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President Barrack Obama recently gave a speech condemning the Keystone Pipeline System as a threat to protected ecosystems in the Midwest. Oil pipelines carry crude oil, which is hazardous to plants and wildlife while also posing a fire hazard.

The current argument is not over whether or not to build the pipe system, because three phases have already been completed. The issue is whether or not a second pipeline running through Baker, Montana and the Sand Hills region of Nebraska should be build.

The first three phases were built to divert around the Sand Hills prairie, which has been designated a National Natural Landmark. It is an example of an intact ecosystem that is also sensitive to disturbance. Sand Hills are actually sand dunes which have been stabilized by hardy trees and grass. Because the hills are made of sand and not rock formation, they can be destabilized by stripping or compacting vegetation.

Construction in sand hills would mean stripping considerable vegetation in order to create a stable platform for pipelines. This would mean disturbing an ecosystem that has largely remained undisturbed and also has the potential for creating desert. Soil that has been disturbed would take a long time to recover, and a destabilized dune can quickly erode. The unstable soil also creates engineering hazards.

The Keystone Pipeline is not dead, because the system winding from North to South has already been built. The tar sand source in Canada is able to deliver its crude oil to Port Aurthur and refineries in Indiana. This infrastructure will remain operational for years, and the Hardisty source is able to sell its crude to the international market via ocean tankers.

Whether or not the Keystone XL Pipeline will find life is still uncertain. While oil companies have already built the diversion, they are unhappy with this solution and desire to build a pipe that runs through Montana and Nebraska. This route is shorter, requiring less energy to deliver crude oil to market, and it increases their capacity by providing a second route.

The Keystone XL Pipeline would also link the Hardisty source with the oil fields in Baker, which would allow the two sources to be mixed. This makes sense to the oil companies involved, because it would give them greater control over the makeup of the final product. Should one source ever become delayed, the other source could pick up the slack and keep the output constant.

In spite of the business advantages of the Keystone XL Pipeline, it continues to face resistance from environmentalists and from the current President. This pipeline could find life as soon as the next election is held, and sound engineering could minimize the risk to the Sand Hills ecosystem. The interested parties will not go out of business in the meantime, and they will likely continue to push for the project for decades to come if necessary. A principle argument against the Keystone XL Pipeline is that it allows Canadian businesses to profit without benefiting Americans equivalent to the risks the project engenders.

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