Why the Keystone XL Pipeline is Unnecessary and Dangerous

The situation in Washington continues to worsen.  We lack leadership in every legislative area.  Our President will not fight for what is necessary, and the Senate and House accomplish less than any Congress in history.  Today, the Republican led House is attempting to again change the rules and enrich the off-shore bank accounts of the wealthy.  All this is because of a single project, the Keystone XL pipeline.  Let’s explore some reasons why it is unnecessary and a danger to the environment.

The Keystone XL pipeline is controversial, but only if you’re a politician.  Because it will travel over international lines, the President must approve or deny it.  If Republicans have their way, that decision will no longer be his.  The House voted 241-175 to remove that particular requirement from the President.

But, as with most efforts by House Republicans to change the rules, such as 39 votes to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, named “Obamacare” by the right, it has no chance of passing.  It will be just another in the line of many time wasting efforts by a useless part of our ‘check and balance’ system.  It is unlikely that it would pass in the Senate, and President Obama has pledged to veto it.

The Keystone XL pipeline is no more than a “pork belly” project.  It will carry crude from Canada to the gulf coast refineries in Texas.  And it’s not the type of crude labeled “sweet”, which is used by refineries to produce gasoline for American vehicles.  It is a thicker substance, obtained from tar sands, which, when refined, is shipped to other countries.

The only “job creation” will be in the actual building of the huge proposed pipeline itself.  The American people will receive no benefit from its construction.  However, it will pose a monumental danger to the environment in the states through which it passes.

The Pegasus pipeline ruptured near Mayflower, Arkansas on March 29th.  It continues to be ‘clean-up’ project.  The stench is overpowering, and it is uncertain if the community will be livable anytime in the near future.

Original estimates by Exxon, which were unreasonable from the very beginning, were that the break in the pipe leaked 10,000 gallons of the destructive, thick liquid.  The number has now reached 210,000 gallons.

This is the same type of crude that would be carried by the Keystone line, but in a much larger capacity.

Wilma Subra, an environmental health consultant who has worked extensively in the wake of the BP Gulf oil spill, told of levels of carcinogenic benzene and four other volatile organic compounds in samples taken on March 30 which exceeded safety standards used in Texas and Louisiana. In all, tests in the days after the spill identified some 30 toxic chemicals in Mayflower.

“The chemicals detected in the samples match the health impacts experienced both in the immediate neighborhood of the spill, and in the surrounding community,” said Subra.

The difficulty of the clean-up will leave concerns for certain health issues for decades.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is on the attack.  He is accusing Exxon of not taking the necessary precautions to protect the communities through which the pipeline travels, and their apparent lack of willingness to compensate the residents of Mayflower for the possibly irreparable damage to their property.

“There’s a difference between legal levels of an eminent cancer-causing chemical in the air and what a homeowner would feel safe and comfortable with as a long-term chronic exposure for their family,” said McDaniel, who has opened a toll-free hotline for concerns, questions or complaints related to the spill. “But when you get beyond the minimum of what is legally required of Exxon, we’re finding resistance.”

A similar situation happened in 2010 in Marshall, Michigan.  Resident Susan Connolly told of the daycare her children attended, which was about one mile away from a rupture in the Enbridge pipeline.

Like parents in Mayflower, Connolly recalled being told by company and public officials that the air around her home and the daycare was safe to breathe. “They said that it was just a temporary inconvenience and nothing to be concerned about,” she said. Yet she recalled a host of health issues that quickly cropped up for both her son and daughter and others at the daycare,  from headaches and respiratory problems to diarrhea and skin rashes.

“They were the same exact symptoms as we’re seeing in Arkansas,” said Connolly, who has been advocating, unsuccessfully, thus far for a long-term health study for Marshall.

What are the positive and negative possibilities for the Keystone XL pipeline?

The positive side has little to do with improvement of life, or economic gains for the people of the United States, and certainly not for those who live in the states through which the pipeline will be constructed.  Only the oil companies and the congressmen and senators who are being compensated by oil company lobbyists will see the rewards.

The negative side has multiple concerns.

The tar sand crude contains a pollution level that greatly eclipses that of conventional oil. During tar sands oil production alone, levels of carbon dioxide emissions are three times higher than those of conventional oil, due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into the United States daily.

The water used to extract the oil from the tar sands becomes a danger to people, animals, and the surrounding land.  The process produces toxic by-products including bitumen, from sand, silt, and clay.

It takes three barrels of water to extract one barrel of the crude.  The process requires over 400 barrels of water per day.  Ninety percent of this polluted water is dumped into large human-made pools, known as tailing ponds, after it’s used. These ponds are home to toxic sludge, full of harmful substances like cyanide and ammonia, which has worked its way into neighboring clean water supplies.

TransCanada, the company who wants to build the pipeline, attempted to obtain a waiver allowing a thinner walled pipe, and increased pressure within the line.  Thanks to efforts by Friends of the Earth and allies, TransCanada withdrew their request.

TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline has spilled a dozen times in less than a year of operation, prompting a corrective action order from the Department of Transportation.

Experts warn that this more corrosive type of crude produces dangers far beyond that of the usual ‘black gold’ used to refine fuel for American automobiles. A break in the pipe resulting from corrosion is more likely.  The EPA has asked the State Department to intervene in an investigation into the dangers of tar sands crude.

The Keystone XL pipeline would traverse six U.S. states and cross major rivers, including the Missouri River, Yellowstone, and Red Rivers, as well as key sources of drinking and agricultural water, such as the Ogallala Aquifer which supplies two million Americans.

Areas in which the tar sand crude is refined would see a dramatic increase of pollutants in the air and water.

And finally, allowing increased production of some of the dirtiest material on the earth, will ultimately delay efforts to research and develop clean energy sources.

There is no clear advantage to the construction of another pipeline, other than for the oil cartels.  But there are major concerns.

If the lobbyists win this battle, this will become just another example of a situation where the people lose and big business wins.

When will the American people awaken and loudly protest the criminality of our elected officials?  You do not have a lobbyist, and that’s why your needs are not being addressed by Washington.

This crude will not power your car, truck, or boat.  The existing refineries that produce those types of fuels are unable to process tar sands crude.

The Keystone XL pipeline must not happen.

James Turnage

The Guardian Express


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