Op/Ed By Wallace Mabry –
The Trump presidential administration has issued the permit for TransCanada to move ahead with its Keystone XL oil pipeline—another of Trump’s arrogant attempts to denigrate the Obama administration, and another of Trump’s business deals intermingled with his campaign promise to create jobs even, it appears, at the expense of the health of millions of Americans.
The pipeline will double the import of dirty tar sands oil into the United States and via the pipeline,traverse six states of the United States, cross major rivers, including the Missouri River, Yellowstone, and Red River, as well as key sources of drinking and agricultural waters, such as the Ogallala Aquifer which supplies water to more than one fourth of America’s irrigated land and provides drinking water for two million Americans, and transport it to the Gulf Coast where companies like Exxon has refineries to prepare it for international export and profit.
The pipeline will deliver in the neighborhood of 830,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil daily in the United States.
The pollution from the tar sands oil is widely agreed. Due to its “energy-intensive extraction and refining processes” the carbon dioxide emissions are three to four times higher than those of conventional oil. “The emissions would be equal to adding more than 5.6 million new cars to United States roads.”
The probability of spills from this pipeline is high and more threatening than conventional spills because tar sands oil sinks rather than floats.
In the summer of 2010, millions of gallons of tar sands oil cascaded into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan from a pipeline run by another Canadian company, Enbridge. While authorities learned a great deal about oil spills and the National Academies report had a lot of recommendations, there are still “lack of tools and approaches to stop spilled oil from submerging in water bodies.”
In 2013, a 22-foot crack in an Exxon pipeline caused a devastating tar sands oil spill that began in a residential neighborhood of Mayflower, Arkansas and into Lake Conway, a drinking water source and popular fishing spot. Residents of the community were unaware of the pipeline’s existence under their town until the massive spill.
Tar sands oil is thick and black like tar or asphalt instead of liquid. During the extraction process, an exorbitant amount of heat, water, and chemicals are needed to separate bitumen from sand, silt, and clay to enhance its ability to flow up the pipeline. The water used in the process comes from rivers and underground aquifers.
It takes three barrels of water to extract a single barrel of oil. “Ninety-five percent of the water used to extract the oil, which is about 2.4 million barrels per day, is so polluted that the water must be stored in large human-made ponds, known as tailing ponds.”
During the time the heavy bitumen sinks to the bottom of these ponds, the toxic sludge, full of harmful substances like cyanide and ammonia, works its way into neighboring clean water supplies.
The refining of the tar sands oil causes high emissions of toxic sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, which causes smog, acid rain, and contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma.
A byproduct of these refineries is petroleum coke or petcoke, which is produced inexpensively but is costly to store. Burning petcoke is more carbon-intensive than burning coal. The United States Environmental protection Agency does not permit power plants to burn petcoke in the United States. It is sold to China, India, and Latin America as a cheap coal substitute.
So much for the humanity of the Trump presidency.