EDITORIAL: Grease the wheels of common sense and build the XL Keystone pipeline

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So much ado about so marginal a controversy as the XL Keystone Pipeline that really has so little effect on so many people.

This odd petroleum project has mysteriously been the center of political controversy for years. Despite the claims from both sides, it’s neither an economic or oil-independence panacea nor is it an environmental nightmare. It will do little to affect gasoline prices one way or the other, nor will it have any impact on U.S. relationships with other international oil producers.

Colorado is an exception to the who-really-cares phenomenon, because the pipeline controversy is partly or even mostly to blame for the unexpected political collapse of Sen. Mark Udall. That gives Colorado an especially compelling reason to watch this issue play out.

pipeWhile a majority of the current U.S. Senate members approved allowing Canadian oil firm TransCanada to build the $8 billion pipeline from Alberta to the middle of Nebraska, the deal failed Tuesday by one vote to get the 60 backers it needed to force it to President Barack Obama’s desk, where it would probably get a veto.

It’s way past time to let this issue take up any more time in Washington or endanger other political careers for no good reason. The U.S. should approve the project — only because almost every argument against the pipeline will be a problem whether the project is built or denied.

The Canadians will mine the tar sands that produce the oil regardless of whether the United States buys it. And if we do buy it, the Canadians will ship it here on a train if we don’t build the pipeline.

While environmentalists fear an almost inevitable oil spill from the XL Keystone pipeline, the truth is that railway shipments are already to blame for regular and sometimes massive spills, even resulting in deaths. Most important, there are already 2.5 million miles of gas and oil pipelines running through just about everywhere in the United States. Petroleum pipelines have been around for more than 100 years. They’re often a problem. More than 500 people have been killed and 4,000 injured in the United States because of pipeline accidents since 1986, according to federal safety records. Still, a Pro Publica investigation from 2012 revealed that pipeline transmission of petroleum products is at least 70 times safer than rail and truck transport. Other studies show pretty much the same thing. Gallon for gallon, mile for mile, pipeline transmission is the safest way to move toxic, flammable chemicals to where we need them.

This is the only real benefit of this lingering controversy. Pipelines offer great benefits, but they need to be better regulated, maintained and replaced.

And that should include the Keystone pipeline, since Americans will be either burdened or blessed with the Canadian tar sand oil regardless of construction. It only makes sense to take TransCanada’s $8 billion to build the project meted out in about 42,000 temporary jobs in a part of the country that could use them.

Rather than spend so much time and political capital debating the project, the energy should be spent on ensuring it’s the safest pipeline ever constructed, and a model for how new and replacement transmission pipes should be managed all over the country in the future.