That black, thick peanut-butter clump is tar sands, which is a mixture of clay, sand, water, and heavy black viscous oil called bitumen that is center stage of a battle. TransCanada's existing pipeline transports tar sands to the Midwest: Its XL proposal would expand the pipeline down to the Gulf Coast. The GOP is desperately pushing the XL project through before responsible environmental analysis can be conducted due to recent leaks in its existing pipeline.

Rushing the project comes after environmental reviews raised more questions and opposition to the XL pipeline for the same reason that Dick Cheney loves it – it's an extreme energy policy fraught with dangers. Even Cheney's energy report admits that there are "increased economic and technical risks associated with harder-to-recover resources." Yet, Cheney's secret Energy Task Force pushed unconventional energy reserves, such as tar sands because the US is "running out" of the "conventional, easily tapped reservoirs."  This is fossil fuel industry strategy as usual: No need to fully evaluate risks because the public will bear and pay for risks as they happen.

Keystone XL pipeline is not just risky, but unnecessary.  Fossil fuel advocates argue the usual need for oil from a friendly country to answer rising oil prices. However, the Energy Department says the "pipeline would have a minimal effect on prices, and there is already sufficient pipeline capacity to double United States imports from Canada."

What are the real motives?

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) says the "oil is not for domestic consumption," but likely destined for foreign export. The existing pipeline now ends in Cushing Oklahoma: The XL will extend the pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries, providing the "tar sands' first major pipeline to a port." In short, Canada needs to reach ports where it can ship its oil overseas.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) called for a Federal Trade Commission investigation whether Canadian oil companies have colluded to control the price of oil.  Sen. Wyden wrote:

While the full nature of the arrangements agreed upon by the Canadian shippers is unclear, there is clear indication that there is a coordinated 'strategy' among Canadian suppliers to gain higher prices. According to TransCanada, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline can be used by Canadian oil shippers to add up to $4 billion to U.S. fuel costs.

After Wyden's request for FTC probe, TransCanada flipped, stating XL will not increase gasoline prices.

Rather than seriously pursue a green energy future, tar sands will make things worse on so many levels. The EPA estimated that GHG emissions from tar sands oil, even without considering the loss of the carbon sequestration function from the destroyed forests, is 82% greater than the average crude refined in the U.S. To place in perspective:  Each year, the XL's emissions would be "roughly equivalent to annual CO2 emissions of seven coal-fired plants."  

Opposition crosses ideological lines as conservatives join hands with progressive activists:  Environmentalists, farmers, ranchers, lawmakers, indigenous people, and others oppose the XL pipeline.  

Pressure by some lawmakers and the public has already resulted in the State Dept. agreeing to schedule public hearings in the capital cities of the affected states after the final environmental impact statement is released. We need more public pressure to stop this pipeline that sounds more like a rip-off where we pay with our health, economy, environmental resources and wildlife while TransCanada satisfies its greed:

What can you do?

Meteor Blades and I are organizing a blogathon for August 14-19 (send email to patriotdaily@gmail.com to join us).

Our blogathon is coordinated with Bill McKibben's DC action. You can sign up to join Bill McKibben in civil disobedience August 20-September 3 in front of the White House. This civil disobedience action is modeled on one that the group Transafrica used outside the Washington Embassy in the 1980s:  Nelson Mandela said it played a key role in raising awareness about apartheid. The plan is for a new group of people each day of the two weeks to trespass on the sidewalk in front of the White House.

Thursday, August 11th at 5-6 pm PST, you can join Bill McKibben and others in LIVE Twitter Chat about the XL pipeline and DC action.

You can also  sign a petition telling President Obama to stop the tar sands pipeline.

We know what the future will look like with the XL pipeline.

XL Pipeline Route

The tar sands process starts with razing ancient boreal forests--

leaving behind a tar sands moonscape:

Alberta has already created 65 square miles of toxic tailings ponds that pollute downstream watersheds of indigenous communities, who now have elevated cancer rates. These ponds are so large that they can be seen from outer space:


The 1,661 mile pipeline starts in Hardisty, Alberta and would pump a maximum 900,000 barrels of crude each day to Texas refineries for 50 years affecting a number of states, including Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska,  Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Structural Dangers

The EPA "sharply criticized" the initial environmental assessment as "understating the project's many risks." The problem is that XL would pump "raw tar sands oil through pipelines meant for processed oil." Our "existing safety and environmental regulations fail to take this new kind of pipeline into account."

One of the risks is the difficulty of transporting this diluted bitumen through the pipeline:

Petroleum pipelines that carry diluted bitumen, or “dilbit,” pose special risks. Dilbit pipelines use higher pressure and higher temperatures and need chemicals to keep the thick, tarry substance flowing. Some data suggests they suffer more ruptures because of these temperature and pressure extremes.

This past May, the Keystone I pipeline had a spill at a North Dakota pump station, "sending a 60 foot geyser of tar sands crude into the air." TransCanada responds that "pump station leaks don't count," but these pump station failures should be a wake-up call:

As the U.S. spill records show, failures of this kind and magnitude are not common occurrences in our conventional pipeline system.  That the failure of a ¾ inch fitting resulted in a 60 foot geyser that spewed over 21,000 gallons of oil in a matter of minutes paints a pretty clear picture of the kind of pressure these pipelines are under. That the pipeline fitting failed in ordinary operating conditions suggests that it was not built to withstand that pressure.

In the geyser spill, a state investigative commission found the pipeline met existing conventional pipeline standards, which were not sufficient for tar sands and thus modifications were needed to "prevent similar failures."

Oil spill risks

12 spills with existing pipeline in one year

TransCanada claimed its existing pipeline was constructed with "state of the art" design features and the XL pipeline will have "similar characteristics."  

TransCanada estimates there will be "11 spills of at least 15 barrels over 50 years of operation" with XL pipeline but a university study estimates 91 spills. TransCanada disputed these findings, saying the usual company line that safety is its "top priority."  

No need to speculate. TransCanada predicted spills of 1 every 7 years for its existing pipeline, which has had 12 spills in less than 1 year or more than the estimated spill rate for XL in 50 years. TransCanada's projections are worthless.

Oil spill response time.

TransCanada estimates it would take it 11.5 to 19 minutes to shut down the XL pipeline after a spill.  However, the university study cited a "very similar pipeline" that ruptured in 2010, spilling 800,000 galloons of crude oil into the Michigan Kalamazoo River, as shown in photo.  It took 12 hours to shut down the pipeline.   This was the "worst spill ever in the Midwest…, killing much of the aquatic life for miles."

Environmental Dangers

XL pipeline will cross under more than 1,000 water bodies

The pipeline will cross "1,904 rivers, streams and reservoirs along its route" and for all but 39 rivers, the pipeline will only be five feet underneath the river bed.

The pipeline water crossings include the Missouri River, Yellowstone River, and Platte River.  The XL pipeline will pass under the Yellowstone River just like Exxon Mobil's pipeline passed under this river before it broke due to erosion from heavy water flow. However, the XL pipeline will be "20 times larger" than Exxon's pipeline with 900,000 barrels of oil per day.

The university study compared worse-case scenario spill volumes:

According to Stansbury's analysis, the "worst-case" scenario spill volumes from the proposed Keystone XL could exceed 122,000 barrels of oil at the Missouri River and 165,000 barrels at the Yellowstone River. By comparison, the July 1 rupture of ExxonMobil's Silvertip pipeline gushed an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.

The study also found that a "worst-case scenario spill" for the Platte River would "form a plume of oil that could extend more than 450 miles" that would contaminate drinking water and threaten wildlife.  

 Drinking Water Supplies

The pipeline will cross the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies drinking water for two million people and is the primary source of groundwater for 20% of US agricultural production with a pipeline that is 4 feet below the surface.

The university study found that even a small undetected leak could pollute this aquifer in violation of safe drinking water standards, "threatening residential and irrigation water supplies."

Two scientists, who are experts in groundwater flow and contamination, urged Sec. Clinton to conduct further research before approving this pipeline. The scientists warned that the risks of unknown environmental and economic harms is high because a single study about Minnesota 30 years ago is the only source for what scientists know about crude oil behavior in aquifers." Given the "vastly different geographies," the Minnestota study is not helpful for the Nebraska Sandhills. The scientists want to a study how an oil spill would "affect the sandhills and devise strategies to safeguard the region’s aquifer, streams, lakes and wetlands."

Nebraska Sandhills

The pipeline crosses the Nebraska Sandhills, a "unique Great Plains prairie ecosystem" with wetlands, rolling sand dunes and many grasses and wildflowers that only grow there.

(Photos with permission of photographer)

Wildlife at risk include the Sandhill Cranes.  For millions of years, a half million Sandhill Cranes migrate to Nebraska each year. This video shows the beautiful migration of some of the 200,000 cranes along a 70-mile stretch of the Platte River:

Rite of Spring: Migrating Cranes on the Platte River from John Shepard on Vimeo.

We don't want to wait until we see the aftermath of spills on our majestic wildlife, or face cleaning up the spills that TransCanada says just won't happen even though the spills have been occurring for 1 year with a similarly constructed pipeline.

Originally posted to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 01:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots and EcoJustice.

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