Pipeline furthers energy pipe dreams


We’ve been down this road a hundred times. Even so, distorted facts gushing from lobbyists ensure we’ll be here again.

As has been widely reported, residents of the tiny town of Mayflower are attempting to clean up in the aftermath of a large oil spill.

The source of the spill was Exxon Mobil’s 848 mile-long Pegasus pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Patoka, Ill., to Nederland, Texas. The pipeline was carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude at the time of the leak. According to various estimates, as much as 10,000 gallons of oil may have leaked during the rupture.

The evening news showed the thick black liquid literally flowing down the streets. Everyone from area school children to Gov. Mike Beebe’s staff (there to survey the damage) reported headaches and nausea from the poison spew.

This event is hardly unique — a grim fact that supporters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline attempt to downplay. Just last summer there was an oil spill of more than 1,000 barrels into a Wisconsin field from an Enbridge Inc. pipeline.

Of course, the “big kahuna” of these disasters was the March 2010 spill of 1 million gallons into southwest Michigan’s Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. The company — again Enbridge — had been cited more than 30 times for safety violations by the Environmental Protection Agency since 2002. According to the agency, Enbridge failed to fix more than 200 corrosion-related problems on the pipeline in 2009 alone.

In all human endeavors, accidents will happen. Pipelines are no different. Supporters of these projects like to remind us of all the jobs, the energy independence and the potential for lowered gasoline bills. If any of that were true, this discussion might be worth extending. Aside from those who are grossly misinformed, industry lobbyists and (predominantly) GOP lawmakers (who are heavily financed by the fossil fuel industry), no rational person can support expansion of this outmoded technology.

Just to compare, we should consider the realities of Keystone versus the hype the industry promulgates. Supporters contend Keystone will create more than 100,000 jobs. This is simply untrue. According to the State Department, it could create about 6,000 temporary jobs for construction workers. According to TransCanada Corp., the company that will build the pipeline (if it is approved), only a few hundred permanent jobs will likely manifest.

Then there’s the environmental costs. Even if you’re unswayed at the prospect of “the snail darter all over again,” you have to acknowledge Keystone stands to imperil nearly 250,000 ranches and farms that currently provide jobs in the Great Plains states.

The oil itself is problematic. Alberta’s tar sands produce bitumen, a low-grade crude oil. The extraction and refinement of tar sands oil produces much greater pollution than is caused by the conventional production of North American crude oil.

What about energy independence and lowered fuel prices? Here too, the industry has sold a bill of goods. Alberta’s oil won’t reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, as the industry claims. Most of the oil will be refined and then exported to other countries. As such, your gas prices will not go down with greater capacity to transport dirty Canadian oil.

You know what would promote energy independence and make oil prices largely irrelevant? Much higher fuel efficiency standards in automobiles coupled with a meaningful adoption of alternative energy sources.

Not known as a bastion of environmental protection, just this week China dropped import duties and value added taxes to help ramp up solar cell and high efficiency battery production. Europe is decades ahead in abandoning fossil fuels as primary energy sources. All the while, we sit here and list imaginary reasons why that just can’t happen here.

Of course, none of that will happen here because we have allowed industry groups to purchase congressional will. Every drop of oil or ounce of coal we burn keeps us enslaved to a 19th-century energy paradigm. We’re already well behind other nations; and as recent events in Mayflower ably demonstrate, gas prices will be the least of our worries.

Matthew Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice, is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany. He may be contacted via pate.matthew@gmail.com.