Keystone XL Equals Death

Ruth Hopkins

Last week, grassroots opponents of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline hoping to halt its development were successful in submitting over 1 million comments before the State Department’s established April 22, 2013 deadline.

Foes of the pipeline believe the outpouring of concern evidenced by not only rallies but comments to the State Department will provide President Obama with the support he needs to reject Keystone XL. Even though the U.S. Senate passed a resolution endorsing the tar sands pipeline last month and the bill has since been approved to move to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote on its possible passage into law, ultimately, the final decision as to whether Keystone XL is implemented lies with the President.

If approved, Keystone XL will slither through six U.S. states and over the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides fresh water to millions of people who live on the Great Plains.

The outcry from the grassroots comes on the heels of the release of the State Department’s environmental impact statement regarding the building of Keystone XL. While they didn’t specifically endorse the pipeline, State Department officials found that it did not present significant environmental risk.

The EPA did not agree. Calling the State Department’s review, “insufficient,” the Environmental Protection Agency suggested that the full danger of Keystone XL was not being acknowledged.

TransCanada wants to build Keystone XL to transport around 830,000 barrels of diluted tar sands bitumen crude to Texas refineries. Canadian tar sands are speculated to contain over 2 trillion barrels of oil. As you can see, TransCanada stands to profit immensely from this venture- especially since it appears that the final destination for much of the oil produced from tar sands would be overseas.

Sadly, wildlife, Native lands, fresh water, and the health and welfare of future generations will be the ultimate cost of Keystone XL. The injurious effects of tar sands extraction are already evident. Canadian forests have been laid waste to make way for it. By the time it’s all said and done, an area larger than the state of Florida will be completely leveled and left in ruin by Big Oil in the name of greed.

Extracting oil from tar sands is an extremely wasteful process. It takes three barrels of fresh water to make one barrel of oil. This means that tar sand oil production is using about 400 million gallons of water each day. Once used, this water, polluted with ammonia, cyanide and other toxins, is dumped into “tailing ponds,” utterly spoiled and unusable for consumption by humans and other living organisms. Also, tar sands oil development produces three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions than other types of oil, thereby speeding up climate change all by itself.

Bitumen crude extracted from tar sands isn’t light either, like other types of crude. It’s tar-like. Heavy. Viscous. When it leaks into water, it sinks to the bottom; there it remains, destroying that water source forever.

In 2010, BP was responsible for spilling an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil over 87 days when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people. The Gulf of Mexico will never be the same. The original Keystone pipeline also ruptured on my tribal lands, the Lake Traverse Reservation in northeastern South Dakota, in 2011. During that spill, a tar sands oil slurry spurted from the pipeline six stories high. A Federal agency found seven probable violations in connection with that spill. Still, nothing was done.

How soon we forget.

Just three weeks ago, an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst in Mayflower, Arkansas. We watched in horror as more than 157,000 gallons of crude oil turned a regular neighborhood and its surrounding natural habitat into a toxic swamp covered in paper towels. In reality, the Mayflower spill is a drop in the proverbial bucket when compared to the millions of gallons Big Oil loses control over every year.

Advocates promoting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline say spills are unlikely, but the record shows just the opposite. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, American pipelines leak 50 barrels or more about every three days; over 3 million gallons of hazardous liquids have been spilled by these pipelines every single year for the past five years. Resulting property damages are estimated to be more than $1.5 billion. The price natural life and the environment pays due to exposure to this poison is not entirely known and essentially, incalculable.

Personally, I’m revolted with the complete lack of accountability and unmitigated arrogance exhibited by oil companies when spills do take place. The Mayflower spill is a perfect example of this. Exxon deliberately tried to cover up the damage caused by the oil spill by having the FAA declare a no-fly zone over the affected area, and threatened to have reporters who investigated the site arrested.

