FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Emperor’s New Pipeline

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:
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail