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Monday, 18 February 2013

Sludge in the Hour Glass (Pipeline Business)


Alberta Oil Sands #6, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Expect Obama betrayal on Keystone XL pipeline

About halfway into his State of the Union speech, the president took a break from business as usual to ask us to think about a brand-new problem. He said we should heed the unanimous opinion of scientists as well as our own inner thermostats. We're not just imagining it; the planet is heating up. In fact, the 12 hottest summers on record happened in the last 15 years.

His solution? Let's get to work on "bipartisan market-based solutions" and at the same time "take action to reduce pollution" (which is a symptom, Mr. President, and not the problem, the latter being the thing you mentioned before, those rising temperatures). Let's also "prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change," seeing as how we can't stop it. Let's see if we can somehow, with the help of job-creating emergency shelters and mile-high dikes we're gonna build, ride out all those inevitable wildfires and tsunamis.

Hey, we can do this!

I always tense up when the president goes all visionary and bipartisan at the same time. It's not that I don't prefer the cheerful Obama to the scold. But I'd been waiting all night -- make that four years -- for the man to say something comprehensive or even just coherent about global warming. The fact is, the cheapest way to stop it is to stop spewing carbon into the atmosphere, not tomorrow but now, because if you kill the ecosystem that sustains you ... well, you've heard it before. Just not from the president.

A huge climate rally is raging in D.C. as you read this, sparked by a decision the president will make -- any day now -- to either approve or reject the oil industry's request to complete the Keystone XL pipeline, which is slated to carry the filthiest crude oil on the planet from Canadian tar sands down through the American breadbasket to ports in Texas for passage not to customers in the United States, as we've been falsely promised, but the Far East.

Tar-sands oil requires massive amounts of energy to procure and refine. That's before it's burned. A leak in the pipeline could further degrade the already polluted (with fossil-fuel-based fertilizer runoff) groundwater in our country's agricultural heartland. Keystone will create scant American jobs while adding billions to the balance sheets of American multinationals whose targeted growth markets in the Third World will increasingly supply their most valued workers as well.

This decision is pivotal. It will either establish the United States as the leader in slowing fossil-fuel dependence, or it will demonstrate with breathtaking clarity that, contrary to our own socially responsible self-image, we are at our core a rogue nation, quite possibly the most irresponsible in world history.

This decision is important also because it represents a rare opportunity for this president to leapfrog the whole messy bargaining process that has been his scapegoat for the continued existence of banks "too big to jail," as one pundit put it, to Guantanamo, to guns. For once he has a golden opportunity to not just preach about right and wrong, but to stand up to those same adversaries who keep derailing his dreams for a better America and to throw a sizable wrench in their plans.

On the fate of Keystone, the president has the final say. No horse-trading required. It's open field running to "meaningful progress" (Obama's term) not through market-based solutions but by confronting the problem head-on.

By "problem," I mean both warming and that other menace: corporate manipulation and greed. Obama's oil-lobby-sponsored opponents in Congress can't block his Keystone decision with a never-ending filibuster. If he says no on Keystone, that's it. Done. And in that one gesture he can silence the doubters who think his awakenings on gay rights and immigration reform (for example) were inspired more by political expediency than conviction.

"He's gonna cave," I e-mailed a friend as the president wrapped up his spirited energy spiel with one more pie-in-the-sky solution -- a government-sponsored research think tank that would speed those market-based solutions. (Wonder if Exxon Mobil's rumored geo-engineering research to redirect solar rays might qualify for a grant.) I knew that Keystone was a go when Obama let it slip that "naturally" he'd be granting a whole slew of new oil and gas permits as part of the energy independence effort.

Kicking the can down the road is something this president has gotten pretty good at, and politically speaking it has served him well. I guess it should come as no surprise that he's willing to bet our planet's future on the hope that we can have it both ways on this one, too. 

