Keystone XL - What's the Big?

You may have heard of this protest that started yesterday at the White House. Basically: Pipeline being built from Alberta to Texas. Protesters are protesting! Getting arrested! It's crazy, like the sixties/seventies, except for... except the media seems to be portraying the protesters are liberalist idiots. 

Ok. Actually, I wasn't alive during the early days of the environmental movement, so I don't know what it was like. I can only *assume* that the media covered the issues in an informative manner, since the movement actually Got Stuff Done. I do know that the news stories I've seen only say that they are protesting a pipeline, and then they interview a protester who says that America is addicted to oil and we shouldn't import anymore oil! Which makes it sound like the point of the protest is stop all petroleum imports.

Well, that's not the story. And the story actually affects Oklahoma, so listen up. I did some background reading. The pipeline has its pros and cons, like anything does. To delve into all of them... well, that would take more patience than either of us has right now. But you can guess the benefits... jobs, national security, the typicals. And you can even guess some of the usual cons, such as, oil exploitation is detrimental to habitats, extracting what is called tar sands oil is energy intensive and there are better, cleaner options. But this is not the typical scenario, for a number of reasons. So I have pared it down to what I think are the important points: 

 1) It passes through central Oklahoma on its way to Texas 
 2) It passes through the Ogallala aquifer, which stretches through several 
states including Oklahoma's panhandle. This is one of the largest supplies of 
water in the country; millions of people use it for drinking water and crop 
 3) Studies (some done by the company building the pipeline, some by univeristies) 
predict that the pipeline will have 11-50 significant 
spills within the first few years of operation. They EXPECT these spills. Note that it 
takes only a very small amount of oil to contaminate a very large amount of water. 
 4) The EPA has *not* approved this project. The company building the pipeline 
submitted its Environmental Impact Statement twice, and BOTH times EPA found it 
lacking. The first time EPA rated the EIS as inadequate. The second time  
(read EPA comments here) EPA said that the company had 
insufficient information on the environmental affects of the project, 
insufficient emergency plans for leaks, and that the pipeline was not 
technologically equipped for the detection of smaller leaks. This means that it 
could be leaking for years before detection, possibly into the invaluable Ogallala. 
This is not simply a knee-jerk or "Not in my backyard" reaction; this appears to 
genuinely be a bad idea that the company seems ill-prepared to handle 
responsibly; a project which, if flubbed (or even if one of their predicted leaks occurs in
 a bad location), could put the public health and water supply of people in many 
states at risk, as well as jeapordizing crop irrigation for America's breadbasket region. 
Cleaning up groundwater contamination is one of the hardest types of 
environmental clean-ups; it literally takes years, and is sometimes impossible. 
There are benefits to this pipeline, but there are also alternatives to it, and 
the benefits are not worth the risk. If you agree and are feeling froggy, you 
could head over and sign the petition or use the White House website to shoot
 an email to Obama. This is actually one of the rare issues that he can handle 
on his own, as he is the only person who can approve the permit to build the pipeline. 
But. He is in a sticky spot, and I don't envy him. 
This is not a simple issue, so if you'd like to be fully informed you should Google 
it and do your own background research. If you want a start, here is a story from National Geographic with an interesting perspective that actually suggests the pipeline would not make any strides towards national security, and here is an overview from CBS that discusses a little more of the benefits.  


Wonkadelica said...

Well, I was alive and active in some of the fabled environmental actions of yore. True to form, O'bummer disappoints again:


Alien Mind Girl said...

Surprise, surprise.
Well... Here's to hoping they behave responsibly and that EPA is wrong on this one. o_O