The Keystone story: an important long read

The Keystone story: an important long read

by digby

If you are engaged in the battle over the keystone Pipeline you probably know the scope of the story, but if you aren't, this long, fascinating article will be an eye opener. This isn't just some hippies protesting on behalf of the environment (not that there's anything wrong with that.) There is a broad coalition of farmers, land owners, ranchers, environmentalists and climate change activists who are extremely alarmed and are fighting the corporate energy producers to push this back. And for good reason:

While most landowners along the pipeline route reached negotiated agreements with the company, Thompson was one of a determined lot who did not want to allow the pipeline at any price. Some of the pipeline opponents were the fourth or fifth generation to farm the same land settled by their ancestors, the original homesteaders whose unsmiling portraits still looked down in judgment from the farmhouse walls.

The landowners had another concern that went beyond property rights: water. Much of Nebraska sits on top of the giant Ogallala Aquifer, a formation of shale and gravel that holds fresh water like a giant, underground sponge. The water table here is so high farmers can hit water when digging post-holes in the spring. Agriculture in the state depends on the water pumped up from the earth. On Thompson’s small farm, a 30-foot-deep well pumps 4,500 gallons per minute. A pinhole leak in the pipe, he worried, could contaminate his well and leave his entire land useless. TransCanada’s additional safety enhancements like additional remote-controlled shutoff valves and increased inspections didn’t persuade him. “If it’s buried on your property, that’s going to be a constant worry for the rest of your life,” says Thompson.
As word about the pipeline spread through the state, TransCanada’s assurances about pipeline safety were no match for the alarming scenes that Nebraskans saw on their television screens in 2010. That spring, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leaking five million barrels of oil into the sea. Then, in July, an Enbridge pipeline, known as Line 6B, carrying the same kind of diluted bitumen from Alberta that the Keystone XL would transport, spilled 900,000 barrels into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan—the largest on-land oil spill in U.S. history.

The Enbridge spill highlighted a worrisome feature of diluted bitumen—it behaved differently from conventional oil when spilled into water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would later report: “In that spill, oil sands crude sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River, mixing with the river bottom’s sediment and organic matter, making the oil difficult to find and recover.” The Michigan cleanup would take more than three years and required the dredging of river bottom sediments because “the oil sands crude associated with the Enbridge spill will not appreciably biodegrade.”

Read the whole thing to understand just what a heavy, heavy lift it's been to push back on the oil companies and the government to stop this thing. And there's has been some notable success.

Unfortunately, the State Department review was released today and  it's bad news:
The long-awaited environmental impact statement on the project concludes that approval or denial of the pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, is unlikely to prompt oil companies to change the rate of their extraction of carbon-heavy tar sands oil, a State Department official said. Either way, the tar sands oil, which produces significantly more planet-warming carbon pollution than standard methods of drilling, is coming out of the ground, the report says.

In his second term, Mr. Obama has sought to make his fight against climate change a cornerstone of his legacy. In a major speech on the environment last summer, Mr. Obama said that he would approve the pipeline only if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of carbon pollution. He said the pipeline’s net effects on the climate would be “absolutely critical” to his decision.

The conclusions of the report appear to indicate that the project has passed Mr. Obama’s climate criteria.
 But it ain't over til it's over:
The report released on Friday, however, is far from the final decision on the project. The State Department must next determine whether the pipeline is in the national interest. That involves taking into account both the environmental and economic impact of the project, as well as its impact on the relationship between the United States and Canada, the nation’s largest trading partner and largest source of foreign oil.

Although Secretary of State John Kerry must weigh in with a recommendation to the president on whether to approve the pipeline, it is the president who must make the ultimate decision. Nonetheless, the assignment creates a difficult situation for Mr. Kerry, who has a long record of trying to tackle climate change and hopes to make the issue a signature of his tenure at the State Department.

Mr. Kerry has repeatedly been asked about his views on the pipeline but has never publicly commented on it. He has no deadline to make the determination. A State Department official said he was preparing to “dive in” to the 11-volume environmental impact statement as a first step.

Eight other agencies with jurisdiction over elements of the project — the Departments of Defense, Justice, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, Energy and Homeland Security, and the Environmental Protection Agency — will also weigh in.

If you watched the Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl you know that environmental disaster was caused by mismanagement of the land that made the drought conditions much worse. The repercussions were tragic and it took a very long time to fix. The knew they were doing it at the time but couldn't stop themselves. There was money to be made.

But you don't mess with the water table. And here we go again.

The good news is that as the article shows, the grassroots organizing against this is about as sophisticated and broad based as you can get in our political culture. This isn't a case of a bunch of naysayers whining and spitting into the wind. If anyone can get the right result, they can. But the moneyed forces arrayed to get this thing done are extremely formidable and as influential in elite circles as you can get. And if there's one thing our current administration has shown over and over again, they take those interests very, very seriously.

Credo Action has a pledge of resistance, if you're of a mind to get involved.