Expect Obama betrayal on Keystone XL pipeline: Bonnie Blodgett, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 16 February 2013

Truck hauling 36-inch pipe to build Keystone-Cushing pipeline SE of Peabody, Kansas. Location is Timber Rd and 20th St in Marion County. Looking south-west with rural Whitewater Center Church in background: photo by Steve Meirowsky, 10 July 2010

Pipes for the Keystone Pipeline, Nebraska: photo by shannonpatrick17, 13 August 2009

Alberta Oil Sands #9, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Alberta Oil Sands #7, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Alberta Oil Sands #2, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Alberta Oil Sands #10, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Alberta Oil Sands #8, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Alberta Oil Sands #1, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2007 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

File:Athabasca Oil Sands map.png

Map showing the extent of the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. The three oil sand deposits are known as the Athabasca Oil Sands, the Cold Lake Oil Sands, and the Peace River Oil Sands: image by Norman Einstein, 10 May 2006


Operational and proposed route of the Keystone Pipeline System (data source: TransCanada): image by Meclee, 21 July 2012

The proposed Keystone XL extension of the TransCanada pipeline would be a system of 36" diameter underground pipes stretching over 1700 miles from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, carrying primarily dilute bitumen and pumping up to 830,000 barrels of that horrific stuff per day. Environmental concerns relating to this proposed pipeline extension include fears for the integrity of wetlands, shallow groundwater supplies, and adjacent surface waters, and for the security of certain sensitive plant and animal species. The latter would at least in theory include humans.  The Keystone XL system would transect the Ogallala Aquifer. This aquifer provides about thirty percent of the total irrigation water of the United States. Over eighty percent of the 2.3 million humans dwelling within the aquifer boundary get their drinking water from it.  A significant portion of the nation's production of wheat, cotton, corn, sorghum derives from this territory. Eighteen percent of the national sacrifice animals aka cattle are "produced" here.
On 10 November 2011 the US Department of State put off approval of the Keystone XL system due to increasing concerns regarding certain sections within the Ogallala Aquifer boundary, principally the Sand Hills region of Nebraska. A final decision is expected any time now. 

File:Ogallala Aquifer - Keystone XL.png

Saturated thickness map of Ogallala Aquifer with Keystone XL route layered: image by 570ajk, 17 November 2011, using aquifer map by kbh3rd

File:Benzene Transport to Groundwater from Oil Spill.pdf

Scenario for benzene transport to groundwater from oil spill.
Oil spills in or on soils have the potential to release benzene to the environment when a precipitation event carries dissolved benzene to groundwater sources: image by 570ajk, 28 October 2011

File:Clouds Cass County Nebraska.jpg

Clouds over a country road, Cass County, Nebraska: photo by MONGO, 22 Junr 2007

File:Dismal River, Nebraska Sandhills.jpg

Dismal River, Nebraska Sandhills. Taken while on the river sampling for the plains topminnow: photo by Lindsay Vivian / USFWS, 28 October 2011

File:Nebraska Sandhills NE97 Hooker County 1.JPG

Nebraska Sandhills, Hooker County #1. Seen from Nebraska Highway 97 south of the Dismal River: photo by Ammodramus, 12 October 2010

File:Nebraska Sandhills NE97 Hooker County 2.JPG

Nebraska Sandhills, Hooker County #2. Seen from Nebraska Highway 97 south of the Dismal River: photo by Ammodramus, 12 October 2010

File:Nebraska Sandhills NE97 Hooker County 3.JPG

Nebraska Sandhills, Hooker County #3. Seen from Nebraska Highway 97 south of the Dismal River: photo by Ammodramus, 12 October 2010

Oil Fields #22 Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2001 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)

Oil Fields #28
, Cold Lake Alberta, Canada: photo by Edward Burtynsky, 2001 (Edward Burtynsky Photographic Works)


Wooden Boy said...

The management team has changed; the interests of the firm stay fixed.

It's not so much the betrayals as our expectations that leave us bruised.

I've seen a few shifts in government in the UK - the project carries on regardless. We need oppositions with a serious will to change things.

TC said...

The problem here is that though the proper rhetorical gestures are in place, the putative will to change things can never be regarded as serious so long as the foot remains pressed on the gas pedal. Until people get out of their cars, all the talk in the world will change nothing. They won't do that voluntarily. They'd have to be made to do it. Any attempt to make them do it would be suicide for any politician. In particular one as shrewd (and, on the growing body of evidence, as cynical) as the present CEO. And of course not forgetting this is "a free country".

