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NPR radio segment
Scientist Switches Position, Now Supports Keystone XL Pipeline

Opponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline lost an ally. David Greene talks to Marcia McNutt, one of the country’s most influential scientists, about her decision to no longer oppose the pipeline.

Do Now

Do you think the Obama administration should approve the Keystone XL pipeline? Why or Why not? What information should be considered in making this decision?

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowKeystone

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With increasing concern about carbon dioxide emissions, climate change and American energy independence, environmentalists, politicians and the oil industry have been butting heads over the development of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which requires the Obama administration’s approval before construction can begin. Currently the Keystone pipeline carries crude oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada all the way down to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Tar sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water and a thick form of petroleum.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would create a new line from Alberta, Canada that crosses through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska to meet up with the existing pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska. According to TransCanada, the company that is proposing the project, the pipeline would increase production of crude oil in the Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota.

Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline say it will increase jobs and help reduce America’s dependence on oil from outside of North America. Opponents feel that the construction of the pipeline would increase America’s dependence on fossil fuels and undermine efforts to minimize the threat of climate change. In addition to the risk of spills and leaks, one of the main environmental criticisms of the project is that the process of extracting oil from tar sands itself contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, thus contributing to global warming and climate change. Others argue that the tar sands are being developed anyway, and that a pipeline would be a more environmentally friendly option for transporting the crude oil than trains and trucks, which emit carbon dioxide.

Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of the peer reviewed journal Science and former director of the United States Geological Survey, recently switched from opposing the pipeline to supporting it. She says that a pipeline is the least expensive way to transport oil, and that if the money saved from transportation costs could be used to fund renewable energy research and work, then it would be a win for the nation.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowKeystone

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets. You can visit our video tutorials that showcase how to use several web-based production tools. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

Scientific American article How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming?
Eighteen climate scientists signed a letter urging President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

USA Today article Would Keystone Pipeline Unload “Carbon Bomb” or Job Boom?
This article examines what the Keystone XL pipeline could do to the climate and the economy.

PBS NewsHour video As State Department Releases Report on Keystone Pipeline, Pressure Builds Over Final Decision
Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post updates us on the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project.

State Department study Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Project: Executive Summary
The State Department conducted a study to determine the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Would You Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline? 8 March,2017Lauren Farrar

  • glenn dunbar

    It appears everyone is good-to-go… Why is the “obomination”
    holding out; is it politics as usual or maybe he wants a kick back!!!???

  • Colby Rog

    There are, in my opinion, too many issues to move forward with the project. In addition to the environmental issues being raised by groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and lots of scientists, the pipeline will run through Native American land, none of whom have consented to the building, which actually infringes on deals written with them in the early 1900s. The job number has been called into question several times and the pipeline is opposed by multiple union groups, including The Steel Workers Union, The Transportation Workers Union and several international union groups. Furthermore, the pipeline will ensure that most oil is being sold by only a few oil companies in the US, which means these companies will be able to raise oil prices at their will with no competition. Thus, we risk raising oil prices and reversing the intended effect of the pipeline. Lastly, TransCanada is a highly untrustworthy company and many people have called their authenticity into question. They predicted the Pipeline XL 1 was safe, and it tripled what it had been predicted to spill within the first few years. When TransCanada has lobbyist ties to Washington (both Politico and the NY Times have traced top political advisors in Washington to them) as well as not realising several vital environmental reports, it all adds up to be very fishy.

  • Nathan Cao

    Honestly, while there are short-term benefits to the pipeline, it is going to affect American’s future greatly. In the aforementioned article, it talks about how the oil raises green house gas emissions. This will only be hurting the long-term future for our country. As it is, there are good relations between the US and outside countries. If we stop being an outlet for their oil, we could potentially also hurt our relations.

  • FresnoRaisin97

    I’ve been hearing a lot about this issue for a while and it’s nice to finally get some clarity. I don’t quite feel like I’m qualified to give an answer to this type of question, but I have an opinion based on the information in the article that the majority of the bay area may disagree with. I think that while our effort to reduce dependence on fossil fuels is kind of a nice “little steps” thing, how much can we really depend on Americans in general to cut down. This is something we have always relied on. I don’t think the argument made by the pipeline opposing side is strong enough to influence any big decisions. I feel like the pipeline positive side has a more firm argument to support its cause. Maybe it’s more important to decrease our dependence on oil from foreign countries before we decrease our overall dependence on oil. And it’s hard to argue with more jobs. Now, before everyone reading this flips out and starts accusing me of hating the environment, take into consideration that I’m simply analyzing the information that the article presents. Personally, I do not support the pipeline. I am in favor of our attempt to decrease dependence on fossil fuels.

  • Alberto Garcia

    I don’t think it’s a good idea because the oil will raise green house gas emissions and will affect America’s future greatly.

  • Celeste McBride

    I think that we shouldn’t make it possible to burn some of the dirtiest oil on this planet. The air pollution that would result would be terrible. We have already discovered enough fossil fuels that if we burn them our planet would be totally unable to support our way of life or our civilization. Approving this pipeline makes no long term sense. We need our government to start taking responsibility for managing this issue. If they don’t, who will?

  • RobinHood82

    I don’t support the Keystone XL Pipeline. I think we need to be moving away from a dependancy on fossil fuels and oil, and towards greener alternatives. Eventually, the pipeline would run out of oil, and then we’d be in the same place we are now; dependent on foreign oil, and without many green alternatives. If instead of focusing on the pipeline, we invest in and research renewable energy, the planet as a whole will benefit.

  • mark smith

    Dear RobinHood82,
    I agree with you entirely, we as Americans keep looking for ways to stretch out our oil supply, and It is not the right solution and definitely not a long term solution. As the world’s oil supplies start to run out, and make no mistake, they are, we are going to have to start to look for oil in places that are harder to get to and are even more harmful to the environment. just as RobinHood82 mentioned, we are eventually going to run out anyway and be stuck in the same situation we previously were in, except the environment will be more damaged than before. We need to be looking for permanent solutions to this problem. We need to develop ways to provide energy for the world for as long as imaginable, without having a destructive effect on the world around us, because we will inevitably have to deal with the negative effects of Band-Aid energy solutions such as continued fossil fuel usage. We as Americans have fallen into this bad habit of using fossil fuels for everything and are addicted to the benefits it provides for us. If only The great inventors of the previous century had thought of solar and wind energy, then the modern world would be hooked on those instead.www.theinsider.org/news/article.asp?id=0423



Lauren Farrar

Lauren has a background in biology, education, and filmmaking. She has had the privilege to work on a diverse array of educational endeavors and is currently a producer for KQED Learning's YouTube series Above the Noise. Lauren's career has taken her to the deepest parts of the ocean to film deep sea hydrothermal vents for classroom webcasts, into the pool to film synchronized swimmers to teach about the pH scale, and on roller coasters to create a video about activation energy. And, she’s done it all for the sake of education. Lauren loves communicating science! Follow her on twitter @LFarrarAtWork

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