This article examines the reasons the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is claiming that the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and gives some reactions to this claim.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Environmental studies, world issues, politics

Key Questions to Explore:

  • Why will the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions?
  • What factors will affect the decision either to approve or reject the proposal?
  • Should this proposal be approved?

New Terminology:

Greenhouse gas emissions

Materials Needed:

Access to the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Much of the debate over the desirability of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal has centred on the environmental threat presented by the pipeline itself. Less attention has been focused on the potential resultant increase in oil sands production and, therefore, the increasing greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands. Oil sands crude has long been identified as the “dirtiest oil” in that its production produces more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel than any other source of crude.

However, many factors are going to influence the final decision on this proposal. These include, among others: economic and national security: environmental considerations; and continuing reliance on fossil fuels to the detriment of renewable energy resources. The final decision will, to a large degree, depend upon the significance placed on each of these factors. As a result, the tug of war between the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, which supports the proposal, and the President, who threatens at this point to veto any approval, continues as each places different weight on each of the factors.

This lesson will have the students focus on the issue of increased GHG emissions associated with the approval of the pipeline as a new item for consideration and then ultimately answer whether they, as final decision-maker, would approve it.

Note: Subsequently President Obama did veto the pipeline plan and Senate Republicans failed to muster enough votes to over-ride him.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students to identify what they see as the major concern associated with the Keystone XL pipeline proposal.
  • Make a list if they have more than one concern.
  • If the issue of increased production of greenhouse gases from the oil sands has not been identified as a major concern indicate to them that oil sands crude is considered the dirtiest of all oil.
  • Give them the article to read.
  • Allow them time to read it and then get their reactions.
  • Ask those who think that approval of the pipeline will lead to greater GHG emissions to sit on one side of the classroom and those who do not believe that it will to sit on the other side.
  • Have these two large groups prepare their reasons for support of their positions.
  • Allow them time to research any websites they feel will help them with their preparation.
  • Once they have prepared their reasons have them each present their information to the other.
  • Hold a brief general class discussion, allowing the students to make any additional comments or offer insights and opinions.
  • Once this has been completed allow time for the two large groups to independently discuss whether they, if they were President of the United States, would approve or veto the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and prepare a presentation for the other group outlining their position and reasons.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Presentation of their position and rationale concerning the potential increase in GHG emissions resulting from the pipeline approval.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

The students will be able to:

  • articulate the reasons for claiming that approval of the pipeline would increase GHG emissions.
  • outline some of the issues affecting the decision.
  • offer a opinion as to whether or not the pipeline should be approved.

Confirming Activity:

  • Presentation of the position regarding whether the pipeline proposal should be approved.