Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Symbolic Senate's Symbolic Pipeline Bill Rejected

Syncrude tar sands oil production facility in Canada
There's a laundry list of challenges still facing the 99% of Americans existing in an economy that's recovered for some but not all.

So one might reasonably expect that our Republican friends in Washington would use their new legislative majority in the House and Senate to demonstrate an ability to actually solve real issues that affect real Americans by tackling something like education, infrastructure or tax reform.

But no, it seems they're perfectly content to continue functioning as a purely symbolic legislative body, drafting symbolic legislation that has no chance of being passed, but quenches the insatiable ideological thirst of it's most extremist constituents - and nurses their deep-seated hatred of the President. 

Not surprisingly, the very first piece of legislation the Republican controlled Senate sent to the President to sign earlier yesterday was a largely symbolic bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

What do you expect from the same political party that's voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act more than 50 times?

The President is on record opposing Keystone XL, he said he would veto any bill authorizing it and yesterday he did just that.

Do Republicans on Capitol Hill extract some kind of moral or ideological victory in these pointless exercises in symbolic legislation that will never pass?

Maybe, but any way you dress it up it's still a waste of taxpayer time and money.

Climate change-denying Republican Congressman have restricted their rationale for supporting the Keystone XL pipeline project to a series of debunked bullet-point arguments that don't hold water.

For example, the GOP touts Keystone XL as a feather in the cap for American "energy independence". But the truth is the whole point of building the pipeline to transport the low grade Canadian tar sands crude oil across the middle of the US is to get it to coastal port facilities in Texas where it can be loaded onto tankers, shipped overseas and sold in foreign countries.

I've honestly lost count of how many indignant Republicans I've seen (or read) in interviews claiming it will create "thousands" of American jobs, but that's been proven to be a misleading twist of fact.

While the actual construction of the 1,700 mile steel pipeline stretching from Canada to Texas will create temporary construction jobs, those jobs will disappear once the pipeline is completed.

In actuality, according to a government report, Keystone XL will only create about 35 full-time jobs. Is that worth the unforeseen environmental impact? Most Americans don't think so. 

With the new Republican majority in Congress devolving back into creating manufactured crises and threatening the security of the nation by not funding the Department of Homeland Security, most mainstream media coverage tends to frame the Keystone XL pipeline debate in an exclusively political context.

But the potential environmental impact of the pipeline offers a much more compelling reason to ditch the project once and for all.

Canadian tar sands oil is a thick, viscous sludge. To pump it through pipelines requires chemical additives that make it even more potentially toxic. The Website offers four reasons why tar sands is highly dangerous:

It is acidic. Tar sands diluted bitumen normally has organic acid concentrations up to 20 times higher than conventional crude oil, and contains up to 10 times more sulfur.

It is hot.
Tar sands diluted bitumen flowing through pipelines creates friction, which raises the material’s temperature and amplifies its corrosive qualities.

It is abrasive.
Tar sands diluted bitumen has suspended in its mixture abrasive materials like quartz and pyrite and particles.

It is viscous.
Tar sands diluted bitumen is 40 to 70 times more viscous than North American conventional crude oil. This high viscosity requires tar sands pipelines to operate at higher pressures than conventional pipelines.

Even TransCanada, the company that wants to build Keystone XL, has NO idea how the mix of toxic sludge would impact the environment should there be a catastrophic leak resulting in a spill.

The scary part for Americans is that some parts of the proposed pipeline route would actually pass directly over the massive Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest underground freshwater sources on the planet - and the source of drinking water for municipal drinking wells and farms that stretch across eight mid-western states.

Farms that account for a quarter of the nation's farmland.

A pipe leak of Canadian tar sands oil into the Ogallala aquifer would be an unimaginable ecological disaster for the nation; why risk that for 35 permanent jobs and millions of gallons of oil that's not even going to be sold in the US?

Tar sands oil clouds the Kalamazoo River in Michigan
Remember the disaster that  happened back on July 26, 2010 when an underground pipe near Marshall, Michigan carrying tar sands oil to refinery facilities in Detroit ruptured?

Five years later over a million gallons of oil has been painstakingly removed from the Kalamazoo River at a cost of almost a billion dollars; and there's still tens of thousands of gallons of oil sludge that's settled into the sediment at the bottom of the river that needs to be dredged out.

Try to imagine that happening over a pristine irreplaceable water source like the Ogallala aquifer. 

The risk of creating an even bigger market for Canadian tar sands is an environmental risk that unites Canadians and Americans on both sides of the border.

See Keystone XL is just one of two proposed pipelines in North America. A company called Kinder-Morgan wants to build a proposed pipeline project that would stretch across Western Canada, bringing tar sands crude to west coast Canadian ports where it would be loaded onto tankers to be shipped - and put delicate natural resources like the Salish Sea at risk.

You won't hear many Republicans mention the Ogallala aquifer or the Salish Sea.

According to an online article on, the Salish Sea "recognizes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Haro Strait, the Strait of Georgia, and Puget Sound as a single marine ecosystem."

Click the link above if you want to read a revealing Earth Justice article about how the Tulalip Tribe and other Native American tribes are engaged in a peaceful grass roots campaign to oppose the construction of the tar sands pipeline.

The potential impact to the Fraser River and other parts of the incredible Salish Sea ecosystem which has been interwoven with their way of life for centuries is a sobering reminder of why tar sands oil should be left right where it is; in the ground.

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