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5 ways the tar sands pipeline could affect you

The Tar Sands Pipeline

President Obama’s recent decision to reject the controversial tar sands pipeline — for the time being — has become a hotbed issue for the current campaign. But presidential elections aside, the potential consequences of the pipeline, which would transport oil 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada to Texas, crossing through eight U.S. states, are complex and potentially enormous.

Rafael Sanchez PhD, a biology and environmental science instructor for University of Phoenix and a chemical engineer for the EPA, explains how the pipeline could impact you in both positive and negative ways.

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1. It would increase CO2 emissions.

It would increase CO2 emissions.

Unfortunately, this type of crude is compounded with sand and other materials, and extracting oil from sand is a process that emits lots of greenhouse gases (GHG). According to the EPA, emissions from Canadian oil sands would be approximately 82 percent greater than the average crude refined in the U.S. “The bottom line is, there is going to be way more CO2 going into the atmosphere as a result of this pipeline,” says Sanchez, “and all those habitats that are susceptible to temperature changes are going to be at significantly more risk.”

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2. There will be a risk of spills into the water supply.

There will be a risk of spills into the water supply.

The proposed route positions the pipeline running directly over a major U.S. water supply, the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water to much of the Great Plains. Complicating the matter is that the exact chemical profile of the oil is unknown, and a potential spill could be very dangerous. “No one is forthcoming with the actual chemical composition of the oil sand fuel,” explains Sanchez. “If we have a spill, and we don't know what the composition is, it would be difficult to mitigate.”

Further muddying the waters is the fact that the pipeline is not designed for this type of tar. “The oil sand that is going to come through this pipeline is more corrosive than typical oil crude because it is more acidic, thick and sulfuric,” says Sanchez. “It can make the pipeline more prone to leaking.”

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3. There could be health-related issues among nearby populations.

There could be health-related issues among nearby populations.

According to Sanchez, one of the most important impacts of the pipeline is how it affects the population of people living adjacent to the land. In Sanchez’s estimation, the pollution brought on by increased refinery activity in Texas would certainly result in increased pollution-related illnesses.

“Houston is already suffering from bad air,” says Sanchez. Environmental effects will be felt mostly by lower income and disadvantaged people, as well as tribes living adjacent to the land where the pipeline runs, who depend upon the water and natural resources.  “People don’t think about the effect of oil spills, not just on water systems, but their effect on adjacent tribes.”

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4. It could offer the U.S. potential independence from foreign oil.

It could offer the U.S. potential independence from foreign oil.

The fact that the Canadian Tar Sands region contains an estimated 1.75 trillion barrels of oil, the second-largest known deposit of oil after Saudi Arabia, is pretty alluring. “The U.S. would like to control access to this oil,” explains Sanchez, “because that way we decrease our dependence on overseas oil.”

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5. There’s potential for job creation.

There’s potential for job creation.

Early estimations of the number of jobs produced by the pipeline went as high as 20,000 temporary jobs, but recently an executive for the pipeline stated that the number would likely be “in the hundreds, certainly not in the thousands.”

“Anytime you have a project of this size, jobs will be created,” says Sanchez, “but the numbers are likely lower than the thousands that were originally being claimed.”

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