Surrendering to Mother Nature

blowing snowThis is so disappointing!

It was still raining, but not that much, when I passed Lincoln, Nebraska, but by the time I got to the town of York, I realized I would not be going any farther.  If I weren’t such a white-knuckle driver I might have made it to Grand Island, but frankly, I’m just not cut out for driving in winter weather.

This photo isn’t mine, but it shows pretty much what I was seeing on the highway this morning.  there were several huge trucks jackknifed in the ditch, as well as some cars and at least one accident scene.  I just didn’t feel like being a statistic today.

Fortunately, I knew that York was a good place to stop, and I was relieved to see that there were two hotels, several gas stations, a number of restaurants, and even a Starbucks.  I found a nice motel and checked in early enough to grab some free breakfast.  Fortunately, they have wi-fi and I’m able to do a little blogging while I wait out the storm.

I won’t get to hand them my typewritten testimony, but I will at least be able to send it via the web.  The site was “too busy” to handle my submission just now, but I will find a way to submit later today.  It won’t be quite as powerful, but I will tell them that I almost made it there, so they know how strongly I feel about the issue.

Many people were planning to come to Nebraska to protest the pipeline, and I hope they all made it.  A number of people were planning to arrive on Wednesday, so hopefully the weather hasn’t kept everyone away.  .  People were planning to come from Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, and South Dakota.  One thing we all have in common is a belief that the pipeline is will be dangerous to human health and to the environment, and that we are being asked to shoulder the burden of risk, while getting no reward.

I am a resident of Brandon, South Dakota, which is near the existing Keystone Pipeline that runs through eastern North and South Dakota, and eastern Nebraska and that has been in operation since 2010.

In its first year of operation oil was spilled no less than 11 times.  Since these occurred due to faulty valves at pumping stations, Trans-Canada says they don’t count toward their once-in-seven-years estimate of projected oil spills.   The spill in Midville, ND, on May 7, 2011, was not small.  An estimated 400 barrels of oil were spilled. (21,000 gallons)

Tar sands crude oil is different from conventional oil Dilbit, which is diluted bitumen, is much harder to remove from waterways than conventional crude oil.  because it sinks to the bottom, rather than floating on the surface.    The chemicals used to dilute the tar sands oil are toxic.

The thought that the Keystone XL Pipeline will cross the Ogallala Aquifer raises much concern about pollution of the aquifer.  The Ogallala Aquifer is a wide but shallow underground water table that exists under eight different states in the plains area.  In the Nebraska Sand Hills, the water in table the valleys rises to the surface of the earth, creating wetlands that cover 1.3 million acres.  This fact makes the groundwater especially susceptible to hazardous liquids, like oil, spilled on the surface.  27% of all the irrigated land in the U.S. is under this aquifer system, and it supplies about 30% of all ground water used for irrigation in the United States.  It supplies drinking water for 82% of the population who live on the plains.  If this aquifer were polluted, there would be dire consequences for the earth, for the food supply, for animals, and for human beings.   Activist Jane Kleeb says that if the pipeline should spring a leak in a location that touches the aquifer or even above it, the oil could easily seep into the porous, sandy soil, to pollute the groundwater.  The ground above the aquifer is rightly called the nation’s “breadbasket.”  Pollution of the water used to irrigate this land will have dire consequences to America’s food supply.

The KXL will carry diluted bitumen. The other day I heard that diluted bitumen (dilbit) is not considered oil by the IRS, which would allow TransCanada to evade paying taxes into the Oil Spill and Liability Trust, a fund used to clean up oil spills.  If this is true, it is unconscionable!

 The Pegasus pipeline that leaked oil in Mayflower, Arkansas, passes 90,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd).  The Keystone XL Pipeline at its peak is expected to carry 830,000 bpd.  Any spill from the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is likely to be 10 times worse than the Pegasus spill.  The Pegasus pipeline is 65 years old.  Even though Exxon Mobil installed leak detectors in 2009, the leak has affected the pubic, with residents from 22 homes evacuated.  There is apparently no legally binding regulation that requires oil companies to maintain their pipelines to any given standard.  When there is a leak, the oil companies just pay a fine, which amounts to a drop in the bucket, considering how much they make in profits.

The Pegasus rupture was only 22 feet long and 2 inches wide. The pipeline was running at a rate of pressure twice that of a fire hose.  It resulted in a spill of between 200,000 and 420,000 gallons of heavy crude oil.   What will happen when the Keystone XL Pipeline leaks?

TransCanada does not have a good safety record, or a good safety culture. Though they claim to promote safety by having “agreed to 57 extra conditions,” most of those are already required by law.   According to Dr. Stansbury, UNL Professor of Environmental and Water Resources Engineering conducted a study showing that the KXL would result in 91 major spills over the 50 year life of the pipeline.

A new report, the most comprehensive study of Keystone’s climate impacts yet, shows that the pipeline would carry 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, equal to 51 coal plants worth of carbon. That is as much CO2 as 37.7 million cars on the road, more cars than are currently being driven in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, New York and Florida combined. 

The KXL holds more economic risks than profits. The job creation claims being made by pipeline supporters and some media outlets are wildly exaggerated. While Rush Limbaugh says the KXL will create up to a million jobs, an independent study done by Cornell estimates the number to be closer to 2,000 temporary jobs, and that the KXL could kill more jobs than it actually creates. The most recent State Department EIS estimates that the KXL will only create 35 jobs.  These jobs will be mostly filled by workers who are not local to the area where the pipeline runs, so it will do nothing for local economies.

The KXL route passes through a number of sacred tribal grounds, including the Ponca’s Trail of Tears. Native tribes are concerned about health and cultural impacts of the pipeline, concerns that have not been adequately addressed by the State Department.  TransCanada’s Pipeline Permit Application to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission states project impacts that include potential physical disturbance, demolition or removal of “prehistoric or historic archaeological sites, districts, buildings, structures, objects, and locations with traditional cultural value to Native Americans and other groups.  Indigenous communities are also concerned with health risks posed by the extension of the Keystone pipeline. Locally caught fish and untreated surface water would be at risk for contamination through tar sands oil production, and are central to the diets of many Native Americans.  To anyone who says they don’t care about the pipeline going through Indian holy sites, I would ask this: If the pipeline were to go through your church yard or through a cemetery where your family members are buried, how would you feel?  And if there were a leak in those places, how would you feel if your family graves were desecrated?

For all of these reasons, I hope the Obama Administration will not  allow the Keystone XL Pipeline project to go forward.

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