Beyond Keystone XL: Three Controversial Pipeline Proposals
By Kiley Kroh
While the national debate remains largely focused on President Obama’s impending decision regarding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, communities across the U.S. and Canada are grappling with the oil and gas industry’s rapidly expanding pipeline network—cutting through their backyards, threatening water supplies and leaving them vulnerable to devastating spills.
As production booms in Alberta, Canada’s tar sands and fracking opens up vast oil and natural gas deposits around America, companies are increasingly desperate for new pipelines to get their product to market. “We’ve so narrowly focused on Keystone that a lot of these other projects aren’t getting the scrutiny they probably need,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust. He explains that as production skyrockets and companies look to cash in, no one is really in charge of it all. “We’re leaving it up to these individual companies to come up with their own solutions to figure out how to move energy and we don’t have any national policy guiding those decisions.”
According to a recent analysis of federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data, since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 incidents, resulting in more than 500 deaths, more than 2,300 injuries and nearly $7 billion in damage.
Here are three of the most recent pipeline controversies emerging around the country:
1. Bluegrass Pipeline
Opposition is growing to the proposed 500-mile Bluegrass Pipeline, which would transport flammable natural gas liquids across Kentucky to an existing line that terminates in the Gulf. Landowners and environmentalists gathered at the state capital last week to protest the project, which they fear would threaten water supplies and safety. Residents were caught off guard by the project—landowner Stacie Meyer said she noticed survey markers going up near her property and had to search the internet and consult her neighbors to find out what they were for.
Locals are concerned the company, Williams Co., could use eminent domain to seize the land if opposition proves too strong. As the Courier-Journal reported, “Brad Slutskin, a Woodford County landowner who spoke at the rally, said the pipeline companies are threatening condemnation based on a loose interpretation of Kentucky law, and most property owners don’t have the money to mount a court challenge.” Residents opposed to the pipeline—including a group of nuns and monks who are refusing to give up their land for the project—delivered a petition with more than 5,200 signatures asking Gov. Beshear (D-KY) to include pipeline and eminent domain-related issues in the upcoming special legislative session, which he refused.
“Knowing a pipeline is coming through, is like waiving a red flag to the creatures of the Earth. God created Earth as our land to use not abuse,” Sister Joetta Venneman told local WAVE News.
As the gas fields north and east of Kentucky boom, the state will likely find itself in the crosshairs of many battles to come. In fact, while the fifth Kentucky county was passing a resolution opposing the Bluegrass Pipeline on Wednesday, the Courier-Journal reported that the project may already have some competition—a joint venture to convert an existing natural gas line called the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.
2. Energy East Pipeline
Facing resistance in the U.S. over its Keystone XL proposal, TransCanada Corp. is moving forward with plans for another tar sands pipeline project that would carry almost as much crude as Keystone. The new pipeline, the most expensive in TransCanada’s history, would run from Alberta to the Atlantic seaboard, ending where a new deep-water marine terminal would be built to export the crude overseas. In early August, TransCanada said it received the long-term contracts for about 900,000 barrels of crude per day and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already indicated his support for the project.
TransCanada’s proposal has been met with stiff opposition from Canadian environmentalists and native leaders—particularly in Quebec, where Premier Pauline Marois has halted natural gas exploration while last month’s deadly Lac-Megantic crude oil train explosion is still being cleaned up.
The $12 billion development plan calls for converting 1,864 miles of an existing, 55-year-old pipeline currently used for natural gas to carry the oil. Though the proposed route does not cross into the U.S., it does skirt the border with Maine.
Perhaps most worrisome to residents of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, however, is that the increased shipping capacity from Alberta will impact another pipeline—the 70-year-old Portland Pipeline. Currently, the pipeline is used to ship crude into Canada but residents are concerned the flow will be reversed to bring Canadian tar sands into the U.S. As the Boston Globe explains, “this would provide Canada—whose Alberta-centered oil industry is suffering from too much supply and too little access to overseas markets—its first direct pipeline to a year-round, deep-water port.”
Residents throughout New England are staunchly opposed to the region becoming a conduit for the dirtiest form of fossil fuel production, holding anti-pipeline demonstrations in Portland, while 29 Vermont communities passed resolutions banning tar sands oil from the state.
For now, residents of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are left with little option other than waiting to see how the Energy East pipeline development may impact the Portland Pipeline. In a statement released earlier this month, the company said, “It is uncertain to us what the entire impact of this proposed project might be on crude movements and crude supplies for the East Coast. We are continuing to evaluate this recent development.”
