Graphic by Asyrique Thevendran/TheGazelle, via Wikimedia Commons

U.S. and Australian Carbon Projects Cause Controversy

On Jan. 31 two proposed projects with controversial environmental impacts, the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States and the dumping of dredged ...

Graphic by Asyrique Thevendran/TheGazelle, via Wikimedia Commons
On Jan. 31 two proposed projects with controversial environmental impacts, the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States and the dumping of dredged sand in the Australian Great Barrier Reef, were given the green light by their respective governments. The proposals will expand oil and coal initiatives, which environmentalists argue place industry ahead of environmental concerns.
The debates are nothing new; however, the approvals are seen as key turning points in the implementation of both projects.
Although separated by 8,000 miles, both projects have been surrounded by similar discussions: job creation and industry growth on one side and enviromental impact on the other.
Australia — Dredge Dumping on the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority approved the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation’s request to dump three million cubic meters of dredge waste from the expansion of the Abbot Point coal plant. The waste comes from a process called dredging of the sea floor by scooping or dragging, which will create space for three new port terminals, sites where coal is unloaded from trains to ships for export.
The approval allows the dredge waste to be dumped 25 km from the Abbot Point plant, inside the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Although proponents argue the dumpsite is far enough away from the coral, environmentalists point out that the currents from the dumpsite could carry small particles of clay and large particles of sand, both of which sink slowly and can be carried far distances, toward the reef. Once over the reef, the particles block sunlight and can kill the coral.
Although the report by the GBRMPA details little damage foreseen by the dumping of the extraneous waste, many Australians disagree.
Graeme Kelleher, a former chairman of the GBRMPA, was saddened by the decision.
“My worst fears were confirmed,” Kelleher said to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
In an October 2013 media statement by the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, the company defended dredging by explaining their commitment to the environment and the lack of major environmental impacts from their last dredging projects. They explained that much of the controversy has been caused by the misinterpretation of modelling and that an “interpretive statement” will soon be released.
“[The project] will generate in the order of 1500 construction and 750 operational jobs for Queensland,” the corporation added.
The final decision was contingent upon the observance of 47 environmental conditions which environmentalists say overlook the dangers dredging poses to wildlife. The Great Barrier Reef is home to 2,900 individual reefs, 1,500 species of fish, 400 kinds of coral and 215 species of birds.
After having spoken at the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in 2012, NYU Abu Dhabi freshman Brittany Trilford has hope in light of increased international pressure on the Abbott government by the UN and Greenpeace International.
“Many of my friends study there [Australia] … It feels like change is very limited, but after the international pressure, I’m hoping this wave [of activism] will start again,” she said.
United States — Keystone XL Pipeline
The Keystone XL project (KXL) proposes to extend a pipeline carrying crude oil from the Alberta forest in Canada through central United States to the Gulf Coast. The 2,700 km pipeline would deliver 830,000 additional barrels of crude oil per day.
On the same day as the Australian dredging decision, the U.S. State Department released their environmental impact statement, an 11-volume report detailing the air, soil, water, flora and fauna that would be affected by the KXL pipeline. Both hailed and criticized as being supportive of the project, the report places the final decision in the hands of Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama. Since the pipeline crosses international borders, it must be presented to the U.S. federal government for approval.
Proponents argue that the pipeline allows safe transport of crude oil from Canada which would be otherwise transported by rail or sold to China. The friendly oil, they argue, will be mined whether or not the KXL pipeline is developed. The executive summary of the State Department report states that when the immense U.S. American demand for crude oil is not met by friendly neighbors, it will simply increase the dependence on Middle East and Latin American oil.
Forbes contributor Jeffrey Dorfman argued that the KXL project should be a no-brainer when compared to alternative transportation methods..
“The findings, taken together, make clear to anybody with an open mind that the pipeline should be approved,” he said.
TransCanada, the owners of the KXL, explained the benefit of the project.
“The pipeline is a critical infrastructure project for the energy security of the United States . . . and for strengthening the American economy,” reads their website.
With regards to job creation, the figures vary. According to the report, KXL would support 42,000 jobs and create 3,900 jobs in construction of the pipeline. However, after construction, the pipeline could support as few as 50 additional jobs.
Julianne Warren, NYU Professor in the Environmental Studies Program and Senior Scholar at the Center for Humans and Nature, regards the argument of job creation — in both the KXL and Great Barrier Reef debates — as inconsequential.
“It seems to be a rather weak argument,” Warren said. “But even if it were more jobs, this is an old, old argument in environmental history … we need to stop thinking this way. We need to start thinking about jobs that promote the health of the land, a healthy climate.”
A healthy climate is what environmentalists are attempting to promote in opposition to the KXL pipeline. Most concerning, they say, is the dirty oil from the tar sands in Alberta. Tar sands form unconventional petroleum deposit that is thick and impure. They are expensive and dirtier than other forms of crude oil. From extraction to consumption by U.S. American cars, the oil from the tar sands reportedly produces 17% more carbon emissions than other imported oil in the United States.
Ultimately, it will be up to President Obama to decide the fate of the pipeline.
“There is no such thing as friendly oil,” said Warren. “We need to put our resources into friendly energy sources that are different than oil and do that fast.”
Global Protests
In the United States, environmental groups and divest movements on various university campuses will come together on March 1st and 2nd for a large civil disobedience protest against the KXL pipeline. NYU Divest, a campaign of students and faculty pushing for divestment of the university’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry, will be a participant.
The protests, which will take the form of sit-ins, aim to demonstrate to President Obama the commitment of the opposition.
“Over 10,000 people have signed a pledge of resistance, have pledged to get arrested in protest of this pipeline,” explained one of the NYU Divest founders and NYU New York student, Sophie Lasoff.
Back in the South Pole, while the expansion of the Abbot Point coal port in Australia has been approved, two online petitions by the non-profit groups GetUp and Greenpeace aim to save the Great Barrier Reef. With hundreds of thousands of signatures, the organizations hope their efforts will make a difference.
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