The Billings Outpost

Keystone pipeline threatens Ogallala

“Talk’s cheap but it costs money to buy whiskey.”

– the drunken philosopher.

It costs even more (much more) to clean up oil spills.

The XL pipeline may be the biggest environmental issue in the coming presidential election. Republicans vigorously support the project, claiming it will create thousands of jobs and insure American energy security.

Democrats side with environmentalists who insist the pipeline is a catastrophe waiting to happen. The pipeline’s route cuts near the Nebraska sand hills to the Ogallala Aquifer – a massive underground reservoir that provides drinking water for 2 million people.

The big pipe threatens the fragile hills and would expose large tracts of Montana prairie to the sort of damage that might costs billions to repair and would be disastrous to the ecosystem.

The Ogallala aquifer is the largest in the world. It was charged 10,000 years ago when the great sheets of ice melted at the end of the Pleistocene. When it is empty (or despoiled) that will be the end of this great natural tank. It’s water is a non-renewable resource.

A half-dozen people sit around a kitchen table. One man – who appears to be a local farmer – barks at the businessman representing the pipeline builders. How, he wants to know, can the company assure the public of the pipeline’s security?

The pipeline flak launches a spiel listing promises that would make the XL a blessing to the state and nation.

He does not list:

An existing tar sands pipeline running through the United States from Alberta, called Keystone 1, was billed as the safest pipeline in history when it was built in 2010 — yet it spilled 12 times in its first year of operation, more than any pipeline in U.S. history.

Other tar sands pipelines have also spilled — with disastrous consequences.

The cost of cleaning up a Michigan spill topped $1 billion. Experts questioned whether habitat in the Kalamazoo, Mich., area would ever recover.

A 2013 tar sands oil spill in a Mayflower, Ark., neighborhood forced residents to abandon their homes and made some residents sick by exposing the community to carcinogenic benzene.

When the company skins open its bank account, the task at hand will be easy. Two out of three people in America believe that the pipeline is safe, that it will create thousands of jobs and millions in taxes. Most are more than convinced. Many are certain.

But the environmental threats are not confined to leaks in the pipeline. Making gasoline out of oil sand produces twice as much carbon dioxide as the conventional refining of crude. This can only speed the buildup of carbon dioxide that causes global warming.

Moreover, the production of gasoline from syncrude will compete for capital with the production of natural gas and other forms of energy. Wind energy, hydropower, solar energy - all these and others.

Hillary Clinton may be the only candidate opposing the XL pipeline, but she has been all over on this issue – very much like her moving stand on war in Iraq.

As I began: Talk’s cheap. It costs money to buy whiskey.

The pipeline builders have scads of money and a world of confidence. How serious are they about building this potential monster?

Serious enough to risk their own money?

A massive project with massive risks merits a massive surety bond. A multi-billion dollar guarantee (money to be held in trust by the Department of the Treasury ) should ease our fears. Ante up.

So, the pipeline spouts a leak. The company writes a check. The taxpayers are indemnified. Those who rely on an intact Ogallala aquifer will drink a toast to big oil.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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