12 Oct 2011

The Tar Sands Turnaround

At the beginning of October, Nebraskans and residents of five other Mid-American states that would be crossed by the proposed Keystone tar sands pipeline met for “listening sessions” – perhaps their only chance to make their concerns heard to the State Department. Why would these bureaucratic meetings draw in people from all sides of their communities? Because they know the health of their land and quite possibly their own health is being put at risk simply so a Transcanada, a massive Canadian oil company, can pipe dangerous tar sands through the United States only to ship it off to China from Houston.

The locals had a lot of competition from outside interests bussed in to steer the listening session to the advantage of the pipefitters and pipeline lobbyists, as Ted Genoways makes clear in OnEarth. If you don’t live in mid-America, you don’t have to worry about the health of the Ogallala aquifer—one of the biggest aquifers in the world, providing water to 82% of those who live above it—or preserving the delicate Sandhill environment. But if you are a Nebraskan, then you might well join the majority of your fellow cornhuskers who oppose the pipeline.

Nebraska is cattle country, and as rancher Ben Gotschall told Genoways, cattle rely on water from wells drilled into the aquifer. If that water is contaminated by the undisclosed chemicals Transcanada uses to dilute viscous tar sands, they’ll be the first to sicken and die, taking the rancher’s livelihood with them. And that groundwater also flows into the Missouri River, putting any spills on the fast track through the heartland of America.

These threats are part of what have driven Americans across the country not only to oppose the tar sands pipeline, but get themselves arrested in large numbers (1,250 to be precise) in a sit-in before the White House. The movement even has its own folk song by Laurie Lewis. All the protesting has finally got the attention of the Obama Administration, which had until recently shown itself ready to greenlight the project and ignore amount of heat-trapping gases tar sands mining will produce. “Until the sit-in, we were meeting with mid-level State Department officials. That has changed,” Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of NRDC’s international program told the Washington Post.

On Monday, Washington held its own public hearings in the Ronald Reagan building, with hundreds packing into the space to have their say. Retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson was among the many who spoke eloquently during the four-hour hearings “This pipeline will keep us addicted to oil and it will get more of our guys killed,” Gen. Anderson said. “This is about CO2 emissions, clean water and American blood.” The path to break our addiction to oil is through building more clean energy, a long-term project that tar sands production would only delay.

The State Department is still in the process of deciding if the pipeline is in the national interest and though the tide is beginning to turn, your voice can make a big difference. Help stop the Keystone Pipeline, send a letter to President Obama now.