The recovered memory of democracy, a lovely jewel in the crown of the oil companies who are the true monarchs and lords of what used to be called creation.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

The Oedipus Oil Pipeline Complex

Gouge, you blind motherfuckers, gouge!
See what it will get you.

Hazen said...

The expression "bipartisan market-based solutions" is code for “bend over”. The deal’s been done. All that remains now is to sell the idea to the peeps—the gloss of democracy, and gloss is all that’s left—by means of some spurious “bipartisan” shape-shifting. The Ruling Class™ . . . they love ‘em some democracy.

This administration is no different from the preceding one; okay, maybe a few points for style here or there, but essentially (that’s the operative word), the same. This president may be (or act) more intelligent than his predecessor, but is an intelligent tyrant really to be preferred? Neoliberal rule is what we have and will have all the way down the chute. It’s what Rene Guenon called “the reign of quantity”. It’s war against the world. Welcome to the Machine.

TC said...


We certainly were fooled again, this time round, were we not -- and we ought to have known better, at our advanced age.

If we're so smart, why is it we (well, I'd better speak for myself here) should now be so surprised that O'B, given his "mandate", would use it to show off his true colours as just another stooge for the corporations?

Stooges for the market gods, a dime a dozen in D.C., always were, always will be.

It's probably redundant by now to suggest that everything that's happened in this hemisphere since the coming of the Europeans is merely the continuation of the original story of mercenary "market-based" exploitation and greed.

One can make it out writ covertly in the doings of any run-of-the-mill contemporary corporate executive -- and much more forthrightly in the look of the eye of the fellow (talking of mercenaries) in the second-and-third-from-last images here, who saw the New World quite literally as a gold mine.

The messy black gold of the tar sands in that respect represents merely a degraded late surrogate for the purer precious-metal version, the original white-world New World desideratum.

In his great book about the meaning of money, Frozen Desire, John Buchan recounts the words of Cortés to the Mexican ambassadors at Vera Cruz in 1519, re. of the "disease of the heart, that infirmity, that we have, my companions and I, and that we cure with gold."

"What happens when a great civilisation that uses money meets one that does not?" asks Buchan. "They smash each other to smithereens."

"... marooned... in a continent without money, [the Spanish] could not imagine how they could conduct their business without violence. The force of the smash derives from the polarities of ornament and money. In Peru, the Spaniards compelled Atahualpa to fill a room with two million pesos of gold and then garrotted him. The Indians retaliated with their own sense of what gold was:

"'The Indians having gotten him in their power, melted Two Pound of Gold and one of them pouring it down his throat, said, Old Baldivia, thou hast a great and greedy Desire after Gold, we have us'd all possible means to satisfie thee, but could not; now by good hap we have thought upon a Way. Here is gold, drink thy thy Fill; for here's enough to content even the most Covetous.'"

But will the tribes ever again rise up, turn back the mining-rights revenues and require the merchants of black gold to choke on their own sludge?

Nin Andrews said...

Yes, it's so depressing. I don't know what to say about it. We have this pipeline coming in near here, and while it's nothing like that one, the issues are so much the same. No regard for the damage done to the environment, as if the people and "the environment" are not one and the same. It is all more than a little mind-boggling.

TC said...

Anyone who doesn't have a pipeline near them now need only hold their breath, count to five... or three?

Mother Earth definitely married the wrong guy, her second time round. Even a Martian would have made a better bedfellow. And now that it's too late, everybody knows this. But talking isn't going to help.

TC said...

(A mile or two up the freeway we've got something even better than a pipeline, a giant refinery that spews toxic pollutants 24/7. Every year or two there's a fire, an evacuation order. It's a sub-poverty-line neighborhood -- that's where the big refineries always are -- so of course nobody gets too worked up. Though the prevailing winds usually blow the poison plumes well beyond the source... and we can smell them before we hear about them. It's always too late. It was always too late, after 1492, I'm starting to think.)