In July 2010 a pipeline carrying tar-sands crude in Michigan ruptured and spilled into a creek feeding the Kalamazoo River. At a cost of over $800,000,000 it was the costliest onshore clean up in history. Among other things, a five member safety board cited regulators for failing to address pipeline cracks and approving a faulty spill-response plan. A recent FW Weekly article recounted in detail:
In the 12 hours before the line was shut down, nearly a million gallons of diluted bitumen gushed from the 6.5-foot tear in the pipe, washing into the Talmadge Creek and from there into the Kalamazoo River and a downstream lake. The bitumen separated from the benzene and other chemicals and sank into the riverbed, making cleanup very difficult. More than two years later the cleanup is still not finished, and a 40-mile stretch of the river remains closed to public use. Enbridge has had to buy at least 130 homes along the contaminated waterway since the spill. Photographs after the spill show oil-coated birds and other animals reminiscent of the Exxon Valdez disaster.This directive was issued by the EPA as of October 3, 2012:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today notified Enbridge that more work is needed in Michigan's Kalamazoo River to clean up oil from the company's pipeline spill in July 2010. EPA is proposing further action upstream of Ceresco Dam, upstream of the Battle Creek Dam (Mill Ponds area), and in the delta upstream of Morrow Lake.
It is a nightmare scenario come to life and one not wanting to be repeated by residents in the shadowy woods of East Texas. Slicing right through to the Gulf from Oklahoma (will originate from Canada when completed), the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline will carry millions of gallons of its own brew of toxic crude regardless of property rights, environmental impact or the will of the landowners in its path. It's a scary and helpless feeling to have such a monstrosity rammed down your throat but landowners and environmental groups are fighting back.
After reading the FW Weekly article about the pipeline uproar I decided to take a trip to East Texas myself and view firsthand the swath of clear-cutting carnage. In my retracing of the steps of Bonnie and Clyde, I came to love East Texas and her towering trees lining the roads. Country living has a peace (and a smell) all its own that just can't be replicated in the city. Winnsboro was my destination, about two hours east of Dallas.
Red lines mark the areas where I found the pipeline crossing roads
The roads can be lonely in rural Texas.
Winnsboro is dairy country.
Beautiful country and thank God TransCanada is not going to repeat the sloppiness we saw up in Michigan:
Proponents of the line downplay the danger of ruptures and leaks. TransCanada touts the Keystone pipeline as a state-of-the-art project that will be "constructed to the highest industry standards."
Maybe people are over-reacting to the fear of disastrous environmental damage. Maybe we shouldn't be worried about the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides 30 percent of the nation's ground water irrigation, being poisoned. TransCanada has it all under control. In corporations we trust!
However, that reassurance was quickly undermined in the first Keystone line’s initial year of operation. The pipeline had 35 spills in the U.S. and Canada, a figure that Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute put at "100 times higher than TransCanada forecast." The number of spills caused federal pipeline safety regulators in June 2011 to label the pipeline a "hazard to public safety," and they issued a corrective action order to TransCanada.
To quote Governor Perry: "Oops!"
It was on highway 11 where I first saw the construction and I wondered how I could get close enough to take pictures. Knowing the situation was tense between Keystone and the pipeline protestors I didn't want to interject myself into a powder keg. Flag men and manned trucks lined the highway leaving me only with the option of a drive-by photo.
I was about to leave the area when I came across this sign just a few yards away from the pipeline. With nothing to lose I decided to call the number and was invited in by the landowner.
Gabe was a friendly sort who'd taken his family to what he thought was paradise in East Texas, a place for quiet, nature and horseback rides. Several folks populated his compound with a grill smoking in the distance. It's the kind of place many people seek when they want to "get away". But all that vanished for Gabe when the pipeline cut across his prized land. He told me I could take all the pictures I wanted from the edge of his property - property he'd intended as a nature preserve.
As we walked Gabe told of a confrontation between his mother and a security guard for the pipeline. The guard demanded she come over to him (off the property) so he could apparently search her. She refused, asking him who he thought he was to demand that. He replied he was an off-duty deputy sheriff but she still wisely refused. All she wanted to do was visit the pond out back. It was a strategic move by Keystone to hire off-duty law enforcement as a bullying tactic.
Keystone can ramrod its pipeline by use of eminent domain. Sell your land to them or they'll just condemn it and take it anyway. Oil and gas interests have long held sway in Texas and this practice is nothing new. However, for a private company to be granted this power they must prove the pipeline would be a "common carrier", meaning it would sell capacity to other petroleum companies to use. Since Keystone had never provided proof of its common carrier status a lawsuit was filed to halt their progress.
Selling out property owners is a particular passion for Governor Perry and his cronies. In the Trans-Texas Corridor debacle he planned to sell out the state's congested highway travel to Spanish owned toll roads (while disallowing any competing free public roads) that would cut the state in half creating hardships for farmers and ranchers for hundreds of miles. Not to mention rip off every motorist forced to pay outrageous tolls. Not much has changed since then:
In a bizarre response that sounded like that of a backwoods sheriff complaining about dirty hippies in the 1960s, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson sent out an opinion piece a few days ago, calling the protesters "self-appointed 'eco-anarchists' " for whom it is time "to come down out of the trees, take a bath, and hit the road."
Yup, stick up for your property rights and you're a pinko commie! Amazing how those he mistreats the most keep re-electing Perry to office. The lawsuit against Keystone was thrown out by a judge of supreme blind faith, issuing a statement from his iPhone that the company had no need to present any proof. To quote the Bard: "O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!"
Perhaps you read recently of Daryl Hannah's arrest protesting the pipeline. This was done in conjunction with the Tar Sands Blockade, the allegedly bath-needing protestors who've holed up in trees in the pipeline's path to halt its progress. Gabe gave me directions to the protestors (just south of 2088 if I understood correctly) but I was hesitant to travel through the unmarked gate where I thought them to be.
Gabe explained it was "like the Wild West down there." Protesters on one side of the road, cops on the other. Two New York Times reporters were handcuffed and detained by authorities for trying to reach the tree-top group. I really don't have the backup to support me in case of arrest so maybe it was just as well I did not hook up. Instead, I traveled south parallel to the pathway to see how far the digging had actually gotten.
Traveling five miles down to highway 154 (bottom red line) I found digging both north and south of the road. I decided to double back a few miles and see if I could get up close to pipeline when I found County Road 4596 leading straight to it for my closest shot yet.
The Michigan spill spoke of a failure to address pipeline cracks. Gabe told me he had once worked on a pipeline and was aware of the protocol required for X-raying the welds. My mind immediately shot back to "The China Syndrome" film about false X-rays used to prove the integrity of a nuclear power plant. Knowing they must have copies, Gabe asked Keystone if he could view the welds. They said would not provide them because then "they'd have to do it for everybody."
We've developed a common theme in these perilous times. We keep setting ourselves up for disaster. Whether it's endless wars, the next economic bubble or environmental disasters done in the name of "profit". With such a short-sighted outlook, it's time we as a society redefine profit as something other than in artificial corporate terms but rather in reality's terms of human welfare.
[I highly recommend the FW Weekly article as well as perusing the blockade's website for more information on Keystone's intimidation tactics. As for our fearless President, he opposed it until he caved (sound familiar?), demanding the "red tape" be cut away for its implementation. Seems a long shot to stop it now.]