Background on Tar Sands
with emphasis on the Keystone XL & Seaway pipelines in Texas
Rising oil prices have spurred companies to turn to unconventional sources of crude oil previously viewed as too costly or destructive to consider. Enter the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. Located beneath the boreal forests that native First Nations call home, tar sands (also called 'oil sands') development has been dubbed the most destructive energy project in the world. To get a single barrel of tar sands crude from surface mining, the forest is chopped down, about four tons of earth is removed, several barrels of water are used and giant tailings ponds are left behind. Another method, in-situ-leach mining, requires burning large amounts of natural gas to heat subsurface deposits and allow them to be sucked to the surface, where further upgrading is required before the crude can be sent via pipeline to refineries where it is made into fuels like gasoline.
The land, water, animals and people in Alberta are already feeling the brunt of this epic proportioned energy project. The downstream indigenous community of Ft. Chipewyan has unheard of rates of rare cancers. The fish are not safe to eat, and the land is littered with toxic ponds and craters.1
If the propsed pipeline is ever approved the resulting toxic tar sands slurry will be funneled from Alberta, through America's heartland, through East Texas near the communities of Sacul and Douglass in Nacogdoches County, and Reklaw, Gallatin, and Wells in Cherokee County, to refineries in a tax-free, foreign-trade zone at the Texas gulf coast.
Thanks to the Texas Railroad Commission's lackadaisical concerns, TransCanada has already condemned the properties of Texas landowners who have sought to deny damage to, and usurpation of their land, but whose property is in the path of TransCanada's proposed 36-inch pipeline. How has this foreign corporation been allowed to abuse Texas landowners in this manner?!
Thanks to the Railroad Commission's actions fellow Texans are now suffering the abusive bullying of a foreign company that has used the legalized crowbar of eminent domain to lever away the property of fellow Texans. This in spite of the fact that the pipeline has been denied a permit by the U.S. State Department. And again, this is despite the fact that many flaws existed in the final environmental impact statements for the proposed project.
There are serious questions about whether this pipeline should even be considered a common carrier, and as such, whether the Railroad Commission's permit is legally valid.
There are additional questions and concerns regarding the safety of the pipeline itself, the toxic tarsands oil (diluted bitumen, or 'dilbit') that would flow through it, and the reduced air quality resulting from refining this bituminous crude. Questions, too, regarding jobs and energy independence.
Why are the walls of this higher-than-average-pressure pipeline thinner than conventional-pressure crude oil pipelines? How will heating this acidic, tar sand crude affect the lifespan of those same pipes?
The Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has yet to develop guidelines for the transportation of tar sands crude through pipes. In the meantime, existing and proposed pipelines, including the Keystone XL, are designed using guidelines only for conventional crude. Evidence suggests that this is the cause for spills into the Kalamazoo River, the Yellowstone River, and the South Platte River.
Where are TransCanada's emergency response plans?! They have told emergency response personnel along the proposed route that only after the pipeline was operational would they provide any information on this topic.
What happens when the earth along the Mount Enterprise fault zone shifts in southern Rusk County? With increased natural gas fracking activity and subsequent increased incidents of shallow seismic reactions, this fault zone cannot continue to be viewed as low consequence.
In the face of the worst drought and fire season ever, and TransCanada's statements to landowners that they cannot even drive a golf cart across the buried pipeline, what will happen when wildfires burn again? How can bulldozers cut fire lanes? How can tanker trucks respond? What if the pipe is experiencing an "unplanned release" of its 100oF-flashpoint dilbit, too?
When leaks occur the tar sands oil will not float on water like conventional oil, but instead will sink, harming any aquatic life it comes into contact with, and seeping down into the very aquifers that east Texas depends upon. At the same time, clouds of deadly and carcinogenic gases given off as the diluents in dilbit vaporize will poison or outright kill humans and other animal life in the vicinity.
Where will the increased carcincinogenic and heat trapping emissions from the refining of this toxic tarsands oil end up? In the refinery communities and in the very air that we in east Texas breath.
How many new jobs will this bring to east Texas, and how permanent will they be? TransCanada spouts inflated numbers of jobs that include dance coreographers and speech therapists along the pipeline route. How many of the real number of pipeline jobs will already be filled from outside east Texas? Once built, those same jobs are over.
In the long run, can this truly make us energy independent when it perpetuates our dependence on fossil fuels?
The Keystone XL project is not the panacea of independence, safety, cheap gasoline and high employment numbers that certain corporations and investors might have us believe, and neither are any of the proposed projects designed to get tar sands bitumen to refineries. We believe that it is in the national interest that permission for the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, any partial segment of it, or any substitute for it, is never granted.
Please take the time to involve yourself with the issues that surround tar sands, and the Keystone XL pipeline project. Let your public servants know of your concerns. And bear in mind that the links on this website are only a very small portion of the information available for us to educate ourselves about these inevitably devastating projects.
Tar sands investors are still looking for any means possible to relieve the market glut in the midwest and move their dilbit to gulf coast refineries. They still want to increase their financial returns by selling their toxic product on the open market from a tax-free, foreign-trade zone. They continue to misinform and propagandize with devisive comments, half truths, and slanderous speech designed to keep the uninformed, well, just that, unaware of the reality behind the tar sands industry.
It was never just about the Ogallala aquifer. Aquifers in Texas have been ignored. The refinery communities have been ignored. Long term economics and sustainable jobs have been ignored. Regardless of what the purveyors of tar sands poison may say, the overarching concern is about the health of all Americans, both corporeal health and economic health. Tar sands exploitation benefits only the vested, moneyed interests.
Tran$Canada is pushing to circumvent the U.S. State Department's recent decision that the Keystone XL pipeline is NOT in the national interest by simply extending their existing Keysone pipeline from Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas. They are hoping that those of us in Texas will not see through their continued propaganda. They would prefer to just slip their toxins in through the back door.
Enbridge and Enterprise Products have carried out their plan to reverse the flow on a thirty-six year old pipeline, the Seaway, in order to accomplish the same market-relief goal. We all know what happened in the Kalamazoo River, and in the Yellowstone River, and in the Platte River in Denver, Colorado after dilbit was transported through pipelines designed for conventional crude.
ANY pipeline that transports tar sands crude from Alberta to refineries on the Texas coast has to cross, and therefore threatens the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer.
The map below is a modified version of a Texas Water Development Board aquifer map. TansCanada's Keystone XL pipeline and Enbridge's Seaway pipeline routes are shown.
For a county-by-county series of maps from the RRC site
showing details of the Seaway pipeline route click HERE
For up-to-date information on the Seaway pipeline click HERE
Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) does not currently have public information specific to dilbit. This fact is reflected in the inability of Enbridge to understand how to clean up the tar sands crude that inexplicably burst through its pipeline in Michigan in June of 2010.
The Seaway pipeline has been reversed, and now our water supplies are under 24/7 threat of contamination by diluted tar sands. The pipeline owners can rest well at night knowing that they will rake in millions of dollars but not spend one dime on cleanup of any spills or leaks, or poisoning of any communities along the way.