Paul Koring reports on the key American and Canadian players’ responses to the United States Senate’s November vote not to approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Current events

Key Question(s) to Explore:

  • What are the main arguments for and against construction of the Keystone XL pipeline?

New Terminology:

Keystone, veto

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet

Time required: Fifteen minutes plus a homework assignment

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

The United States Senate recently failed to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, which is designed to move heavy oil from Alberta to refineries in Texas and Louisiana.  Had the Senate approved it, President Obama had already indicated he would veto the bill. Proponents are not overly concerned, however, because newly-elected Republicans will dominate both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the new year and they have already indicated they would then approve the pipeline in spite of the massive anti-Oilsands/Keystone public protests that have dogged the project for several years.

The controversial pipeline project has been in the news for several years, mostly because of mass protests against its construction, and also because these have often involved celebrities such as Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo and Daryl Hannah. However, were it built, Keystone would be a relatively small addition to pipelines that already exist; it would comprise a small fraction of 2,225,000 kilometers of operating pipelines in the United States and 100,000 more in Canada. As well, Louisiana and Texas are banking on Canadian heavy crude to feed their refineries, which are not designed for the light crude that is now being produced by fracking processes in Saskatchewan and North Dakota, for example.

Opposition to the pipeline appears to be based on growing concerns over the “dirty oil” name that has been attached to Alberta’s oil sands production.  Protesters are also concerned about the overall effects of effects of fossil-fuel use on global warming, as well as environmental concerns related to the specific pipeline itself and the possibility of accidental leakage.

This lesson is designed to allow students to conduct their own research into the Keystone XL controversy. They will research arguments for and against the pipeline and write a report on their findings, as well as taking a position for or against, based on the evidence they have reviewed.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Have students take a few minutes to write down everything they know about the Keystone XL pipeline and to put their name on the notes. Assure them that they are not being graded on what they write, it is simply a baseline (explain this term to them) to compare with their later work.  If they know little or nothing about it, read the brief introduction to the lesson, which is for homework or in class, as you choose:

You are to write a report on the Keystone XL pipeline, providing arguments for and against its approval and construction. Read the article by Paul Koring to inform you of the current politics of the pipeline. Then, use the links, below, as starting points and add as many more as you like, but in each case you must include all links that you have used. In your work, ensure that you address the following:

  • The relative size of this pipeline compared to all existing pipelines
  • The relative safety/danger of pipelines in general
  • The relative safety of transporting oil by rail versus by pipeline
  • Environmental concerns as presented by opponents and as challenged by proponents
  • Economic benefits to Canadian and American Economies
  • Arguments for and against the term “dirty oil”

Take a position for or against the pipeline and list the evidence that most persuades you. Or, use the evidence to show that the arguments do not reveal a preferred outcome. Feel free to use links to videos that you feel are compelling for one side or the other.

Finally, add a paragraph in which you consider the possible political motives of both the US and Canadian governments relative to their positions on this controversial issue.

When they have completed their assignment in this or the next class period, return their notes and ask them to compare their former position on the subject with their current views.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Discussion of assignments in the follow up class or session.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Successful completion of the research and writing assignment

Confirming Activity:

  • Comparing before and after positions of the students to demonstrate the importance of balanced research.