Last week, grassroots opponents of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline hoping to halt its development were successful in submitting over 1 million comments before the State Department’s established April 22, 2013 deadline.
Foes of the pipeline believe the outpouring of concern evidenced by not only rallies but comments to the State Department will provide President Obama with the support he needs to reject Keystone XL. Even though the U.S. Senate passed a resolution endorsing the tar sands pipeline last month and the bill has since been approved to move to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote on its possible passage into law, ultimately, the final decision as to whether Keystone XL is implemented lies with the President.
If approved, Keystone XL will slither through six U.S. states and over the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides fresh water to millions of people who live on the Great Plains.
The outcry from the grassroots comes on the heels of the release of the State Department’s environmental impact statement regarding the building of Keystone XL. While they didn’t specifically endorse the pipeline, State Department officials found that it did not present significant environmental risk.
The EPA did not agree. Calling the State Department’s review, “insufficient,” the Environmental Protection Agency suggested that the full danger of Keystone XL was not being acknowledged.
TransCanada wants to build Keystone XL to transport around 830,000 barrels of diluted tar sands bitumen crude to Texas refineries. Canadian tar sands are speculated to contain over 2 trillion barrels of oil. As you can see, TransCanada stands to profit immensely from this venture- especially since it appears that the final destination for much of the oil produced from tar sands would be overseas.
Sadly, wildlife, Native lands, fresh water, and the health and welfare of future generations will be the ultimate cost of Keystone XL. The injurious effects of tar sands extraction are already evident. Canadian forests have been laid waste to make way for it. By the time it’s all said and done, an area larger than the state of Florida will be completely leveled and left in ruin by Big Oil in the name of greed.
Extracting oil from tar sands is an extremely wasteful process. It takes three barrels of fresh water to make one barrel of oil. This means that tar sand oil production is using about 400 million gallons of water each day. Once used, this water, polluted with ammonia, cyanide and other toxins, is dumped into “tailing ponds,” utterly spoiled and unusable for consumption by humans and other living organisms. Also, tar sands oil development produces three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions than other types of oil, thereby speeding up climate change all by itself.
Bitumen crude extracted from tar sands isn’t light either, like other types of crude. It’s tar-like. Heavy. Viscous. When it leaks into water, it sinks to the bottom; there it remains, destroying that water source forever.
In 2010, BP was responsible for spilling an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil over 87 days when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people. The Gulf of Mexico will never be the same. The original Keystone pipeline also ruptured on my tribal lands, the Lake Traverse Reservation in northeastern South Dakota, in 2011. During that spill, a tar sands oil slurry spurted from the pipeline six stories high. A Federal agency found seven probable violations in connection with that spill. Still, nothing was done.
How soon we forget.
Just three weeks ago, an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst in Mayflower, Arkansas. We watched in horror as more than 157,000 gallons of crude oil turned a regular neighborhood and its surrounding natural habitat into a toxic swamp covered in paper towels. In reality, the Mayflower spill is a drop in the proverbial bucket when compared to the millions of gallons Big Oil loses control over every year.
Advocates promoting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline say spills are unlikely, but the record shows just the opposite. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, American pipelines leak 50 barrels or more about every three days; over 3 million gallons of hazardous liquids have been spilled by these pipelines every single year for the past five years. Resulting property damages are estimated to be more than $1.5 billion. The price natural life and the environment pays due to exposure to this poison is not entirely known and essentially, incalculable.
Personally, I’m revolted with the complete lack of accountability and unmitigated arrogance exhibited by oil companies when spills do take place. The Mayflower spill is a perfect example of this. Exxon deliberately tried to cover up the damage caused by the oil spill by having the FAA declare a no-fly zone over the affected area, and threatened to have reporters who investigated the site arrested.
Canadian tar sands and the rise of Keystone XL are also prime examples of environmental racism. Low-income and Native communities are most at risk of suffering from the negative effects of both. First Nations peoples in Canada are already bearing the brunt of the toxic burden due to tar sands development. Drinking water is contaminated, and it’s been reported that arsenic was found in moose meat, a staple of the Indigenous diet there. The processing of tar sands is toxic and surrounding Native communities will continue to have higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems because of oil production.
Tar sands oil spills cause irreparable damage to the environment, and should Keystone XL be built, it will rupture. Statistically, it’s only a matter of time. If it poisons the Ogallala Aquifer, we could face massive water shortages within our generation. Will our children and grandchildren die of thirst? With Keystone XL looming, it’s possible. If the pipeline is implemented, the resulting spill will cause an environmental catastrophe unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Stopping this tar sands pipeline is a life or death issue- for wildlife, us, and the planet itself. I encourage you to stand with grassroots opponents of Keystone XL, and help us defeat it.
President Obama, hear us. Hear our children. Show us you’re serious about breaking humanity’s fossil fuel addiction by denying TransCanada’s application to build this tar sands pipeline. Thre billions the U.S. would invest in Keystone XL could be used to stimulate green energy innovation. Listen to logic. Listen to your heart. Therein lies the answer, and the key to a healthy future for us all.
Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is a writer, blogger, ethnoscientist, Tribal Judge for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, and the Tribal Colleges Liaison Manager for the University of North Dakota (UND) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) via North Dakota EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). Her first horror novella will be released in 2013. Follow her on Twitter.