The dangers of the Keystone Pipeline

This weekend, 35 Washington University students went to Washington, D.C. to join with other protestors in forming a ring around the White House. They were protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would connect the Canadian tar sands to oil refineries in Okla. and Texas.

The ring is part of an effort to convince President Barack Obama to stop the proposal. Because it crosses national borders, the president is in a unique position to discontinue the pipeline.

We believe that these 35 students have the right idea. They have formed their opinions on the proposal, decided to protest its creation and have travelled 18 hours to our nation’s capital in order to make those opinions known. They were only given $600 in funding by Student Union, getting the remainder of the money from other willing student groups.

They’ve also got the right idea about the pipeline itself. While we recognize just how desperate the country is for jobs and how much people are hurting right now, we think that the pipeline is not the way to create those jobs, and the potential benefits to the economy do not outweigh the dangers of the pipeline.

The pipeline is going to cross the entire Midwest. If there is a leak, it has the potential to contaminate huge swaths of land and millions of gallons of groundwater that form the basis for the Midwest’s farming economy.

This is not something that can simply be shrugged off. This pipeline is in everyone’s backyard.

Most of the pipeline will be underground, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. There was just a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Okla. this past weekend, and a pipeline in Yellowstone ruptured last July, spilling 1,000 barrels of oil.

There is obviously danger in any form of energy creation, but as the Deepwater Horizon spill made clear, even if the technology is available to make sure that a spill is immediately cut off, it does not mean that everything is under control or completely fixed.

There is no guarantee that TransCanada (the creator of the pipeline) will cut no corners, and there is no guarantee that the U.S. government can adequately regulate this long of a pipeline, especially with its previous failures at containing oil spills. The risks do not outweigh the benefits.

We are incredibly impressed that there are students at Wash. U. who are willing to travel that far just to protest an oil pipeline. Their dedication to their beliefs should be admired and replicated in the wider student body.

Even if the pipeline goes through, these efforts will not necessarily have been for naught. They might inspire better regulation of the pipeline or greater protests the next time a large oil-related project comes up for debate.

No matter what happens to the pipeline, these students are doing the right thing. They are protesting a potentially dangerous pipeline and standing up for their beliefs. They should be commended and encouraged, and we should all try to learn from the example of their activism, and, next time around, maybe go with them.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.