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Know the West

A (futile) line in the oil sands


As a lifelong conservationist and the former head of the Izaak Walton League of America, I think environmental opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline is wrong ("Taking it to the streets," HCN, 2/18/13). Climate change is a vital issue that must be addressed, but drawing a line in the oil sands will not help.

Canada's tar sand oil will be developed and used. The Keystone XL pipeline will not change that reality. The pipeline will assure that more heavy crude is shipped in pipes, where spills are rare and more easily contained. It will reduce the amount of oil shipped in trains and will substitute for oil shipped in ocean-going tankers, where spills are more common and harder to contain. There may be a bit more refined oil shipped in tankers, but even it is less damaging than crude. It means that more crude will come from Canada, where it is extracted under higher standards, than from countries like Nigeria and Venezuela, where extraction practices are awful.

The greater irony is that another advance opposed by some of the disobedience groups -- hydraulic fracturing -- has lead to the greatest reduction in greenhouse gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution. While frackers need to be held to a high standard, blanket opposition to this breakthrough works against lowering greenhouse gases.

Climate change is a mainstream economic and environmental issue of enormous importance. Addressing it requires smart strategies, not marginalizing ones.

Paul W. Hansen
Jackson, Wyoming