« Previous Story | Front Page | Next Story »

Fathoming Our Oil Folly

By David Norlin
Advocacy | August 24, 2011

SALINA, Kan. - Monday, Aug. 22, Kansas staged its own contribution to one of the most important national climate change discussions in decades, thanks to the Eisenhower Center and the KSU Institute for Civil Discourse. The topic: TransCanada's Keystone XL oil pipeline for Alberta tar sands oil. Final decision on XL's final leg is due soon from the U.S. State Department.

TransCanada (TC) wields a big stick: Canada is our single largest oil supplier, ahead of Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

The Aug. 23 Salina Journal story noted the strong audience response to one suggestion. The Kansas Legislature gift-wrapped a present of an estimated $50 million tax abatement that TC doesn't need -- and that no other states gave. When Jim Prescott, TransCanada's representative, insisted his company is a responsible, good neighbor, one citizen suggested TC's good neighbor policy should extend to gifting that $50 million to desperate Kansas kids and schools, where most of the taxes would/should have gone anyway. This reverse-gift idea received strong audience applause.

Prescott did not make that offer.

The article concluded by quoting a TC-sympathetic landowner urging that humans not be "subservient to plants and animals," demanding that oil companies drill or "develop resources" when and where necessary, and concluding with the sentence, "Individuals and organizations who call themselves environmentalists are nothing more than obstructionists." The article ended, noting this also drew a round of applause.

Casual readers could be left with the impression that the audience shared this view of "environmentalists." Not necessarily.

Many with environmental -- or more accurately, human -- concerns were in that audience. They were in sympathy with a large Winnebago parked outside, covered with the logo, "Stop the Pipeline."

It was no doubt headed for Washington, D.C., where the largest national climate change civil disobedience movement in history is taking place. By Labor Day, nearly 2000 people will have participated in a mass White House demonstration. One hundred-fifty have already been arrested for Martin Luther King-like, non-violent civil disobedience action to encourage President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reject the project's final leg.

Obstructionists? Not really.

Oil spill concerns expressed in Abilene are justified. This highly-pressurized 1400-pound-per-square-inch pipeline, some of which meets Candadian, not U.S. safety standards, will stretch from Alberta, Canada through Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico. The underground gusher destroying Montana's pristine Yellowstone River should be warning enough about the limitations of "secure" oil pipelines, terrorists or no.

Real as these concerns are, however, they pale in comparison to the major issue. The tar sands, like Uncle Remus' tar baby, are deadly and already have us stuck in their trap.

When nominated for President, Barack Obama promised to ensure that "the rise of the oceans [will begin]to slow and our planet [will begin] to heal." With tar sands among the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, that ain't happenin' -- yet.

Miles of Alberta's ancient Boreal forests, one of the world's best carbon sinks, have already been stripped and trashed, along with two billion tons of rock and soil, to reveal bitumen tar. Heated to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, it emits up to three times the greenhouse gas of regular drilling and refining.

Once pristine Alberta waters are rapidly becoming a toxic toilet bowl. The oil industry consumes some 15 percent of the Athabasca River's winter flow -- enough to supply a city of 2 million. Tailings ponds (really lakes so large they can be seen from space), are required by Alberta law to keep waste out of groundwater. They don't work.

Some 2.9 million gallons per day of slurry containing arsenic and mercury leach daily into an underground aquifer or drain into the river. Cancer is rampant.

If fully developed, the tar sand wasteland will be larger than Greece, about 54,000 square miles.

Certainly, this is a case of Kansas economic injustice. Companies using our territory for their profits should pay their fair share in taxes.

But focusing only on this is like insisting on our share of the swag from a pirate ship who just plundered our clipper, rammed a hole in its hull, and sank our cargo of food, clean air and water to a 3-thousand foot grave.

Those who can fathom this will know that hanging our hopes here amounts to hanging our neighbor -- and eventually ourselves. As Chief Seattle said, "Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth ... All things are connected like the blood which unites one family."

Want to stop this folly? Use less gas and sign the anti-pipeline petition. Go to www.350.org/sign/tar-sands and sign your name. Or call the Secretary of State. Our future is in your hands.

1 Comment

David, thank you for addressing this issue. Too many times, people don't get informed or involved, if it isn't in their own back yards.

Do the landowners get a reduction in taxes, when the oil line goes through? Why should they and all other property owners have to contribute to the profits of the oil companies? Mining companies and oil companies seldom have vested interest in the land and communities they desecrate. Unless forced to, they seldom are concerned about environmental issues, as a result of their operations.

You noticed, I said "seldom". Some companies do, but many are more interested in immediate profit and couldn't care less about what the long range cost to the environment or local communities might be. Rather than contributing to the local community's welfare, they spend their money on lobbying for less regulation. Their expected profits can justify far more grease in the politicians hands than the handful of propery owners can come up with.

