Sunday, January 29, 2012

Regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline

Joe Pitts, the Congressional Representative from our Pennsylvania 16th District, writes a weekly column for the Lititz Record-Express, the paper that publishes my columns.  I usually don't pay much attention to his articles; reading them is hard on the blood pressure.  But last week he castigated President Obama for "bowing to political pressure" and refusing to okay the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  His column regurgitated all the Big Oil distortions and half-truths that we've been hearing of late.  I felt compelled to respond.  My letter to the editor, reproduced below, was printed in this week's issue (January 26, 2012).  I've included links for further reading.

And just to give out-of-state readers a sense of Pitts' general political leanings, here are ratings of his voting record from several organizations: Peace Action gave him 8% for 2009 and 13% for 2010.  The AAUW (American Association of University Women) awarded him 20% in the 110th Congress and 0% for the 111th Congress.  The ACLU gives him a lifetime score of 9%.  And the Human Rights Campaign has scored him at Zero for the 109th, 110th, and 111th Congresses.

To the Editor:

Joe Pitts’ column in last week’s Record Express provides a very one-sided and incomplete narrative regarding the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.  Additional information that must be considered includes:

Safety Record: TransCanada’s existing Keystone I pipeline has reported at least fourteen oil spills since it began operations in June 2010.  The worst occurred in May 2011 when, despite its supposed state-of-the-art safety technology and an alert landowner who called in the alarm, it took TransCanada 44 minutes to shut down pipeline flow.  During that time 21,000 gallons of toxic tar sands bitumen was released into the North Dakota environment.  Read background here and here.

Ogallala Aquifer:  The proposed route of the Keystone XL would cross a significant portion of the Ogallala Aquifer, which, according to the Water Encyclopedia, “is the single most important source of water in the High Plains region, providing nearly all the water for residential, industrial, and agricultural use.”  A spill along this portion of the pipeline would threaten the drinking water source for several million residents of the central plains states, along with vast acreage of prime agricultural lands.

Jobs:  TransCanada’s job estimates are based on “person-years.”  So the “20,000 American workers” quoted in Pitts’ column really means 10,000 jobs for two years.  And even that figure is almost certainly inflated.  The Cornell University Global Labor Institute has issued a report stating, “It is our assessment—based on the publicly available data—that the construction of [Keystone XL] will create far fewer jobs in the U.S. than its proponents have claimed and may actually destroy more jobs than it generates.” Job estimates, the report says, are based on flawed or inflated numbers supplied by the oil industry.  More commentary here.

Energy Security:  Pitts also argues that the refined tar sands oil will help to stabilize gasoline prices in the United States and will be a more reliable source of petroleum products than we now enjoy.  But as the New York Times noted in an editorial published October 2, 2011, “What pipeline advocates…fail to mention is that much of the tar sands oil that would be refined on the Gulf Coast is destined for export.  Six companies have already contracted for three quarters of the oil. Five are foreign, and the business model of the one American company—Valero—is geared toward export.”

Indigenous Opposition:  Finally, Pitts makes no mention of the strong opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline by indigenous groups in both the U.S. and Canada.  In June 2011 the National Congress of American Indians issued a statement reaffirming their solidarity with Canadian First Nations in opposing construction of the Keystone XL.  Noting that it would pose grave dangers if constructed, the NCAI resolution reads in part, “The Keystone XL pipeline ... would threaten, among other things, water aquifers, waterways, cultural sites, agricultural lands, animal life, public drinking water sources and other resources vital to the peoples of the region in which the pipeline is proposed to be constructed.”  

Canadian First Nations peoples are also actively opposing the Enbridge Gateway pipeline, the project which Pitts notes is being pushed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  Award-winning Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, in a recent article in The Tyee, wrote, “Most senior executives in the oil patch quietly admit that Enbridge Gateway project (Plan B) will never be built. The local opposition against this desperate pro-China folly is much stronger and just as committed as that against Keystone XL. In fact, the path closed long ago due to ineptness and hubris as well as a ruthless disregard for the power of salmon, whales and First Nations.”  For more background reading on First Nations opinion see here and here.

It is no surprise that Joe Pitts is advocating the position of his corporate contributors.  It is sad that he seems capable of nothing more thoughtful than repeating Big Oil’s talking points.

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