Keystone XL Pipeline: A class case of failed groupthink   Leave a comment

Paul Fuhs

OPINION: Keystone XL isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Alaska, and people should contemplate the global situation before they close their minds forever on the issue. Picture: Oil storage tanks sit at the trans-Alaska oil pipeline terminal in Valdez, Alaska, in this undated file photo.Al Grillo / Associated Press

There have been a couple of letters to the editor lately accusing Sen. Lisa Murkowski of not standing up for Alaska because she is supporting the Keystone XL pipeline. The lack of any detail in these letters, or balance of the risks and benefits involved, display a dismal failure of our education system to promote critical thinking.

It is sad to see the level of public discourse so degraded, with issues like the pipeline (and ANWR) becoming almost religious political ideologies, devoid of any analysis, gaunt symbols of a preconceived notion. And the fact is, stopping this pipeline won’t do a thing to solve global warming, or even mean that one less gallon of petroleum is consumed.

However, not building the Keystone XL pipeline holds tremendous risks for Alaska. If petroleum cannot be moved to the U.S. via pipeline (the safest way to move it), it will be moved to the Canadian west coast via Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline or, worse by rail, to tankers that will deliver it to waiting markets in Asia.

Why is rail worse, aside from a greater risk of spills on land? It is worse because this heavy, sticky bitumen oil won’t even have to be diluted to flow in a pipeline. And all of it, up to 200 tankers per year, will be sailing right by the shores of Alaska on the Great Circle Route, through Unimak Pass and all along the Aleutian National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses almost all the islands.

Does that sound like a good environmental deal for Alaska? An even worse proposal is being considered — taking it north to a Canadian Arctic port and shipping it along the Arctic coast, where there are even more limited oil spill response capabilities.

Bitumen has proven to be a nasty mess to clean up when spilled in water. It doesn’t even float for easier pickup; instead, it creates a mat coating the bottom of the ocean, smothering life there and continuing to exude toxins for up to decades. It should never be moved by water.

Interestingly, this tar sands oil is starting to move regardless to the U.S. through other pipelines, and many more are proposed. So why aren’t these pipelines being attacked as well? Perhaps they aren’t iconic enough to be fundraisers for the “environmental” groups? And tar sands oil is starting to move to the U.S. by rail as well, a method that along with truck shipping and other alternatives will, according to the State Department analysis (which has been going on for more than six years), consume 24 percent to 42 percent more fossil fuel than the pipeline would.

Don’t you think that people should consider all these factors before shooting their mouths off about the Keystone XL pipeline and our political leaders who have to make a reasoned decision on this issue?

The fact is that if you want to reduce fossil fuel use, it is a consumption issue, not a production or transportation restriction issue. There are too many alternative methods for producing and transporting oil for this to work. In the meantime, sincere but delusional “environmentalists” and politicians stick religiously to defeating this pipeline as a hollow symbol, regardless of the detrimental environmental consequences of the alternatives. And of course, to them, we here in Alaska are just expendable pawns in their games. I have come to believe they don’t even care about us.

I for one appreciate our Sen. Murkowski standing up for Alaska on this issue. Anyone else?

Paul Fuhs is a longtime resources and energy development consultant and former mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)

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