Across Quebec this past Saturday, Canadians and neighbors held vigils for those killed in last week’s oil tank train explosion. This tragedy raises new discussion on environmental health and public safety in regards to the transportation of fossil fuels. For the United States, it has yet again energized the national debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL).
The proposed pipeline would transport up to 35 million gallons of oil each day from Canada’s tar sands across 1700 miles of the Great Plains, prairies, aquifers and yes, even households of our continent to Texas refineries, where it would be mostly sold to foreign markets where prices are higher.
Tar sands consist of heavy crude oil mixed with sand and a black, oily, viscous material, bitumen. To harvest the tar sands, an area larger than the state of Florida will be mined in Canada’s great Boreal forest (the largest intact forest on Earth). Natural gas (fracking, oi!) will create the heat necessary to melt the oil out of the sand. This procedure will produce three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventional oil (not to mention the incredible amount of water wasted in the process).
President Obama has a decision to make: to OK or to veto the pipeline. The choice is his and his alone. Tar sands are dirty. Freshwater aquifers are vitally important. He should not employ taxpayer money in the destruction of pristine forest land. He should not give a pass to the abuse of eminent domain. Climate change is real, the pipeline causes unnecessary risk to public health and safety and this pipeline itself is simply not necessary. With a “progressive” executive in power who has vowed to move beyond the “Flat Earth Society,” to protect the American people and address our environment, the choice should be clear.
But it’s not.
Obama has not voiced his position on KXL and has made great efforts to let industry know that he will do everything in his power to make construction OK. He has green-lighted construction in the south (Oklahoma and Texas) and signaled approval of KXL in his big climate speech the other week. Supporters cheer that he said construction would not go forward if the pipeline would have significant climate impacts. Cool, but a State Department report has already claimed construction of the pipeline will not has such impacts. Obama did not mention the climate impacts of mining tar-sands, nor the environmental implications of natural gas, water use and forest destruction. Nor did he discuss public health and safety.
Now about that State Department report: The contractor hired by the administration to conduct the environmental impact statement of the pipeline, Environmental Resources Management Incorporated, is fatally compromised by conflicts of interest. We found out recently from a research analysis run by Friends of the Earth and the Checks and Balances Project that the firm has ongoing professional relationships with TransCanada (the corporation in charge of the KXL project) as well as other major corporations active in tar sands including Exxon, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Total and Syncrude.
To libertarians this is not surprising. Crude (pardon the pun), but not surprising. The state has a history of loyal service to major corporations and special interests, even at the expense of its supposed constituent population
“Forward” was the Obama Administration’s 2012 campaign slogan. Move forward by joining the liberation movement. Tear down institutional walls and build a free society.