2011-09-12 "Let's say no to the pipeline that threatens U.S. heartland" by ROBERT REDFORD
Redford, the actor and director, is a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
SUNDANCE, Utah - Few landscapes anywhere evoke the majesty of our country and the can-do spirit of our people like the sweeping great plains that form the nation's broad girth.
Watered by some of our most storied rivers - the Missouri, Yellowstone, Arkansas and the Platte - millions of acres of rich black soils yield a bounty of wheat, corn and soy that has made this great region the breadbasket of America and granary to the world.
And yet today, these lands and all they support are threatened by Big Oil and its plan to run a pipeline straight through the vast plains of the American heartland.
The Keystone XL pipeline would transport the dirtiest oil on the planet from the Canadian province of Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries, wedding our nation's energy future to the destructive ways of the past.
It would promote one of the most damaging industrial practices ever deployed, the strip mining and drilling of Canada's boreal forest, to coax low-grade crude oil from tar sands.
And it would put at risk the farmers, ranchers and croplands upon which our nation depends, exposing them to the kind of ruptures and blowouts that in just the past year have brought environmental disaster to the Yellowstone River, the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
And for what? To extend the fortunes of the oil industry, which posted profits of more than $67 billion in just the first half of this year.
The State Department issued a final Environmental Impact Statement on the project last month, starting the clock on a 90-day window to determine whether this project is in the national interest.
It's not. Instead of laying pipe across the plains, it's time to draw a line in the sand. The Keystone XL is a bad idea that needs to be stopped.
That message was delivered to President Obama by thousands of citizens who took to the gates of the White House this summer to demonstrate against the Keystone XL. Because it would cross our border with Canada, the pipeline can't go forward without Obama's approval. The president should say no to this misguided plan.
Tar sands crude - bitumen - is nearly solid at room temperature. To flow through pipelines, it must be diluted with highly volatile natural gas liquids, then pumped under pressure at temperatures as high as 150 degrees Farenheit.
This bitumen mix is more corrosive and abrasive than ordinary crude, and it's harder on pipelines. An existing Keystone pipeline that runs tar sands crude from Canada to the United States has failed 12 times in just its first year of operation.
A year ago this summer, a pipeline failure gushed 840,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan's Kalamazoo River. Cleanup costs have already topped $500 million, and 30 miles of the river remains closed a year on.
The Keystone XL would run some 1,700 miles from Alberta south across the U.S. border near Morgan, Mont., before passing through South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma en route to Houston and Port Arthur.
For nearly 250 miles, it would pass along the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground pool of fresh water that provides drinking water for millions of Americans and roughly a third of our nation's irrigation needs.
A Keystone XL failure beneath the Nebraska Sand Hills could leak up to 7.9 million gallons of toxic crude into the aquifer, says the University of Nebraska's professor John Stansbury. A surface-water spill, like the one that poisoned parts of the Yellowstone River earlier this summer, could send oil up to 450 miles downstream, Stansbury reports, noting we can expect 91 major spills over the projected 50-year life of the pipeline.
Putting our heartland at risk won't help the country. Instead, it would fuel a serious threat.
Our national addiction to oil - some 800 million gallons a day - is an enormous drain on our economy. It compromises our national security and threatens our health and our future. That's why presidents from both parties, reaching back to Richard Nixon, have called on us to reduce our costly dependence on oil.
Rather than building a conduit to the past, we should invest in a clean-energy future centered on efficiency, sustainable communities and renewable power. That's the way to put Americans back to work, make our country more secure and create a healthier future for our children.
We should begin by saying no to the Keystone XL, the horrendous tar sands mining it would support and the frightening risks it would impose on the beating heart of our nation.
LUIS M. ALVAREZ : ASSOCIATED PRESS PIPELINE PROTEST: Demonstrators hold up signs in front of the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States and Canada. Photo: Luis Alvarez / FR596 AP
Luis Alvarez / AP