Let me be perfectly clear. I think the Keystone XL Pipeline should be built. We need to produce the energy it will help create. We need to take advantage of our gas and oil reserves until renewable energy sources can be fully developed and made affordable.
That said; President Obama has curtailed the project and he is absolutely right to do so. His critics point to what we are missing, but if we move too quickly, what we will end up missing could be much greater.
On July 25, 2010, I was startled into paying attention to the nightly news because the lead story was coming from my old neighborhood. It is unnerving when familiar areas are headlining the national news. There was a spill into the Kalamazoo River from an oil pipe carrying tar sand (similar to what would flow through the Keystone pipeline) near Marshall, Michigan. I am imminently familiar with the area as I grew up there, went to college, taught school, raised kids, and frequently return to visit.
The oil company “experts” on the scene assured us on television that the spill would be totally cleaned up in a month even though they could not assure that the pipe had stopped spilling oil into the river–the expert was quite sure it stopped. I was skeptical right then and there. Two years later the cleanup isn’t even close to completion.
Up until recently, we the public have been informed that the chemicals used in both assisting the transport of tar sand through pipes and also injected into the ground for natural gas fracking were not unlike Dawn dishwasher detergent–safe as can be–eco-friendly to the max.
It turns out that when there is an oil pipe mishap and the stuff gets into the air, it evaporates and the people around it get skin rashes, nausea, respiratory infections, headaches, and increased symptoms of other maladies. A woman who lives in Marshall, whose family I know, was on a news show recently, 20 months after the spill, explaining the health hazards that infected her and her neighbors that the oil experts either couldn’t or wouldn’t explain. That stuff doesn’t sound much like Dawn liquid to me.
Another surprise problem arose when the solid part of the tar sand concoction sank. The oil clean-up crew was prepared to use boom to scrape what hadn’t evaporated into the air off the surface and be done with it. When the solid matter went to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River, the experts were out of options. They still don’t know how to clean the riverbed.
There was a third portion of the spill that did exactly what they expected. The part of the slurry that was most oil-like floated on the surface of the river but instead of being cleaned from the water, made its way into Lake Michigan at Saugatuck, a resort town 100 miles away. It had portions of the city smell like oil and sport the sheen of a slick for much of the summer of 2010. This is devastating for a city that bases its economy on travelers getting into the water from its beaches and marina.
Let’s now make our way to Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown is turning into the Yucca Mountain of the fracking industry. A liquid similar to that in the tar sand pipes is injected into the ground to assist in freeing natural gas from its resting places. Once the gas is out of the ground, something has to be done with the toxic “dish soap.” Oil companies have been injecting it 900 feet in the ground under Youngstown as a final resting place. Out of sight out of mind–not quite.
The normally stable ground of Ohio has produced a number of earthquakes since the waste started being deposited there. The experts don’t know if the addition of the used liquid is the cause. I think we need some new experts.
The President was right to nix the Keystone Pipeline if for no other reason than part of it would run directly through the Sand Hills of Nebraska–site of the Ogallala aquifer. The aquifer provides drinking water to parts of seven states. If there were a pipeline accident there similar to the one in the Kalamazoo River, the mess would sink quickly through the sand hills and foul a huge water supply for Midwest America.
The conservatives are making quite a lot of noise about debt and spending on the backs of our kids and grandkids, but that will be of little matter if we leave them neither clean water to drink nor stable ground on which to stand.