Avoid the Keystone XL pipeline. Especially since the current route will affect the Ogallala aquifer. If history repeats itself, the public will not be pleased. Even though a press release from TransCanada states “it is not possible for a crude oil spill to threaten the viability of the Ogallala Aquifer” I’ve always been taught anything is possible. How rude of them to tell me otherwise.
I recently left the big city and spent a week in the cornfields of South Dakota. My mission: Get a first-hand account of the environmental, political and human-interest impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Two colleagues and I drove countless hours in our rented burgundy Ford Fusion, mapping out the most efficient way to speak to activists, landowners, economists and public utility representatives all across the state. (See video below)
Those who approved of the pipeline gave the usual reasons: job creation, economic prosperity, energy independence, safer here than there… you get the point.
But some landowners gave the impression that they would lie down in the path of the construction trucks if it meant keeping them off of their land. Some Lakota Indians in South Dakota actually did. They were arrested for forming a blockade to stop pipeline trucks from entering their land this past March.
John Harter, one of the last remaining landowners to sign an easement with TransCanada, hopes to receive generous compensation for the use of his land. The first offer came in at $13,300 – an amount he says is insulting and less than the amount he pays in taxes.
Harter tried to prove in court that TransCanada didn’t have the right to take his land, but he lost. TransCanada is a Canadian pipeline company responsible for the construction of Keystone XL. The state of South Dakota granted the company eminent domain on the grounds that they are classified as a “public utility,” meaning they act as a part of community infrastructure and transport oil for the benefit of the state’s economy.
In the meantime, he’s not holding back his anger toward the company. He says that Big Oil needs to stop and think what life would be like with only oil and no food.
“I think they all need to go on a 90-day fast. No water, no food and give them a bottle of oil to drink,” said Harter. “See how they come out in 90 days. See if they have a little more respect for the people out there growing their food that America and the world eats.”
His land in Winner, South Dakota sits near a groundwater protection area. That means that the water lies very close to the soil.
The proposed pipeline route will cross over portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, a shallow underground water table aquifer. One of the world’s largest aquifers, it’s a source of pure drinking water spans parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. A leak in a sensitive area such as a part of the pipe above the aquifer could lead to contamination.
That risk of contamination, the Rosebud Sioux tribe says, is not acceptable.
“Taking care of the earth- it’s a part of our culture,” said Rodney Bordeaux, Chairman of the tribe.
Bordeaux and his tribe actively oppose the pipeline. The tribe’s reservation is located in Rosebud, South Dakota. They get their drinking water from the underground aquifer and fear a spill will leave them with bottled water for life.
“We need to get away from this greediness and try to save whatever resources we have because if we look down the road, water is going to be a big issue in the next 50 to 60 years,” said Bordeaux.
He doesn’t believe that oil is a good enough reason to risk ruining the aquifer and therefore the livelihood of American farmers.
Greed: The word most commonly used by those in opposition of the pipeline.
Need: The word most commonly used by those in favor.
In terms of national security, both sides use the buzzword to distract us from the main issue. At its purest level, the argument comes down to which way do we want U.S. energy to go. Is the biggest threat to our national security someone placing a bomb on a pipeline, environmental degradation, or our over-reliance on foreign oil?
I thought it was common sense to assume that a pipeline would make a wonderful target for a terrorist, especially one so heavily covered by the media. But not everyone agrees.
“No,” said Dennis A. Johnson, professor emeritus of economics at University of South Dakota. He says if anything it seems to that our national security has probably improved.
“There are so many pipelines already in the country, I think its more likely that something happens in the Middle East- that a few of those countries end up being Islamist or something and cut off the oil…that’s something that is more detrimental to our interest than blowing up the pipeline here.”
Johnson has taught at the university for 35 years, specializing in micro-economic theory and industrial organization, specifically the oil industry. He’s not the only pro-pipeline economist who sees no threat to national security.
“We probably have a quarter of a million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines out there and this is probably adding a few thousand more, so as far as considerable risk out there that seems to be a stretch,” said Ted Gayer, a Brookings Institution economist and former senior Treasury Department official.
The “why this pipeline?” argument makes sense. Granted, it may not be a likely target for a terrorist (statistically speaking) but what about the risk of trusting Canada to supply a portion of our oil? It’s still a foreign country. A purported ally I’ll give you, but should we rely on it?
Those in favor say increasing imports from Canada is good because we won’t be importing from conflict-prone areas. We’ll decrease our imports from Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.
That would be all well in good—if only the oil actually came here. But the pipeline would bring oil to the Gulf of Mexico and then it will be shipped to the highest bidder, according to current market procedure.
Keystone XL is not an internal source of oil that we won’t share with the world. As far as the price of gas, the pipeline won’t reduce gas prices because oil is a global market, as Ted Gayer reminds us in his video clip below (someone inform Newt Gingrich). Oil prices are set via a world market, not by one single country.
And if you’re looking for a job, a few people can count on holding a “slow down” sign on the side of the highway. TransCanada plans to contract out much of the work (including installation, steel creation, cleanups) so they won’t hire the struggling and unemployed in our American towns, according to Harter and other local landowners.
So why don’t we focus more on domestic sources of energy, rather than our neighbor’s oil? Better yet, lets focus our energy (literally and figuratively) on renewables such as wind and solar. Biofuels are much cooler. At least according to BP’s new initiatives.
If you think I’m an idealist, then you’d be correct. I realize the Keystone XL is going to be built either way. Whether it goes to the Gulf of Mexico or to China doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. GHG emissions will still affect our world climate, so the environmentalists will be unhappy either way. Leaks are inevitable—no matter how quickly it’s cleaned up, according to the landowners.
The global demand for oil will increase. Canada’s oil sands will be developed with or without the pipeline intersecting our nation. But for once, let’s allow someone else to manage it. We have enough on our plate. It’s not like it would make us energy interdependent anyway.
Sincerely, Meghan Schiller
*P.S. If Mitt Romney is elected please toss this letter into the trash because he says he’d build the pipeline himself.
Meet John Harter:
Chat with economist Ted Gayer: