Before all the hoopla about vaccinations and the president’s budget, the Senate passed the Keystone XL pipeline by 62 to 36 with the support of nine Democrats. It’s not a done deal yet because there has to be a coordination with the House bill, but it’s sure to head for the president’s desk, hopefully for his veto pen. An accurate tweet from Charles Gaba stated that more senators voted to build the pipeline from Canada to Texas than jobs that the completed project would provide. (That’s 35 jobs, if you’ve forgotten.) With the real economic benefits in our neighbor to the north, Josh Green joked that it’s “kind of nuts” that GOP congressional legislators are “fighting for the Canadian economy.
Once again, the objections to the pipeline to transport tar sands oil across the U.S. to be shipped overseas:
- It is environmentally hazardous. (More about that later.)
- It has no impact on already low gas prices. (Actually it might raise them.)
- It won’t help the U.S. unemployment rate.
As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, “This is the only time in the history of the Senate that we have given such a big hug and kiss to a company, any private company, American or foreign.”
Why do Republicans want just that one oil project so much? To them, it’s a symbol. To them it has become The Most Important Project in the World. The GOP has no jobs agenda and no economic vision. Voting on the Keystone pipeline keeps conservatives from noticing that pesky little fact. They spent millions and millions of dollars spent on getting control of the Senate, and all they got so far is the Keystone bill that the president has promised to veto.
Yesterday was the deadline for eight federal agencies to provide feedback to the Department of State about the project. Those officials will take all that stuff to Secretary of State John Kerry who will think about the project and make a recommendation to President Obama who will then think about it for a while before a final decision. The EPA weighed in by writing that there is “no way” that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not have a significant effect on climate.
The nine Democrats who voted for the Keystone pipeline are Sens. Michael Bennet (CO), Tom Carper (DE), Bob Casey (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), and Mark Warner (VA). These are the people terrified of being called tree huggers.
The Keystone bill had 43 amendments in the Senate. Six passed, and the others, including one that would require the steel used in the pipeline be made in the United States, failed. That amendment was also a jobs amendment, but the GOP voted it down. The amendment to keep the oil from the pipeline in the United States also failed. As Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “Time and time again Republicans pledge their allegiance to foreign special interests above the American middle class.”
Republicans are also comfortable with a foreign company seizing land in the United States. In order for the pipeline to cross Nebraska, TransCanada has filed papers to seize property from the 12 percent of holdouts by eminent domain. Meanwhile Ernie Chambers, a state legislator, has introduced a bill to repeal the pipeline-siting law that would stop the project.
Republicans preened themselves for outdoing the Democrats after an amendment about climate change passed the Senate by 98-1: the 98 agreed that climate exchange exists. Mississippi’s Roger Wicker was the one holdout. Five Senate Republicans were brave enough to vote that humans affect climate change, probably because many of them are from “blue” states. Only two GOP senators, however, were willing to go on the record that humans “significantly” contribute to climate change—Mark Kirk (IL) and Kelly Ayotte (NH). The irony of Republicans voting against any human affect on climate change is that these are the same people who complain about China’s not reducing carbon emissions enough to make any difference in the climate.
What can go wrong with the Keystone pipeline that crosses a huge amount of water necessary for crops, livestock, and people in the United State? Events just this past January show the danger.
For the second time in less than four years, a spill in Montana sent up to 50,000 gallons of Bakken shale crude oil into the Yellowstone River. After the January 17 event, people in Glendive were told not to use any municipal water because it contains high levels of cancer-causing benzene. At least that’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the residents; state officials initially told people that there was no problem with the water. Oil was spotted as far away as Sidney, 60 miles distant. ExxonMobil still hasn’t paid the damages for the 63,000 gallons spilled into the same river in July 2011. The Keystone XL pipeline is scheduled to pass through or near the property belonging to some people impacted by the current spill. A member of the Northern Plains Resource Council said, “The whole question is, should we continue to be having pipelines under aquifers and under surface water? It is not a good idea and not safe. There is no fail-safe pipeline.”
The Yellowstone River empties into the Missouri River. The Keystone XL pipeline would be three times the 12-foot diameter of the breached Bridger pipeline and pump more than 34 million gallons of oil per day through the Dakotas down into Nebraska and into the southern leg in Oklahoma and Texas.
Five days later, it was discovered that 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste had spilled from a North Dakota pipeline. Officials won’t know what affects the briny spill will have on water sources, land, and wildlife until all the ice melts. Chloride concentrations in one affected creek are much higher than usual, even as it fills with fresh water. The escaped brine that contains heavy metals and radioactive material is possibly 17 times saltier than seawater. Last July’s much smaller spill contaminated soil and killed vegetation. Because the only way to clean up brine spills is flushing them with freshwater, that source becomes depleted. The million-gallon brine spill in 2006 killed fish and forced ranchers to move. The spill has still not been cleaned up. The year 2013 saw over 800 saltwater spills in North Dakota.
Ten days after the Yellowstone spill, a pipeline in West Virginia near the Ohio River exploded. Two years ago, a report on another West Virginia gas line explosion in the Christian Science Monitor was subtitled “Just a Drop in the Disaster Bucket.” That explosion burned for more than an hour and melted four lanes of I-77. About 80 incidents in 2012 involving natural gas transmission lines may have been worse because of few inspectors. Explosions in gas distribution lines caused nine fatalities and 21 injuries. The 321,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines have funding for just over 100 inspectors who also are responsible for another two million miles of gas distribution pipelines.
That’s the fourth major pipeline incident in just the first month of 2015. The first one was a gas explosion in Mississippi.
Spills from the Keystone pipeline would be much harder to clean up than from the traditional oil or gas pipeline. The thicker, sludgier tar sands oil doesn’t float on top of the water like conventional crude; instead it sinks to the bottom, including the Ogallala aquifer if it spilled into Nebraska’s major source of water. The media largely avoided reporting on any of these disasters while the Keystone XL pipeline was being considered.
These are some of the jobs that the Keystone XL pipeline might provide: wildlife washers, oil spill cleanup crew members, lawyers, plumbers, fisherpeople for huge mutant fish, water truck delivery drivers to replace tap water, whistleblowers, and genetic engineers to help people survive cancers.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski likes the Keystone vote because it’s good for the spirit of cooperation. It’s just not good for the people in the United States. The House will vote on the Senate bill this next week.