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TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Sweet Canuck Crude or Recipe For Disaster?

  • Written by  Marsea Truan
  • Video
The construction of a massive oil pipeline threatens green space across North America. The construction of a massive oil pipeline threatens green space across North America.

 

I hold my breath as I pull into the gas station, afraid to look at the marquee. With a deep sigh and fingers crossed, I look. It's $4.75 a gallon. Damnit! Damnit! Damnit! Okay Southern California, this is the last straw. We are breaking up. Well, at least I have enough to pay for the gas it took to get myself to the station and back home again. As far as I am concerned, in 2012, that is a win. Everyone who drives and isn't filthy rich knows this feeling, and the pain at the pump doesn't only hit us as we fill up. In this interconnected web that we call our planet, goods must be constantly transported from one place to another, meaning that if the price of gas goes up, the price of everything goes up, so of course, everyone is looking for a quick fix to the high prices.

Currently, a new pipeline stretching from Canada to Texas and elsewhere is being built, many say in an effort to lessen the dependence that we have on other foreign crude oil. It may seem like a no-brainer that bringing Canadian oil down to supply our appetite is a fantastic plan. Canadians are great - their oil probably just smells and tastes like Maple Syrup, right? So a spill wouldn’t be so catastrophic. Grab some waffles and the cleanup begins. So far, I'm sold. But unfortunately, there may be a catch.

Part of the pipeline, called the TransCanada Keystone, has already been successfully constructed, and is already transporting crude oil from the Athabasca Oil Sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. It has been in operation since 2010, and so far has seen few problems. No fiery explosions or maple syrup-covered wildlife thus far.

And if the giant reservoir and wetland weren't enough, portions of the pipeline cross an active fault zone - one that experienced a 4.2 magnitude earthquake in 2002.

However, the TransCanada corporation is not content with its current pipeline, and is looking to expand southward into Texas and the Gulf of Mexico with the Gulf-Coast Project, and then northeastward into Nebraska with the Keystone XL, the most hotly-contested of the three.

The Keystone XL would cut through several sensitive environmental sites, and environmentalists are calling foul on the plan as proposed. The main areas of concern are the Sandhills of Nebraska, a large wetland that is home to a variety of flora and fauna, and the Ogadalla Reservoir, one of the world's largest reservoirs, providing fresh water to over two million residents and supporting over $20 million in agriculture. Contamination of these sites, particularly the reservoir, would not only decimate the immediate area, farming in the Midwest would cease to exist as we know it.

And if the giant reservoir and wetland weren't enough, portions of the pipeline cross an active fault zone - one that experienced a 4.2 magnitude earthquake in 2002. I know that here in California we feel a 4.2 and think the neighbors are just having a fun night, but in the Midwest, that's no joke.

When the Sandhills leg of the pipeline was unveiled, citizens and lawmakers alike were understandably concerned. The citizens wanted to know that they and their families would be safe, and politicians wanted to know if it would be safe for their re-election chances.

Because of a policy known as "eminent domain," the government can seize an individual's home or other personal property if they decide that the property is needed for something that the government deems necessary.

So, a variety of tests were run by a variety of sources, including the EPA, who said that the pipeline would pose no “significant impacts" to most resources if "environmental protection measures were followed," but it would present "significant adverse affects to certain cultural resources." That sounds like government-speak for "this is bad news."

Other governmental reports were entirely favorable to the expanded pipeline, for reasons that became painfully obvious in 2011 when The New York Times ran an article that questioned the impartiality of one of the most relied-upon government-sanctioned analyses, this time done by Cardno Entrix, a Houston-based company who had selected one of TransCanada's old cronies to perform the environmental impact assessment. Sound fair?

A month later, a group of top congressional Republicans bullied President Obama into agreeing to make a decision on the Keystone XL and Gulf Coast Expansion within 60 days, but on January 18, 2012, he rejected the bill outright, stating that there were too many issues involved to decide within 60 days, and that by the laws of our country he can always reject to do something that he does not believe to be in the country's best interest.

Which brings us to the most recent developments in this ongoing saga. Because of a policy known as "eminent domain," the government can seize an individual's home or other personal property if they decide that the property is needed for something that the government deems necessary. This means that if the government wants to put a freeway through your house, you better believe they will. And they will pay you as little as they can.

In East Texas, Great-Grandmother Eleanor Fairchild was losing her home to the building of the Gulf Coast Expansion, and didn't know what to do, until her story reached actress and activist Daryl Hannah (Kill Bill), who stood in defiance with Fairchild as the machines came to bulldoze her family's farm. They hung on until police were called to arrest the two women. It was a pitiful sight watching armed policemen escorting a great-grandmother in handcuffs.

Hannah, for one, is thrilled with the attention their protest caused, releasing this statement:

"In the US, we have a long history of nonviolent civil disobedience; one of the primary tools used by citizens to stand up against injustice."

For her part, Eleanor Fairchild focuses on the inherent inequality in our system, and points out some of the scarier aspects of trying to fight a big corporation.

"I don't think there's an even playing field for the American land owners and this Canadian tar sands pipeline company, TransCanada. Most people can't fight these bullies. They push people around. They intimidate, threaten, and scare people and they take what they want," said Fairchild.

I guess when something that the people want or need is either illegal, rare or perceived to be rare, you can bully people all you want. Just ask Nucky Thompson.

As for the last chapter (so far), things are looking rather bleak. At the second Presidential Debate, both President Obama and Governor Romney agreed to support the additional pipelines, disappointing many of Obama's environmentalist supporters, who were holding out hope that he would come out strongly against the pipeline.

To me, it seems like all the politicians and other policy makers are missing the big picture: fossil fuel is dead, literally and figuratively. It is a dead resource and must go. We are over carbon like Hammer Pants, and we're just about out of oil as well so we have to buy it from everyone else. Add to that the threat of global warming and it is obvious that we cannot afford to pump any more into our atmosphere.

The reasons are endless, but the moral is clear: It is time to move to cleaner, greener, more renewable fuels, not build a massive pipeline (which, incidentally, had to be shut down temporarily just last week because of a weak spot in the pipe) right through a wetland and a massive reservoir. This sounds more like the evil villain's plot in a James Bond movie than a real energy project, but sadly, this ain't Skyfall. Let's just hope it doesn’t end up with a name like Disaster in Nebraska, because I have to be honest with you guys... I lied back there at the beginning - Canadian crude oil doesn’t taste anything like Maple Syrup.

© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2012



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Darryl Hannah discusses her actions in opposition of the pipeline.
Last modified on Tuesday, 30 October 2012 18:06

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