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July 10, 2013

Halting pipeline a matter of environmental morality

Cary Brunswick
The Daily Star

---- — Have you ever seen a photograph of the Alberta tar sands, the Canadian oil fields that would be the source of the crude flowing through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline?

Better yet, also look at some photos of the region before oil drilling began. I am sure you would be disgusted at the destruction and begin to question the environmental morality of the pipeline.

President Obama, who is expected to announce a decision on the pipeline by year’s end, is sounding like he does not know where to turn when it comes to climate change and the environment. He knows what we need to do, but he does not seem to know which roads to take to get all the way there.

The tar sands area contains an estimated 2 trillion barrels of oil. However, extracting it would turn a region the size of Florida into a wasteland. That raping of the hills and valleys of the eastern slopes of the Rockies has already begun, sending North American natives fleeing from the contaminated wildlife and water.

The proposed pipeline would take that tar-sands oil through the middle of the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast. However, first, the heavy tar-sands crude must be extracted from a mixture of sand, clay and bitumen. That process requires the use of natural gas to produce heat and steam to melt the oil out of the sand.

Processing the oil at refineries also demands more time and energy. In all, the production of tar-sands oil generates three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil.

The president does appear to be serious about the problem of climate change and global warming, and therefore has stated his commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

Two weeks ago, after years of Congress doing nothing because so many lawmakers consider global warming a fantasy, Obama announced actions he would take that do not require congressional approval.

Concerning the Keystone pipeline, the president provided a hint of his current thinking on the issue, stating that he would consider approval only if it does not worsen carbon pollution. Given the nature of tar-sands oil, how would the pipeline not hurt our efforts to limit that pollution.

While Obama is facing intense pressure from advocates on both sides of the pipeline proposal, Canadian leaders are involved in their own lobbying efforts, saying that if the U.S. does not want the tar-sands oil, they will find a nation that does, such as China. 

Meanwhile, over the weekend, an annual Tar Sands Healing Walk led by a coalition of Native North Americans and environmental groups gave participants a chance to see firsthand the lands that have been scarred by what Canadian folksinger Sarah Harmer called “the largest unsustainable development project on the planet.”

“Can you imagine the water coming out of your tap contaminated to the point where you and your family must live on bottled water for five months,” Harmer asked in a commentary that appeared in the Huffington Post on Friday.

“Once-healthy children are now experiencing breathing problems because of the pollution coming out of the smoke stacks. People are unable to fish from the rivers that they have always fished, because oil extraction processes have poisoned the waters. These are the realities that some First Nations communities in Alberta experience daily, and which our Canadian government ignores.”

However, the government of the United States should not ignore those realities. 

There are too many reasons to kill the Keystone pipeline. It is time to move away from fossil-fuel development, and building a major pipeline to carry oil from a region that is becoming a scarred wasteland is not moving in the right direction.

But Obama continues to believe that promoting more natural gas drilling through fracking is a positive step compared to burning coal and oil. While gas may be cleaner, the environmental impacts can still be dire, especially for those who live in areas where drilling is occurring.

The last compromise the nation needs is for the president to do what is right and say “no pipeline” and at the same time use that as a reason to push for natural-gas fracking. Let us allow Gov. Cuomo and state leaders to make up their own minds about fracking — without help from Obama.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.