I have dealt with easement right of ways and I'm always reminded that I'm not being fair to the end users of the services. For instance, a telephone line that was going to cut a trench and bury line at the upper end of an irrigated corn field, one year, brought all kinds of guilt charges. I was making phone service more expensive for everyone. When I pointed out that they could cut their trench and bury the line after the season ended and my corn was harvested, they didn't have time to wait. I suggested then that they could just pay me for the expected corn crop and proceed. They still thought I should donate that years crop to their program and profits. When I told them they could argue with me in court, and by the time that was over my corn would be in my bin, they decided they could wait.

I've had agents point out that what I was asking was a 'piddling' amount and I should just accept their offer and move on. When I point out to them that the 'piddling' amount was a far greater percentage of my operating budget than their huge corporation's budget, they don't have a rebuttal. I win a few and I lose a few, but, the individuals and communities need to stand up and demand their rights and choices.

Post your own comment here

Do you want to read more? You've only just scratched the surface at the Kansas Free Press. We have so much more to read! Nearly all of the pieces published here are timeless and relevant, regardless of when the articles were first published. To discover more, please take a look at our Table of Contents or go back to our Front Page.

Our sponsors help us stay online to serve you. Thank you for doing your part! By using the specific links below (clicking through from our site) to start any of your online shopping, you are making a tremendous difference. By using the shopping links provided on a Kansas Free Press page, you are directly helping to support the Kansas Free Press:

About This Page

This page contains just one story published on August 24, 2011. The one written previous to this is titled "Bluegrass Is Coming" and the story published right after this one is "BORN TO CUT CATTAILS IN AUGUST"

Our most current stories are always updated on our Front Page.

Other Archives

Interested in other topics? You may wish to poke around in our Table of Contents to find other sections and archives.

Do you want to explore pieces written by specific authors? You can find archives for KFP writers by reviewing our complete Directory of Authors and Writers here.

Recently Featured Stories

My Response As a Kansan to Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti has come on board The Nation magazine to fill in for Katha Pollitt as the feminist columnist while Pollitt is on leave to write a book. I've found reading Valenti's columns thought-provoking and insightful. She often takes …
Of Angels and God's Dogs

There might be a whole group of us out there--people who value our relationships with animals on a par with our ties to people. "Get over it--it was just a dog" does not resonate with us. Our society places …
Of Angels and God's Dogs

There might be a whole group of us out there--people who value our relationships with animals on a par with our ties to people. "Get over it--it was just a dog" does not resonate with us. Our society places …
Roots of the n-word

While N-word dialogue has slackened following Saline County Commissioner Gile's use of it recently, the word still has great power. So, let's look inward at the N-word. To reach a much deeper path to understanding, simply go to Ad …
Corporate Tax Reform

Basehor, Kans.--For an interesting twist on the corporate tax debate, look at Alan Sloan's opinion in the April 29 issue of Fortune Magazine. In all of the froth about corporate taxation, neither proponents of tax reduction, nor corporate critics, …

News and Opinion

Get Connected

See our FB page!
Subscribe for free!
[Feeds & Readers...]
Follow Kansas Free Press on Twitter, too!
Make Kansas Free Press your home page!

Journalists, sign in.

We're reader supported!

Whenever you use the specific links below to begin any of your online shopping, a portion of your sale goes directly towards the support of this site.

Tech Depot - An Office Depot Co.

Our sponsors help us stay online to serve you. Thank you for doing your part! By using the specific links above (clicking through from our site) to start any of your online shopping, you are making a tremendous difference. By using the shopping links provided on a Kansas Free Press page, you are directly helping to support the Kansas Free Press.

Thank you for your help!

Notices & Policies

All of our Kansas Free Press journalists are delighted that you are here. We all hope that you come here often, sign in and leave us comments, and become an active part of our community. Welcome!

Our writers are credentialed after referral to, and approval by, the editor/publisher of KansasFreePress.com. If you are interested in writing with us, please feel free to let us know here. We are always looking for Kansans who want to write about Kansas!

All authors here retain their own copyrights for their original written works, original photographs and art works. They welcome others to copy, reference or quote from the content of their stories, provided that the reprints include obvious author and website attribution and links to the original page, in accordance with this publication's Creative Commons License.

Our editor primarily reviews stories for spelling, grammar, punctuation and formatting and is not liable or responsible for the opinions expressed by individual authors. The opinions and accuracy of information in the individual stories on this site are the sole responsibility of each of the individual authors. For complete site policies, including privacy, see our Frequently Asked Questions. This site is designed, maintained, and owned by its publisher, Everyday Citizen Media. The Kansas Free Press, KansasFreePress.com, and Kansas Free Press are trademarked names.

© Copyright, 2008-2012, all rights reserved, unless otherwise specified, first by the respective author, and then by KFP's publisher and owner for any otherwise unreserved and all other content.