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I know that the legislature for the project was not passed, but only by one vote in the senate. If it were to pass, would the pipeline just wipe out miles of nature, or do politicians have any concern for the environmental impacts of not only the pipes themselves, but also the construction.

I'm looking for a comparison of the economic benefits and the environmental impacts, and also if there would be relatively permanent damage

  • A major concern would be spills. – gerrit Nov 28 '14 at 16:33
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    I don't think "or" is appropriate for those two possibilities. They aren't mutually exclusive. – Highly Irregular Nov 28 '14 at 21:12
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    To make this a specific answerable question, would it be a reasonable rephrasing to ask "are there any independent environmental impact asseessments of the pipeline, and what did they highlight as the major risks?" - is that what you're after? Or is it something else - perhaps about the trade-offs between politics, short-term economics, and natural capital? – EnergyNumbers Nov 29 '14 at 11:19
  • I'm more looking for a comparison of the economic benefits and the environmental impacts, and also if there would be relatively permanent damage. – Andrew Lalis Nov 29 '14 at 15:38
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The problem is not the pipeline itself. Large pipelines are standard engineering. The disruption is fairly short term.

The problem is that it would make a ready market for Canadian Oilsand oil to get to the gulf coast refineries. This drops the price of oil on a long range basis. (The Athabasca tar sands have more oil in them than ALL of the known recoverable reserves in the world.)

Worse: Because the oilsand oil takes so much energy to extract, the net CO2 released is about 1.5 times the CO2 from a similar amount of conventional crude.

There is some concern about the possibility of a spill. There is some justification for this fear. See the response to other oil pipeline leaks. One way around this would be to require the pipeline company to post a bond to cover a spill. They would receive the interest on the bond, but the bond would be available to finance recovery.

@THelper points out a wiki article with lists of spills in the US. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pipeline_accidents_in_the_United_States

Propane and natural gas however have little immediate environmental impact. (NG is a greenhouse gas.) Many of the spills listed don't say how much spilled. If the safety systems work properly, the line should come to a halt with only the contents of a mile or two of pipe spilled. A million gallons is about 3 acre feet. Big nuisance. Expensive cleanup. But still a local problem. Pipeline companies need to be held accountable to a greater extent than they are now, so that spills are more expensive than running safe lines.

Overall a large pipeline has far less impact than transporting that same oil by rail or truck.

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    Wikipedia has several long lists of pipeline accidents – THelper Dec 3 '14 at 14:05
  • More than I thought. Most don't say how much was spilled. I've added your link to the answer. – Sherwood Botsford Dec 4 '14 at 14:29
  • The market exists. The last line "Overall a large pipeline has far less impact than transporting that same oil by rail or truck." is the most immediate effect we need examine. As the oil is getting to market one way or the other. It might be that the pipeline is a better option than rail and truck in the long term. – EFH Dec 6 '14 at 18:02
  • Trucking is far more expensive. I'm not sure that the market would exist if the pipeline isn't built. – Sherwood Botsford Dec 7 '14 at 19:33
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    What is key is to make the owners and builders take responsibility. The actual creation of the pipeline has comparable impact somewehre between making a gravel road, and making a power line. The problem with pipelines is when they don't work. Much like tankers when they fail, they do so in a spectacular manner. Although generally land spills are easier to deal with. Dilute oil with enough dirt, and some bacteria will eat it. – Sherwood Botsford Dec 7 '14 at 19:35

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