Oil from tar sands
Is our gripe;
Hard to keep it
In the pipe.

Poor TransCanada. Everything looked so promising. The company had just finished drawing a line across Saskatchewan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Oklahoma, with hardly a peep of protest. The folks back in Alberta were solidly behind turning their valued forests into moonscape to harvest all those petrodollars and all those jobs. The provincial government, too, had already dismissed the environment and embraced the delicious expected profits.

Further, Washington seemed ready to play ball. Gas prices were soaring, Republicans were drooling, and President Barack Obama needed to show action prior to the upcoming election. Port Arthur, Texas, where the dismal refineries are, had already been deemed an urban sacrifice zone. No one of import was much concerned about the poisonous quality of the air thereabouts. So what could go wrong?

(Toban Black / Flickr)

(Toban Black / Flickr)

Well, dimwittedness for one. In constantly pressing to cut costs, TransCanada proposed a shorter route for its planned $7-billion Keystone XL oil wonderpipe. Imprudently, it was to cut across a large corner of Nebraska, assaulting both the iconic and fragile Sand Hills and the sacred Ogallala Aquifer. Bad move. Cornhuskers may not be environmental frontrunners on national issues, but they know which side their agricultural livelihood is buttered on. It’s the Ogallala, and anyone who risks spilling the world’s dirtiest oil into that revered reserve is in for trouble.

Not to say that Nebraskans themselves aren’t known to waste plenty of that precious aquifer. It’s just that nobody else had better try it.

So suddenly the traditional enemies of global warming had an unexpected local and potent ally — Nebraskans — to help bolster their more cosmic arguments about climate change. Yes, a pipeline leak can cause some very nasty local damage, but Alberta’s tar sands can threaten some of the nastiest damage in the entire world. Of all the noxious sources of oil, they are the worst. Simply extracting the product produces more COâ‚‚ than burning the oil itself. And the vast mileage of forest that is clear cut, scraped, toxic pooled, and abandoned is no longer available to absorb COâ‚‚ from the air. A tour of the area could make one swear off SUVs.

This joint crusade was plainly a lot more than TransCanada had bargained for. It had exulted in buying everybody off, but suddenly there was civil disobedience in front of the White House and 1,252 environmental protesters were arrested.

By January, Obama had rejected plans to build the pipeline, citing concerns about a rushed schedule forced by Congress that wouldn’t allow enough time for due environmental diligence. Big Oil needn’t really worry, however. After all, the Republicans in Congress are still trying to finagle the project into a crucial transportation bill, TransCanada is reexamining an alternative route that traverses North Dakota, and British Columbia is considering a line across its mountains to the Pacific for shipping the oil straight to China. Even without that kind of re-routing, there had already been talk of exporting Port Arthur’s noxious product.

Plainly this kind of corporate nonsense will continue until Al Gore is released from wherever they are holding him and is finally able to persuade us to forsake our suicidal addiction to oil. When nations go to the length of mining tar sands to feed their habit they are sick indeed.

Yes, the Keystone XL pipeline is a confusing mix of political apples, oranges, and avocados. Just keep in mind, they’re all rotten.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. otherwords.org

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