Nel's New Day

April 3, 2013

Keystone Pipeline, Destructive

The decision on building the Keystone Pipeline project, designed to send oil from north of Montana through 1,700 miles and six states, is coming to a head. Since its inception, conservatives have advocated for this disaster—unless it crossed their own land—and environmentalists have fought it.

The issue exploded when the Exxon Pegasus pipeline ruptured last Friday in Mayflower (AR), flooding a residential neighborhood with tens of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen. Twenty-two homes were evacuated, and the noxious odor, similar to that of asphalt, wafted for five miles. The Keystone Pipeline is designed to carry nine times as much as the Pegasus pipeline.

The Arkansas disaster was just one week after the Senate voted to support the Keystone Pipeline, perhaps persuaded by a State Department draft report, authored by a person with extensive ties to oil companies, claiming that the Keystone Pipeline will have no environmental impact. Congress has no control over the project; it is the State Department that makes the final decision.

Two days before the Pegasus spill, a train carrying tar sands oil spilled 15,000 gallons in Minnesota. During that week, Exxon got a $1.7 million fine for its pipeline that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River in 2011. The fine is miniscule, 0.004 percent of Exxon’s $45 billion profit last year.

The pipeline transports diluted bitumen because bitumen is in a solid or semi-solid state that can be sludge or rock-like and must be diluted into a liquid to move through the pipe. The industry won’t tell anyone what it uses to dilute the bitumen.

The first Environmental Impact Statement gave Keystone an “inadequate” rating because of no information on the diluents. In 2011, Cynthia Quarterman, the agency director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, testified in the House of Representatives that her agency, the regulatory one for the pipeline, had no idea whether dilbit is more dangerous in transport than ordinary crudes and had not studied the issue.

The second EIS, released this past month, shows that no one knows anything more about the contents of the diluents or how it will react to a spill. Instead the report waffled by saying that the diluted bitumen does “behave as a conventional crude oil.” The EPA does report on the damage to animals, plants, and humans of benzene, a very toxic chemical remaining in the air after the Enbridge tar sands spill of 2011.

This spill in Michigan, which released a million gallons of dilbit in the Kalamazoo River and cost more than $820 million, still challenges scientists and regulators as they try to remove submerged oil from the riverbed. Thirty-two months after the Enbridge spill, the Kalamazoo River still has oil, and the cost has risen to over $700 million dollars. Conservation groups, with evidence, that sands oil leads to more spills because it is “highly corrosive, acidic and potentially unstable.”

So back to the oil spill in Arkansas. Exxon-Mobil expressed regret and apologized. But who will fix it? The state Oil and Gas Commission can’t do anything because the U.S. Department of Transportation is in charge. That means that the state can’t inspect the spill or the pipeline and that the state has no oversight over this disaster.

Exxon won’t have to pay one cent for the clean-up. The company confirmed that the pipeline was carrying “low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta” that had to be diluted. According to a 1980 law, diluted bitumen is not classified as oil, and companies transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Other conventional crude producers pay 8 cents a barrel to ensure the fund has resources to help clean up some of the 54,000 barrels of pipeline oil that spilled 364 times last year.

The Keystone Pipeline is bad for United States economy:

The building of the pipeline won’t provide the number of jobs that the GOP promises: The State Department has estimated the project would create about 5,000 to 6,000 jobs for two years. After that it would require about 35 jobs a year.

Much of the oil refined in Texas will be exported to other countries: At least 60 percent of the gasoline produced in 2012 at Texas Gulf Coast refineries, the same ones the Keystone pipeline will serve, was exported. Exports will only rise because U.S. production is rising but consumption is declining and the industry can make more money through exports.

Many Canadians are opposed to the Keystone Pipeline: A year ago, a poll showed that nearly 42 percent of Canadians don’t want the pipeline. It is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities, wrecking vast areas of forest and sucking up huge quantities of water from local rivers before making it toxic and then dumping the contaminated water into ponds that now cover 70 square miles.

The Keystone Pipeline project will hurt both national and local economies: The increase of the earth’s temperature from burning tar sands oil can permanently cut the U.S. GDP by 2.5 percent at a time that 67 percent of U.S. counties have been hurt by at least one of the eleven $1 billion extreme weather events. Superstorm Sandy alone cost an estimated $80 billion, and the drought that affected 80 percent of farmland last summer destroyed one-fourth of the corn crop and did at least $20 billion damage to the nation’s economy. NASA climate scientist James E. Hansen said if all the oil was extracted from the oil sands it would be “game over” when it came to the effort to stabilize the climate.

The fossil fuel interests pushing the Keystone pipeline have cut, not created, jobs: While garnering $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees. Forty percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations.

Unemployment will rise because of increasing disasters: Mark Zandi, the Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics, reported that “Superstorm Sandy [sliced] an estimated 86,000 jobs from payrolls.” Two weeks after Hurricane Irene, the number of workers filing unemployment claims in Vermont rose from 731 to 1,331. Hurricane Katrina erased 129,000 jobs, almost 20 percent, in the New Orleans region. For the U.S. economy as a whole, 2011 cost US taxpayers $52 billion.

Poor and working people will be disproportionately affected: Keystone and projects like it have a disproportionately negative impact on already struggling working families. Sixteen states were afflicted by five or more extreme weather events in 2011-12; households in disaster-declared counties in these states earn $48,137, or seven percent below the U.S. median income.

Building the sustainable economy, not the Keystone pipeline, will create far more jobs: The solar industry creates jobs six times faster than the overall job market. Research shows a 13-percent growth in highly skilled solar jobs including installations, sales, marketing, manufacturing, and software development, bringing total direct jobs to 119,000 people. According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, investment in a green infrastructure program would create nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas.

Congress is more inclined to vote in favor of Keystone, however, because of the lobbying money. At least fifty oil companies, business trade associations, labor unions, and political groups with combined lobbying budgets of more than $178 million paid politicians to suppport the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in 2012. The dozen groups lobbying against the environmentally risky project had 2012 lobbying budgets of less than $5 million total.

How likely is it that the new Keystone Pipeline will have spills in addition to the 14 that they’ve had on the first part of the project? Isabel Brooks knows. When she and two friends locked themselves one night inside part of the pipeline in Winona (TX), they were amazed to see sunlight coming through gaping holes in the pipe the next morning from faulty welding. Law requires independent inspection, but TransCanada pipeline contracts can pick their own inspectors.

Brooks got her photographs of the holes in the pipeline shortly before the three protesters were arrested and jailed for 24 days. That gave TransCanada time to bury the pipeline without inspecting it. This is the same pipeline that runs under the Ogalalla aquifer which provides drinking water to millions of people in the United States.

Utah kids are being taught to support the use of oil. As a part of Earth Day, the Department of Oil, Gas, and Mining is sponsoring a poster contest for all kids grades K-6 with the theme, “Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas, and Mining?” State winners get $500 for their schools and are honored at the Earth Day Awards Luncheon.

The sponsors—and teachers—probably won’t be telling students that the EPA has ranked Salt Lake City among the worst U.S. metropolitan areas for air pollution close to Los Angeles. Other Utah cities–Logan, Provo, and Brigham City respectively — took the top three spots on the EPA’s worst air quality list in January.

Of course, the Keystone Pipeline won’t be going through Utah.

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