Canadian tar sands and the rise of Keystone XL are also prime examples of environmental racism. Low-income and Native communities are most at risk of suffering from the negative effects of both. First Nations peoples in Canada are already bearing the brunt of the toxic burden due to tar sands development. Drinking water is contaminated, and it’s been reported that arsenic was found in moose meat, a staple of the Indigenous diet there. The processing of tar sands is toxic and surrounding Native communities will continue to have higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems because of oil production.

Tar sands oil spills cause irreparable damage to the environment, and should Keystone XL be built, it will rupture. Statistically, it’s only a matter of time. If it poisons the Ogallala Aquifer, we could face massive water shortages within our generation. Will our children and grandchildren die of thirst? With Keystone XL looming, it’s possible. If the pipeline is implemented, the resulting spill will cause an environmental catastrophe unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Stopping this tar sands pipeline is a life or death issue- for wildlife, us, and the planet itself. I encourage you to stand with grassroots opponents of Keystone XL, and help us defeat it.

President Obama, hear us. Hear our children. Show us you’re serious about breaking humanity’s fossil fuel addiction by denying TransCanada’s application to build this tar sands pipeline. Thre billions the U.S. would invest in Keystone XL could be used to stimulate green energy innovation. Listen to logic. Listen to your heart. Therein lies the answer, and the key to a healthy future for us all.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is a writer, blogger, ethnoscientist, Tribal Judge for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, and the Tribal Colleges Liaison Manager for the University of North Dakota (UND) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) via North Dakota EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). Her first horror novella will be released in 2013. Follow her on Twitter.


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Two Bears Growling's picture
Sister of the people, now if we could get the rest of the world to open their eyes to this evil & greed. Even the EPA sees the truth in this matter. I wish to the Creator above that these evil ones who are bribing those in Congress to do their bidding could have a dream of oil being in every thing they tried to eat, drink, breathe & groe food on. Hw I wish the Great Spirit would haunt these greedy ones & their servants, AKA, politicians in those hugh corporation's pockets, would find sleep a distant memory until they came to their senses. Politicians, say, NO, to these energy giants & YES, to clean water, fertile soils, fresh air & land teaming with wild life & families who love our wilderness & way of life in harmony with Mother Earth.
Two Bears Growling
Anonymous's picture
Beautifully written Ruth, you are a shining example of a empowered well educated lady.
Anonymous's picture
Beautifully written Ruth, you are a shining example of a empowered well educated lady.
Anonymous's picture
Absolutely devastating to our environment, how could anybody consider this?..... greed over the mighty buck, if they have so much dollars, truck it or train it safely.... leave our lands alone!!!!!
Anonymous's picture
world population is expanding exponentially funded in part by cheap available energy. What will happen with necessary resources are not available? People will fight, nations will war. That is death. OK, stop this pipeline. This is easy. What is the suggested alternative? Look beyond the immediate.
Anonymous's picture
I only have personal knowledge of one aspect of your article, That is the reference to the so called "no fly zone" over the Mayflower oil spill. This is factually inaccurate. There is no such thing as a No Fly Zone in the United States. ExxonMobil requested and the FAA approved a Temporary Flight Restriction for a five mile area around the spill during the initial response. The limit of the restriction was one thousand feet AGL (above ground level). 1000 feet is about where news helicopters hover while taping events on the ground. The reason for the TFR was safety of flight due to air activities involved with the spill. This information was posted on a FAA website dedicated for the purpose and used by pilots for flight planning. It was only in place for a few days and was rescinded as soon as spill related air activities were completed. At no time was any flight restricted from the area above 1000 feet. If you got this wrong, what else?
Shona's picture
Yes, and the last premier of Alberta gave away most of the oil reneuves to the Oil Corporations instead of demanding as Danny Williams did a bigger share for Canada, but soon Alberta will have a guy who has a publically known history of criminal question, in print 6-8 years back, over 600,000 given from his department to a former colleague for consulting, of which there were absolutely no paper records so when this soon to be leader investigated himself along with his cronies, he proved himself innocent....a man who had no history of family money, a government bureaucrat all his life with amazing personal wealth???????????????Won't anyone remind the short memoried voters of Alberta?Nope I guess not, just wait for them to pillage more