Bitumen is not crude oil. Bitumen must be upgraded into synthetic crude, after which it can be further refined into gasoline, diesel, motor oil and so on. The Keystone XL pipeline expansion is intended to carry bitumen for upgrading and refining in the US. This is worth noting because media stories (CBC, Calgary Herald to name just a couple) are regularly referring to the XL line as a “crude oil” pipeline. It’s not.
It’s important because Peter Loughheed, the Canadian Energy and Paperworkers Union, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta NDP amoung others, are calling for the upgrading of bitumen at least to synthetic crude before being exported. And if people are given the wrong information about what the pipeline is intended to carry, they can’t be expected to understand critical aspects of the issue.
Upgrading bitumen requires considerable investment and creates a significant number of permanent jobs – good jobs. It is this investment and jobs that will be lost to the US if Keystone XL is built. This part of the story is being ignored.
Media seems to want to boil this down to a simple environment vs. jobs story, but there is another important dimension to the debate. By failing to report on this issue completely and accurately, they do a disservice to their audience.