A map of the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline.
As we put creation's author to the test—with projects like the Keystone XL pipeline—there will be consequences.
Editor's Note: Today’s #EarthWeek action: Join us for a prayer conference call at 2:30 pm Eastern Time as we hear from the evangelicals standing against the Keystone XL pipeline, and pray a blessing over them and their work. Click here to RSVP.
Maybe I’m a near-sighted, Bible-thumping holy roller, but I can’t see angel wings flapping on oil executives. No doubt some are community pillars. They’re Little League umpires, tithers, and PTA volunteers. They’ve got lovely houses and manicured lawns.
But they’re also flawed like the rest of us, and their professional bias screens out the obvious: The proposed Keystone XL Oil Pipeline would do little good and could wreak enormous harm. I’m compelled to halt my timid thy-will-be-done prayers and join a band of evangelicals boldly pleading for the permit’s denial. We’ve even launched a Facebook page, called “Pray No KXL.”
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This week, we finally had some good news in the fight against climate change: President Barack Obama announced a further delay in the review process for the Keystone XL pipeline. The right thing to do is to reject the pipeline once and for all, but we all know politics is never that simple. The president says no decision will be made until the end of the year, which means the deadline comes after this year’s election. But the president isn’t up for re-election again, and protecting the environment should not be a partisan issue. All of us have a stake here.
We need more time, President Obama says, more reviews, more answers. But for Sojourners’ Rose Berger, who has been a leader in the faith community’s witness against Keystone XL, the answer has been clear for a long time.
Deuteronomy 8 says “the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of flowing streams, with springs and underground waters ... a land where ... you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
When you arrive in Nebraska, signs on the interstate will welcome you to “The Good Life.” The folks who came up with our unofficial state motto may or may not have had the passage from Deuteronomy in mind, but to witness Nebraskans’ love for their land is to understand that it is a quietly sacred connection.
That connection found its voice in Nebraska citizens’ four-year battle to stop the TransCanada pipeline. In face of the threat of oil spills polluting the underground Ogallala Aquifer, of construction spoiling the fragile Sandhills region, and of a foreign corporation using bully tactics to seize landowners’ property, a remarkably diverse coalition of farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, grandmothers, students, and citizens took hold to protect Nebraska land.
Friday at 3 p.m. ET, the State Department released their long-awaited final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, a proposed project from TransCanada to build a new pipeline for transporting tar sands crude oil from Canada to a refinery in Texas where it will likely be exported internationally.
Environmentalists and concerned citizens on the pipeline’s pathway have been waiting for the State Department to address previously ignored issues like the pipeline’s impact on climate pollution. President Obama said in a climate-focused speech last year that he would only approve Keystone XL if it did not pose a significant risk of climate pollution, so although State Department looked at other environmental risks as well (such as the 1,692 pipeline spills or incidents that occurred from 2002 to 2012 in the United States). This review concludes that the number of U.S. jobs to be created – once estimated in the tens of thousands – will actually be 50 operations jobs, with only 35 permanent. The rest (the touted 42,000 number) are all temporary construction jobs.
Occurrences of oil spills in several states have garnered little media attention in the last few years. In some cases, prompt reports are recorded, yet in others, days have gone by before the authorities are alerted and the spill becomes public knowledge.
The most recent episode happened Oct. 15, in Port of Long Beach, Calif. Upon discovery of an oil leak, Exxon Mobil announced that it was temporarily suspending operations of its pipeline system. The pipeline, which connects to the company’s refinery in Torrance, carries up to 155,000 barrels of oil per day. Exxon filed documents with the California Emergency Management Agency that claimed the leak did not affect waterways, although the company was ordered to pay a $236 million fine for contaminating groundwater in New Hampshire this past April.
Another spill was initially discovered on Sept. 29 by North Dakota farmer Steve Jensen, the Associated Press reported. While harvesting wheat, Jensen discovered the leak in his field “spewing and bubbling 6 inches high.” The rupture was a break in Tesoro Corporation’s underground pipeline. While it remains unconfirmed, early evidence cites that corrosion on the 20-year-old pipeline is the cause of rupture. At least 20,600 barrels of oil flooded the 7-acre spill zone, equal to about 7 football fields.
The delay in making public North Dakota’s oil spill proves as worrisome as the spill itself. It took 11 days after the spill’s discovery for it to become public knowledge. Officials claim they were not aware how extensive the spill was, but critics point to the state’s financial benefits in the recent gas and oil boom as reason for the authorities’ hesitancy in coming down on oil companies. But economic incentives shouldn’t diminish the serious need to weigh environmental risks and costs.
The cases begin to pile up.
The Nebraska state legislature on Wednesday approved a bill (LB1161) that will allow Nebraska to proceed with a $2 million study to find a route for TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline through the state. Gov. Dave Heineman is expected to sign the measure into law. But what does this mean?
It means a couple of things. First, it means that the global “people power” movement against the Keystone XL pipeline beat back the energy and oil industry in January when President Obama and the State Department denied TransCanada’s transnational permit. Our “united we stand” organizing strategy was effective. It forced the TransCanada to switch tactics. Now the oil industry is pushing a “divide and conquer” tactic. Its strategy is to break the pipeline up into state-sized parts and negotiate on each section. In Nebraska, new proposals to route the pipeline away from the environmentally sensitive Sandhills has removed a key political organizing tool from those of us who are working against the pipeline, especially in the Midwest.
Second, it means that Nebraska needs cash and will move forward to get it. Since the oil industry lobbyists have convinced the Obama administration to allow new routes to be proposed, Nebraska has leapt into the maneuvering space – in part to keep filling the state’s depleted coffers with funds from the TransCanada cash cow. The bill approved today will re-start the pipeline “review” process on the state level. And, the bill requires TransCanada to reimburse the state for the route study.
Having critics isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes they serve as a sort of public accountability. Other times, they express questions that others might be asking but haven’t voiced.
Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of World Magazine, came out with a quick critique of Sojourners’ press release celebrating the Obama Administration’s decision to reject the current plans for building the Keystone XL pipeline. His post offers an excellent opportunity to address a few things that others might have been wondering as well.
His headline? “Sojourners and Keystone: Using the Bible for Political Purposes.”
Politico is reporting that President Obama is planning to reject the Keystone XL pipeline this afternoon.
Here’s a quick roundup of some reasons why we think that’s awesome: