FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Emperor’s New Pipeline

by DAVID LILLARD

I often learn more from answering my 6-year-old son’s endless questions than he does. Usually we make it a game, searching out answers together to queries like, “How many stars are there?” or, “What is in our air?” (it’s almost 80 percent nitrogen).

But he stumped me recently when—after quizzing me about what I was reading—he asked why some people want to build the Keystone XL TransCanada pipeline to pump tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Texas coast.

Like most people, I thought this controversial pipeline was just another fight between an oil company and environmentalists (yawn) until my son insisted I learn something.

It turns out that tar sands oil isn’t really oil at all.

The thick goo of tar sands only becomes oil when treated with toxic chemicals, heat, and pressure. This process is so dirty that even the Canadian government—which backs the project—says that this high-sulfur crude is polluting lakes 50 miles from the tar sands with cancer-causing contaminants.

My kid is into maps, so we studied the pipeline route. It crosses over the Ogallala Aquifer, part of the High Plains Aquifer System, a vast shallow underground water table. That aquifer waters about 27 percent of the irrigated farmland in the U.S., and provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people living inside the aquifer’s boundaries.

How do I answer my kid when he asks: “What happens to people when the pipeline leaks?” I can’t. Groundwater, once polluted, stays polluted forever.

“Why build this?” he asks again. I grasped for facts about investment and jobs. However, TransCanada hasn’t been forthright about this. They say the project means $7 billion in U.S. investments. But most of that has either already been spent on design or would be invested on the Canadian portion of the pipeline, according to a Cornell University study. And the steel used to construct it will come from Canada or India.

At least the price of gasoline will go down, right?

Sorry. No. TransCanada, the builder, admits gas prices will go up 10 to 20 cents a gallon in the Midwest. That’s because refineries there already get some tar sands oil. If the pipeline gets built, all that oil will go straight to the Gulf, where it will be refined for shipment to China.

That’s right. Keystone XL will actually reduce the amount of oil available to the U.S. And the leading project investors, it turns out, are Saudi and Chinese oil interests.

One question leads to another: “Whose backyard will the pipeline go through?” my son asks. The answer: Anyone’s TransCanada wants it to.

The project has been granted eminent domain rights in Midwestern states, allowing TransCanada—a foreign company—to take the private property of American citizens so it can transport Canadian oil to China.

For my son, who protects our backyard from neighborhood dogs intent on pooping there, this was the greatest injustice of all.

“So emm-nant doh-mane means someone can poop in somebody else’s backyard even if they don’t want them to?” he asked.

Yes. That’s exactly what thousands of farmers and ranchers in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and elsewhere are learning.

That’s when my own inner 6-year-old woke up and asked, “So, why are we doing this?”

Certainly not for my son. Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s most respected climate scientist calls the Keystone XL pipeline “a fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet.” If all the carbon stored in the Canadian tar sands is released into the earth’s atmosphere, says Hansen, it will mean “game over” for the planet – for my kids and for yours.

I can’t bear to tell my son this.

“Why do some people want to build the TransCanda pipeline?” I ask myself again. The only credible answer: Because some people stand to make a lot of money, and their political allies want to help them.

Millions of Americans have asked President Obama to kill Keystone XL. His authority can stop the pipeline at the Canadian border. I hope he will.

If he does, I’ll have no trouble explaining the reasons to my son.

David Lillard is editor of The Observer newspaper in Jefferson County, W.Va. Comments: lillard@blueridgepress.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail