Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stepping Up to the Plate

Today is Thursday, April 18, 2013.

I was supposed to be in in Grand Island, Nebraska, today, to attend a State Department hearing on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.  Unfortunately, not too far past Lincoln on I-80 the weather worsened considerably, so I stopped off at York, NE and checked into a hotel.  I have my computer with wi-fi access and a good book to read.  Can't complain. 

Every once in a while, there is an issue that I feel I can truly support one way or another, and this is one. Recently, I've also been thinking that, since I now have the luxury of free time to do so, I should find a way to be more active in my support than simply signing petitions.  I considered going to a training session for people who wish to blockade the pipeline, but I'm not quite that brave yet.  Besides, I think that in order for it to be a powerful message, blockades should be done by the people whose lands are directly affected, and it should be up to the young people who have the most to lose if the pipeline goes through.  I was asked at one point whether I was willing to be arrested for civil disobedience, and although I'm willing, I'm not so sure I'd be a good candidate for this, as I have medications to take on a schedule that mustn't be interrupted.  

When I heard about this meeting set up by the Department of State for citizens to testify and make their views known for or against the pipeline, I decided that this was a good opportunity for me to get involved.  

Grand Island, NE, is not that far away from me, and I happen to have cousins in Omaha and Lincoln, who have graciously allowed me to stay on Wednesday and Thursday night.  That helps with expenses and cuts the trip into manageable lengths. 

A Facebook friend of mine says I'm playing into the fear tactics of those who oppose the pipeline, and if I weren't planning to actually do something about it, I might even agree. But given the track record of other pipelines for spills, plus the fact that the substance flowing through this particular pipeline will be diluted bitumen, which is even harder to clean up than conventional crude oil, I have to say that the likelihood of a major catastrophe that could threaten the water used in the irrigation of crops in the nation's "breadbasket," as well as the drinking water of millions of people who live on the plains, not to mention the fish in local streams that are caught and eaten by the Native Americans on their own lands, is not just a possibility, but a probability.  I feel it is necessary to at least have my say directly to the federal government before they make their decision to support or reject the pipeline.  Once I have had my say, I will have to accept the situation as it plays out, unless I am given another opportunity to take action. 

It bothers me that these tar sands are being mined in another country and simply being routed through my country, on its way to some other country.  This stuff is not even going to benefit the United States.  The mining and refining of this stuff is a dirty business, and all the lands and the groundwater along the route of the pipeline is being put in danger from leaks anywhere along the route.  

It also bothers me that a private company from another country can be given the right to take land away from farmers and ranchers by means of eminent domain.  It bothers me that there is no ironclad oversight being built into the agreement in case of spills.  (Did you know that if a spill occurs at a pumping station, the company doesn't have to consider it a spill?  Did you know that since this diluted bitumen is not actually the same as normal crude oil, companies are not actually responsible by law for cleaning up spills?  Did you know that since diluted bitumen (called dilbit) is not considered "oil" by the IRS, so TransCanada will not have to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust, a fund used to clean up spills?) 

The Pegasus Pipeline is 65 years old now.  It was put in so long ago that the people whose property was affected by the recent  oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, didn't even know that there was an oil pipeline on their property!  The pipeline is only 20 inches in diameter and it carries about 90,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) under pressure that is about twice that of an ordinary fire hose.  The actual rupture in the pipeline was only 22 feet long and 2 inches wide, but it leaked between 200,000 and 420,000 gallons of heavy crude oil, and resulted in 22 families being evacuated for an undetermined amount of time.  Pictures of birds coated in oil tug at the heartstrings, while photos taken of the affected area churns the stomach.  

It bothers me that the private contractor, Witt O'Brien's, that has been hired to clean up the spill does not have a good track record, either, as it has been guilty of covering up previous oil spills.  According to, "O'Brien's has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history, including the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon sill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy."  Not very encouraging news, is it? 

It bothers me that an oil company can tell local police to keep people away, especially reporters who have come to see what's going on,  and that a "no-fly zone" can be put in place over a spill.  What is it that the oil companies don't want us to know?  Surely a cameraman taking pictures from a helicopter will not get in the way of clean-up efforts, and people have a right to know what is happening. 

It bothers me that instead of putting stringent safety precautions in place, not the least of which would be continuous efforts to maintain and repair pipelines, oil companies are content to pay millions of dollars in fines when a spill occurs, because any fine is a small drop in the bucket compared with their profits.  Exxon says they put leak detectors in the Pegasus Pipeline in 2009 - but they certainly didn't stop the leak from happening.   TransCanada says they have safety measures in place, too, but I wonder how good they really are.  All the safety measures that they have in place are already required by law, so they really aren't doing anything new for the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The Keystone XL Pipeline will carry nearly ten times as much crude oil as the Pegasus Pipeline, at a maximum of about 830,000 bpd.  If the Pegasus rupture, small as it was, spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil, how much oil would leak out of even a small rupture in the Keystone XL Pipeline?   One estimate says that the Keystone Pipeline will probably rupture over 90 times in 50 years. 

It bothers me that the Keystone XL Pipeline will pass directly over the Ogallala Aquifer, which is a very wide underground water table that underlies no fewer than eight midwestern states.  This aquifer is shallow, as well, and in the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, the water table actually rises above the surface of the earth, making it easy for any oil spilled to get into the water.  The heavy tar sands would sink through the sandy soil easily.  The Ogallala Aquifer system underlies 27% of all the irrigated land in the U.S. and it supplies about 30% of all ground water used for irrigation in the United States.  It supplies drinking water for 82% of the population who live on the plains.  If this aquifer were polluted, there would be dire consequences for the earth, for the food supply, for animals, and for human beings.  Why are we allowing this pipeline to be built directly over it? 

A new report that came out on Monday says that the pipeline would carry 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, equal to 51 coal plants worth of carbon.  This is as much CO2 as 37.7 million cars on the road, more cars than are currently being driven in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, New York and Florida combined!  That much carbon cannot bode well for climate change.

As for the economic side of the issue, even the Department of State recognizes that only about 35 permanent jobs will result from the Keystone XL Pipeline, and that the thousands of other jobs will be only temporary.  These 35 permanent jobs will in all likelihood be filled by "experts" who are not local to the areas that the pipeline runs through.  The oil is NOT for use in the United States, anyway, and so it will not contribute to our "independence" from foreign oil sources, and because the tar sands  oil will be exported, it may even result in higher oil prices for people in the USA.  

Finally, the pipeline runs through sacred lands and burial grounds of Native American tribes in North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Oklahoma.  You may not care about that, but how would you like it if there were an oil pipeline running right over the cemetery where your family members are buried?  What if there were a spill there?  How would you feel if your family's graves were desecrated in this way? 

For these reasons, I felt it was important to attend the meeting to give testimony against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Since the winter weather has aborted my trip, I will take advantage of the option of sending in my testimony by email.   :-/

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