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The Keystone Pipeline Through Nebraska

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by Everett Wilson
October 8, 2011

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The Keystone Pipeline Through Nebraska


            There is much on the Internet right now about the proposed pipeline to transport dirty oil (bitumen) from Canada through my state of Nebraska  to refineries in the southern United States.  

             Let me set the debate over the pipeline in an ethical  context that is more inclusive than the economic and environmental issues currently dominating it.    

            I am indebted to the Earth First web page for their list of the "Top 10 Worst Man Made Environmental Disasters."  Maybe they aren't  objectively the ten worst, maybe  They Are Not So Bad After All. But they do exist,  they are recent, and they are bad enough for illustrative purposes simply because they are not hypothetical.  There they are.        .  

1. Tennessee Coal Ash Spill

2. Exxon-Valdez Oil Spill

3,  Libby, Montana Asbestos Contamination

4. Love Canal Toxic Dump

5. Three Mile Island Nuclear Meltdown

6.  Picher, Oklahoma Lead Contamination

7. Anniston, Alabama PCB Poisoning

8. West Virginia/Kentucky Coal Sludge Spill

9. Great Pacific Garbage Patch

10.  Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone 


Whether worst or not, they are man-made--though not intentional disasters  like acts of sabotage, terror and war.   They originated in the  desire to create a public good or a profitable product,  and came   to pass because the deciders in every project  were persuaded, or persuaded  themselves,  that everything was a-ok, there was nothing to worry about, the problems were manageable,  and on and on. 

            I am not an authority on the various  technologies involved, including the Keystone pipeline; but I am, in a modest way, an authority on the human predicament, which is    ethical  before it is environmental, economic,  political, or anything else.   From that perspective here are three  observations. 

            When two sides are in contention, and   both have hired experts speaking for them, the experts  aren't experts; they are lobbyists and salesmen.  Experts don't belong to anybody.    They are on the side of truth.  They agree on the facts they know, and are forthright about what they do not know and cannot predict.

            Adversarial argument, as universal as it has become,   is a worthless  tool for discerning the truth.   It becomes an evil tool, on an ethical par with a sneak attack, when lives  and livelihoods are  lost because   those responsible to decide treat best-case projections as sure-fire predictions, or exchange  long-term  public good for short-term   profit.    

            Corporately, individually, even nationally, human beings are patsies for a deal too good to pass up.  Nebraska is understandably edgy.  Back in the nineties, we nearly allowed a nuclear waste  dump to be built in wetlands between the Missouri River and one of its tributaries, so that aradioactive  leak  would drain  easily and harmfully   down the Missouri into the Mississippi.  At great cost, even sacrifice on the part of many citizens, Nebraska got out of the proposal, which any  disinterested  citizen could see was a bad  deal.  Now, twenty years later, Big Oil wants to run dirty oil through part of the Oglala aquifer,  one of  the largest and safest sources of clean water on the continent.  Why be worried?  They assure us they can handle it, there is nothing to worry about, this is different!   

            In response, I look at the list of  Ten Worst Man-Made Disasters, imagine the deciders heard the same assurances in the 20th Century,  and wonder whether the  Keystone Pipeline will eventually  join  the list if it is approved as it now stands.  If it does, the  public purse will   pay for the cleanup, while the investors scoop up the profits.  Isn't  that the American way?

Comments (6)

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Bob McNaughton from Middletown, CT writes:
October 9, 2011
Everett: We can point to many man-made projects that have succeeded for long periods, benefitting human-kind immeassureably. But we must never forget the law of entropy, which, simply stated, is that all things tend to fall apart.

Thus, a worst-case description needs to accompany any plan.

In any case, we must admit to the truth that the era of cheap energy is gone, and will not return. Rather than continuing to squeeze a bit more energy from oil is that is increasingly scarse, we must turn immediately to strategies for using renewable energy, which are more expensive in the short run - and for which there may also be consequences now unknown to us, for here also entropy is at work.

Thanks for putting this issue in another perspective.

Everett Wilson from Ceresco, NE writes:
October 10, 2011
Bob and I--friends for fifty+ years and counting-- are on the same page. Civilization exists because of successful long-term projects, but one generation does not define "long term." That's why we cannot afford cheating and cynicism in their development. We will have enough incompetence without building it in to the process.

Joe McDonald from Seattle writes:
October 10, 2011
I notice there are no pipelines mentioned in your list, but that's not to say I don't appreciate your concern. Your argument, though could be made for every pipeline in the world... and every oil tanker. (we have had public concerns, almost revolts, here in the Northwest over potential spills) I see all this as an answer to our short term needs and our unwillingness to tolerate higher unemployment, loss of trade and so forth. Sure, we should develop other sources of energy and we are more or less. But as long as cheaper sources, oil, is available we will use that to drive our economy.

Everett Wilson from ceresco. ne writes:
October 11, 2011
Cheap oil will sink our economy unless it is more responsibly managed. Building through a major source of clean water when you could go around it is cheap for the developers but not for the rest of us if, as is becoming commonplace, they screw it up.

kevin from Dirty oil land writes:
October 18, 2011
I think you should fight hard to stop this project.

I don't think america should have any oil or any other natural resources from Canada, I think Canada should cut the americans off at the knees with raw material, we would be far better selling our resources to China, a far better trading partner than the usa. So please, work hard at stopping this project, you have my support.

James Leroy Wilson writes:
October 26, 2011
Everett's concerns are valid, because the concerns haven't been addressed. On October 25th, however, Ronald Bailey answered the aquifer concerns at Reason.com: "Don't Be Afraid of the Keystone XL Pipeline."

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