta-canada-energy-return-on-investment-eroi-natural-gas-in-situ-dilbit-bitumen.
 Struzik, Ed. “With Tar Sands Development, Growing Concern on Water Use”, Environment 360, Yale University, August 2013. Available online at http://e360.yale.edu/feature/with_tar_sands_ development_growing_concern_on_water_use/2672/.
 Carlson, Matt, M.Sc., Jeff Wells, PhD, Dina Robers, PhD. “The Carbon the World Forgot”, Boreal Songbird Initiative, 2009. Available online at http://www.borealbirds.org/announcements/carbon-world-forgot.
 Pembina Institute. “Oil Sands: Air Pollution”. Available online at http://www.pembina.org/oil-sands/os101/air-pollution.
 RT.com “Toxic carcinogens from tar sands oil production underestimated – report'”, February 4, 2014. Available online at http://rt.com/usa/keystone-oil-emissions-carcinogens-650/.
 Caplan-Bricker, Nora. “This is What Happens when a Pipeline Bursts in Your Town”, New Republic (November 18, 2013). Available online at http://www.newrepublic.com/article/ 115624/exxon-oil-spill-arkansas-2013-how-pipeline-burst-mayflower
 Frosch, Dan. “Amid Pipeline Debate, Two Costly Cleanups Forever Change Towns”, The New York Times, August 10, 3013. Available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/us/amid-pipeline-debate-two-costly-cleanups-forever-change-towns.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0
 RT.com “Arkansas oil spill: Exxon reacts to tax ‘loophole,’ pledges ‘to cover all costs'”, December 23, 2013. Available online at http://rt.com/usa/arkansas-spill-exxon-cleanup-244/.
 ProgressIllinois. “U.S. House Approves Keystone XL Pipeline Bill”, November 14, 2014. Available online at http://www.progressillinois.com/news/content/2014/11/14/us-house-approves-keystone-xl-pipeline-bill.
 Mufson, Steven. “Keystone XL pipeline may threaten aquifer that irrigates much of the central U.S.”, Washington Post, August 6, 2012. Available online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/keystone-xl-pipeline-may-threaten-aquifer-that-irrigates-much-of-the-central-us/2012/08/06/7bf0215c-d4db-11e1-a9e3-c5249ea531ca_story.html.
 Plumer, Brad. “How long before the Great Plains runs out of water?”, Washington Post. September, 12, 2013. Available online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/12/how-long-before-the-midwest-runs-out-of-water.
 U.S. Department of State. “Keystone XL Project: Draft Supplemental EIS”, March 2013. Available online at http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/205719.pdf.
 Bryner, Sarah. “Senate Keystone “Yea” Votes Took In Six Times More Oil & Gas Money Than Opponents”, OpenSecrets.org. November 19, 2014. Available online at http://www.opensecrets.org/ news/2014/11/senate-keystone-yea-votes-took-in-six-times-more-oil-gas-money-than-opponents.