Monday, October 31, 2011

Comparing the Mid-West oil pipeline with the California HSR line

There's one major point to be made with this article from the New York Times and that is, those of us who oppose the High-Speed Train in California, are not unique.  A misconceived, ill-advised project such as HSR is not a singular event. There are other, similar projects facing us that demand out participation in preventing a distaster from happening.

Here is the story of an oil pipeline that the government wishes to impose on a number of states, including Nebraska.  I include the map showing the pipeline route.  It's going to go through major, highly productive farmland.  Attention California's Central Valley. The similarities between this oil pipeline project and our high-speed rail project in California are striking.

What's wrong with this project?

1. It will carry one of the worst forms of crude oil, such as that derived from shale, or tar or sands; in this case, Canadian oil sands. It's hugely costly (and energy inefficient) to extract and process.  Furthermore, any oil spill will be far more harmful than it might otherwise be with other oils of lesser viscosity and more benign (less toxic) chemical content.

2. The oil line will act like just the rail corridor by partitioning farm lands. Eminent domain adverse takings will be employed to do so. The interference will be far greater than suggested by the narrow band of actual property involved.

3. The Ogallala, or High Plains Acquifer, a vast underground lake, supplies the water for America's agricultural heartland. Any oil spill anywhere above that aquifer would be unimaginably devastating. We already know that oil spills do happen.

The state of Nebraska Legislature is now debating whether to deny access for the pipeline's route.  There are so many oil-related issues connected with this story that we don't want to go there other than to point out the basic conflict between a questionable mega-infrastructure project that will generate profits for a small number of companies at the expense of a large number of taxpayers.

What's important for us here is that the state, in this case, Nebraska, appears to be on the side of the residents and farmers, not opposed to them as the government is in California.  


Nebraska Seeks a Say on the Route of a Pipeline
Published: October 30, 2011

With a federal decision anticipated soon on whether an oil pipeline will be allowed to run from Canada through the nation’s midsection, lawmakers in Nebraska are being summoned on Tuesday to an unexpected legislative session over the issue, which has stirred up a level of rancor that few had predicted.

“The public outcry has just continued to get louder and louder, stronger and stronger,” said Annette Dubas, a state senator who is among those who want to consider how Nebraska might regulate such projects, but who seemed as surprised as anyone last week when Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, called legislators in to a special session on the issue.

The outcome of the session, which could last for two weeks, seems uncertain. For one thing, no one knows how many members of Nebraska’s 49-member unicameral Legislature will support adding standards that would give the state new control over pipelines within its borders.

At least some of the lawmakers have expressed concern that adding regulations now might land Nebraska in a legal battle over the project, which is known as the Keystone XL pipeline. It would run 1,700 miles from the oil sands of northern Alberta to refineries near the Gulf of Mexico.
In the states that the pipeline would cross, it has sometimes drawn unlikely political allies and opponents.

In Nebraska, a Republican-leaning state that has been deluged with advertising over the pipeline question in recent weeks, some leaders, including Governor Heineman, have called for a shift in the route away from the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer, a crucial source of water in the Midwest.

Still, even in Nebraska, some leaders had seemed resigned to leave the question in the hands of the State Department, which decides whether transboundary pipelines are in the nation’s interest. The department could decide the Keystone XL case by the end of this year. About a week ago, though, some Nebraska officials’ outlook seemed to shift to one of more active involvement.

“The key decision for current pipeline discussions is the permitting decision that will be made by the Obama administration, which is why I have urged President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to deny the permit,” Governor Heineman said in announcing the special legislative session. 

“However, I believe Nebraskans are expecting our best efforts to determine if alternatives exist.”

Critics of the governor and some supporters of the pipeline, who see it as creating much-needed jobs, dismissed the special session as political theater — an effort to appear to be responsive to concerns about the Keystone XL project, with little chance that Nebraska would actually step in now.

Opponents of the pipeline, or at least of its proposed route, though, said they were hopeful.

But Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, the pipeline company, said it could not simply redraw the planned route at this point. The route, he said, has been through extensive governmental reviews.

“You can’t just scratch off one route,” he said. “A lot of people would stand back and say, ‘If this was such a concern, where were you three or four or five years ago?’ ”

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