Below is a recap of this week’s news related to the ongoing Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The massive oil pipeline spill in North Dakota continued to raise fears about Keystone XL this week, as did new reports of public health problems in Canada resulting from the tar sands boom. See below for more.
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- Concerns continued to be raised this week about the implications of September’s massive pipeline spill in North Dakota. The leaky pipe, which spilled 865,000 gallons of oil (at least 20,600 barrels) across seven acres of a farm in North Dakota has raised serious concerns about leak detection technology, and what a spill of this magnitude would mean for landowners along the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route. “The spill on Steven Jensen’s farm is devastating,” said Bold Nebraska Executive Director Jane Kleeb. “It will ruin his livelihood, to say nothing of the health risks. Now imagine if that spill were tar sands and it had occurred over the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides fresh water to millions of Americans. The North Dakota spill was bad enough. A tar sands spill on the Ogallala would be even worse.”Along with numerous other spills in recent years, the devastating spill on Steven Jensen’s farm serves as a reminder that oil spills are all too common, and that leak detection technology only detects them approximately 5% of the time. In the case of Keystone XL, the leak detection system in place would not detect a spill any smaller than 12,450 barrels a day. Though this may not be enough to trigger the pipeline’s sensors, it would certainly be enough to do serious damage to the sensitive Ogallala Aquifer. Contrary to claims by pipeline supporters, even after being rerouted, the pipeline’s proposed route still threatens the Sand Hills region, where sandy, porous soil makes the ecosystem particularly vulnerable to contamination. In this area, a tar sands spill would be devastating, sinking in the water and contaminating drinking water and irrigation water for agriculture, meaning significant economic impacts for the heartland’s cattle industry.
As the EPA emphasized, the State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the pipeline did not adequately address the risks of spills and leaks, especially ones that occur atop the aquifer. The SEIS failed to consider TransCanada’s poor operating history, including that their first Keystone pipeline leaked 14 times in the United States and 21 times in Canada during its first year of operation. Dr. John Stansbury, a Professor of Environmental and Water Resources Engineering at the University of Nebraska, has projected that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would result in 91 major spills over the 50 year life of the pipeline.
Unfortunately, it does not come much of a surprise that regulation has thus far been too weak to stop disasters like this one, given that pipeline regulators have been spending more time at oil and gas industry conferences than actually working to address spills and other incidents.
- The situation is equally dire across the border in Canada, as residents suffer the effects of the tar sands boom. Science Daily reported this week on a study conducted by scientists at UC Irving and University of Michigan that revealed “high levels of the carcinogens 1,3-butadiene and benzene and other airborne pollutants” in Canadian cities downwind from Canada’s largest oil, gas and tar sands processing zone. After analyzing over a decade of health records, they found that the number of men with leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was significantly greater in communities closest to these refineries than in other nearby counties.Canadian First Nations populations are also suffering as a result of tar sands production in Alberta. Though the industry has funneled money and jobs into the area, it has also caused significant pollution of the air and water and stoked fears of increased incidence of cancer and autoimmune diseases in the local population. As communities on both sides of the border increasingly suffer the property damage and negative health effects stemming from the boom in tar sands production, it’s hard to make the case that people would benefit from further tar sands expansion and the construction of Keystone XL.
- “This should be vetoed. It is an atrocity. It is a threat to our future.” – Former Vice President Al Gore, discussing his strong opposition to the pipeline at a Center for American Progress 10th anniversary event in Washington yesterday
- “They’ve been really nice and they’ve contained the spill as well as they can. But I still don’t know if it will get into the water.” –Steven Jensen, the North Dakota farmer who discovered the enormous oil spill coming from a leaky pipeline running through his land, on his fears about the consequences of the spill
- “Whether or not he will say no — well, you know how the White House functions. At the end of the day he is going to say no but there will be some more twists and turns before we get there.” – Former White House energy and climate czar Carol Browner gave insight into what she believes is the most likely scenario surrounding approval of the pipeline
- “Once again, we see undeniable evidence that ERM’s review of the Keystone XL pipeline was tainted from the beginning by lies, lobbying and cover-ups. There is no way President Obama should rely on ERM’s review as a basis for his decision on the pipeline. Secretary Kerry should fire ERM and throw out their propaganda masquerading as an unbiased review. Then he and the president should look at the facts and end this Keystone XL nightmare.” – Ross Hammond, senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth, on newly released documents that show the State Department tried to hide the conflicts of interests of ERM, the consultant that worked on State’s deeply flawed environmental review of Keystone XL
- “If Obama approves the pipeline, I will eat my hat. This isn’t complicated stuff. An oil pipeline by definition increases emissions.” –Daniel Kessler, of 350.org, on the common sense logic that President Obama needs to reject Keystone XL, in this week’s Bloomberg report on anti-Keystone activists’ campaign of civil disobedience
- Canada falling far short on emission goals, Environment Canada reports – New reports this week show that Canada is falling dramatically short of its emissions targets, leaving little room for optimism or faith in the “strict environmental policies” they tout as a reason to support Keystone XL
- Obama’s former climate czar predicts president will reject Keystone XL – Carol Browner predicted this week that President Obama will reject the pipeline
- Study: Koch Brothers Could Make $100 Billion if Keystone XL Pipeline Approved – A new study released by progressive think tank International Forum on Globalization (IFG) investigates how the Koch brothers will benefit enormously should Keystone be approved
- Greens Shake Things Up, Building Pressure on Soda Companies – Sierra Club and ForestEthics launched an ad campaignthis week targeting Coke and Pepsi for their use of oil from tar sands in corporate car and truck fleets
- Keystone XL Contractor’s Conflicts Of Interest Not Mentioned In State Department Documents – New documents released by the State Department to Sierra Club, after a FOIA request compelling them to do so, show evidence that State did not investigate ERM’s ties to TransCanada before approving it to work on their analysis of the Keystone pipeline, and later attempted to hide this conflict of interest
- Keystone Pipeline Opponents Plan Widespread Civil Disobedience – The New York Times reports on anti-Keystone activists’ plans to ramp up widespread civil disobedience calling on the President to reject the pipeline
- Tar sands expansion projects and associated climate emissions waiting on Keystone XL decision – NRDC’s Anthony Swift blogs about the enormous, heavily polluting tar sands expansion projects that depend on the approval of Keystone XL
- Why Environmentalists Have Already Won the Keystone Fight – National Journal reports on the significance of environmentalists’ efforts to stop the Keystone pipeline, which have delayed the decision on the pipeline and shifted the narrative to one on climate change