The residents of Pavilion, Wyoming, had been complaining about the strange taste of their drinking water for over a decade. EPA testing recently confirmed what many had suspected: The strange taste came from chemicals either released by or used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a technique used to extract oil, natural gas and other from deep within the earth’s crust. Fracking involves injecting various substances into rock to in essence cause mini-earthquakes to create mini-fissures in the crust so as to allow easier access to oil, gases and other items. In fact it has been linked to the triggering of somewhat more substantial — and more dangerous — quakes.
Even the sand used in fracking is controversial. It’s dug up from huge open-pit mines that, as open pit mines tend to do, not only scar the landscape but to pollute it and the water table as well. Rural Minnesotans, once very welcoming to the frac sand mining companies, are starting to wonder whether the dangers posed to land and water are worth it.
Speaking of rural America, TransCanada wants the Keystone XL pipeline so it can a) more readily reach ports capable of hosting supertankers and b) drive up (that’s right, drive up) the price of fuel in the Midwest. Here’s how it works:
The real reasons a pipeline is “needed” are not because TransCanada wants to put that oil in our cars or give us jobs, but because they want to get to a port to ship it overseas, and the British Columbia ports are too shoaled up to accommodate oil supertankers; the biggest boats they can handle are less than a thousand feet in length, and supertankers are typically well over 1,100 feet. (By the way, the unsuitability of the BC ports renders the “we’ll just sell it to China if you don’t buy it” argument ridiculous; without the BC ports and without the pipeline taking the oil to the Houston refineries that specialize in extra-heavy crude oil, there’s no cost-effective way to get it to China, or any other country not named the U.S. of A.) As for the effect on US gas prices, check this out (courtesy of Bernie Sanders and The Guardian, which published what no major US paper likely ever would):
State Department officials tout the energy security benefits of Keystone XL, but TransCanada itself admits that by removing an oil oversupply in the Midwest, the pipeline would result in “an increase in the price of heavy crude” that should net Canadian oil producers a $1.9bn increase in revenue at the expense of American consumers. Gulf Coast refiners, which would receive tar sands oil from Keystone XL, have detailed a strategy to their investors to export the oil out of the United States.
The pipeline is the only way the frozen tar sands muck — which must be specially and expensively treated for it to even be able to flow in a pipe in the first place — can be made profitable for TransCanada. Worse yet, getting it out of the ground releases plenty of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere well before the oil even reaches the pipeline, much less anyone’s gas tanks; that’s one reason why James Hansen calls the Keystone XL project “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet“.
To finish on a pleasanter note, here’s an excerpt from a book by a friend of mine who lives in rural Minnesota, within an easy hour’s drive of the proposed frac sand mines in Winona County. Enjoy!