Friday, November 11, 2011

The Keystone XL Pipeline

Yesterday, the imminent decision to allow the TransCanada pipeline to run through the center of the US was delayed. President Obama would have had one difficult call and someone will still have to make it sometime in the not so distant future. Whether the decision will fall to him or to his successor, does not matter:  the issues will remain the same in 2013 as they are today.

The decision was and still is  whether to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline through the center of the US from Alberta to the Texas Gulf, providing jobs to thousands of Americans in building the pipe line and hundreds of thousands to maintain and operate the pipeline through 2035. (per TransCanada). The alternative, then, is to cancel it, thus mollifying the concerns of environmentalists and all of their concerns. There are so many levels to this issue,  it is my belief that no matter what the president decides, it will be the wrong decision for 50% of our citizens.

These are some of the issues and concerns:

Issue one, the environment: an article by Seth Borenstein from The Associated Press, states that greenhouse gas levels have risen drastically since 2009 and far exceed the dire prediction of experts from just four years ago – the reason? The world dumped something like 500 million more tons of carbon into our atmosphere in 2010 than the year before. What will the statistics be for 2011?  Greenhouse gases are the unfortunate result of "fracking," the process proposed by TransCanada to extract oil. (Discussion below).

Issue two, job creation and future industry deals with Canada: most labor unions and local politicians support the pipeline with the exception of Nebraska. Today the US is the major source of energy exports from Canada. What will an annulment of the project do to our relations?  The Canadian oil industry believes if this deal does not go through, that it will be the end of export to the US and they will have to expand their markets to Asia, primarily China and India by building a pipeline through Canada west to the Pacific.

Issue three, water, specifically the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska: a portion of the pipeline would pass through the Sandhills region in Nebraska and the Ogallala aquifer which is said to supply water to Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. At the moment, Nebraska stands alone in an attempt to take the decision making process out of the hands of the State Department and into their own.

Issue four, unexplained increased seismic activity: the earthquake that occurred over last weekend in Oklahoma was the strongest in the state’s history. Some believe that the increased seismic activity is a result of the drilling of injection wells. Natural gas companies use a process called “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) to break apart the sand and shale from rock in order to release the natural gas. The water used is then disposed of by injecting it into the ground through “injection wells.” Arkansas is said to have experienced more seismic activity in recent history because of injection wells.  Where, exactly, did the earthquake occur? The pipeline is scheduled to cross near Cushing, OK.

Additionally the "fracking" process requires intense heat that is said to create more greenhouse gases than conventional pumping of crude.

Issue five, the Law of Eminent Domain: which means the government can appropriate your property whether you want to sell or not. They will pay you, of course, but “fair value” is a dubious term.

Issue six, the State Department vs. the State of Nebraska and jurisdiction: Currently the State Department holds jurisdiction over the decision making process since the pipeline would cross a US border; however, there has been a bill presented to the Nebraska State Senate by State Senator Anne Dubas which proposes that responsibility for the decision should rest in the hands of Nebraskans. We will see.

Issue seven, giving a foreign country eminent domain through our lands: Eminent domain is seen by some as a subsidy through private lands that most oil and gas companies must negotiate on an individual basis – to obtain easement rights. This broad access to our lands by a foreign company, they claim, is an infringement on our rights and an argument that amazingly has brought “tea party supporters” and environmentalists together with the same outrage. Per the Washington Post, “. . .TransCanada filed with the Texas Railroad Commission as a “common carrier” – meaning the project is for public use which gives TransCanada eminent domain rights. . .” (Rachel Weiner, Friday, November 11, 9am)

Issue eight, energy sources: The project could significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil (unless of course, you consider Canada to be a foreign country) and if the pipeline is scrubbed, it could mean that in the future Canada will ultimately have to turn to Asian (Chinese) markets to sell their oil because they believe that if the US decides against this pipeline, further exports to the US will be few and far between (See comment above regarding Canada's alternate plan to access Asian markets by building a pipeline through Canada to the Pacific.)

Issue nine, changing the route of the pipeline: could add hundreds of miles to the pipeline to avoid the aquifer in Nebraska and hence delay the construction for perhaps three years.

Note 1: The Keystone XL pipeline would double the capacity of TransCanada’s oil operation because of their existing line already in operation. On November 9, this Keystone pipeline suffered a power failure and had to be shut down for inspection for a period of 15 hours. The pipeline runs from Hardesty, Alberta to Illinois (2100 miles in length) with a second leg routed to Cushing OK. This, even without the additional 1661 mile proposed extension, seems to be a disaster waiting to happen.

Note 2: Another earthquake occurred in Oklahoma  just yesterday in the same region as the 5.6 quake last week.

With the increased seismic activity in the states that will host the pipeline in a shallow easement, there seems to me to be sufficient warning, that perhaps we need to reconsider the proposed route. The  jobs are important -- no one denies that; but do we want another disaster such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf, whose ecological ramifications are still unknown to this date?

I do not have the answers; but I know the answers are out there.  Let us deliberate; let us consider.  I believe the president has made the right decision in postponing a major commitment that could lead to environmental disaster and yet I believe the jobs creation is an imperative. I've been talking about a WPA project akin to FDR's in the 30's for years now.  Why is this such an outlandish idea?  With a national agenda such as this, we could put people to work building and producing, and not add to the environmental hazards; a project that would be CON-structive rather than DE-structive.

No comments:

Post a Comment