3. Eastern Gulf Crude Access Pipeline Project
Enbridge’s proposed 774-mile pipeline would run from Illinois to Louisiana and carry oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation, as well as Canadian tar sands. The pipeline would be capable of transporting almost as much crude as Keystone XL and, as Inside Climate News reports, will likely sail through the regulatory process because much of the pipeline is already constructed as a natural gas line.
“Converting pipelines makes [approval] easier and riskier, too,” explains Weimer. “Keystone is brand new, state of the art pipeline with its own set of problems. Enbridge on the other hand, is converting other pipelines that have already been in the ground for years—putting in new types of crude or switching natural gas to liquid on pipelines that aren’t built to today’s standards. Those old pipes being re-purposed certainly presents a new risk.”
While the Keystone decision is momentarily stalled, Eastern Gulf is just one of many new pipelines being built to ship North American oil to the Gulf Coast for refining and export. According to Inside Climate, “Enbridge plans to build thousands of miles of pipelines over the next few years, including an expansion of its Alberta Clipper pipeline from Canada to Wisconsin. If approved, that line would ship up to 880,000 barrels of Canadian crude into the United States each day, compared to the Keystone’s capacity of 830,000 barrels per day.”
Last month, all five members of Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission approved increasing the flow of the Alberta Clipper line while refusing concerned citizens the opportunity to testify publicly. The initial expansion still awaits approval from multiple government agencies but Enbridge already has its sights set on a second expansion, which wasn’t discussed at the meeting. The protesters, including several Native American representatives, fear their communities could soon face the same devastating impacts of tar sands development being felt in Alberta. Marty Cobenais of Bemidji, part of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told the Bemidji Pioneer that the pipeline is a major issue for his Red Lake community. “This is huge,” he said. “This is in our back yard.”
These fights are just three of many being waged by citizens across the country. Alabama residents, for instance, have been protesting multiple pipeline projects—including the Plains All-American oil pipeline, which would run 41 miles to Mississippi and through a section of Mobile’s drinking water supply.
Though pipeline companies are seeking to capitalize on the Lac-Megantic tragedy to tout the safety of crude transport over rail, the devastating impacts of pipeline spills are impossible to overlook. Last week, the New York Times profiled two communities in Michigan and Arkansas that are forever changed by tar sands pipeline spills. Though it’s been three years since Enbridge’s pipeline rupture that spewed more than 840,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, the region is far from restored. And even despite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s recent order for Exxon to dredge the river, an EPA spokeswoman estimated that 1620,000 gallons of oil will remain in the Kalamazoo.
And in March, an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst, spilling an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude into a Mayflower, AR neighborhood. What’s left behind is bleak: “Four months later, the neighborhood of low-slung brick homes is largely deserted, a ghostly column of empty driveways and darkened windows, the silence broken only by the groan of heavy machinery pawing at the ground as remediation continues.” As Inside Climate News has continued to report, residents are now grappling with the long-term effects of the toxic spill, including the difficult process of relocating their families and the frightening health complications that have begun to manifest.
In addition to re-purposing old pipelines, there are several aspects of the unchecked expansion of fossil fuel pipelines across the country that has Weimer concerned. First, pipeline regulation needs to be strengthened and clarified. He explains that right now, “regulations are written in such a way that to a vast degree, it’s left up to the pipeline companies to figure out how safe their pipelines are and what to do about it.”
And it’s not just oversight—planning future pipeline routes is also dictated by the companies themselves. “The way we leave it up to each company means we could have multiple pipelines from different companies moving [their products] through the same place. Each company is just trying to capitalize and make money. State and local government really hasn’t thought about it much—is unprepared—and pipelines will go into place before there are policies to guide the construction. It can really affect the way local communities may develop and often happens before the community has any sense of what they can do about it.”
Visit EcoWatch’s PIPELINES page for more related news on this topic.
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Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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By Laura Beil
Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."
Vitamin D<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Called "the sunshine vitamin" because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/vitamin-d-supplements-lose-luster" target="_blank">Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied</a> supplements (<em>SN: 1/27/19</em>). <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-12/" target="_blank">Certain foods</a>, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections:</strong> In 2017, the <em>British Medical Journal</em> published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583" target="_blank">might help prevent respiratory infections</a>, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.</p><p>But one key word here is <em>deficient. </em>That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that's higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).</p><p>"If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn't stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference," says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.</p><p>And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19:</strong> Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.</p>
Zinc<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457799/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies of using zinc for colds</a> — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in <em>BMJ Open</em> <a href="https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/1/e031662" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">did not find any value for zinc lozenges</a> for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.</p><p><strong>What we know about zinc and COVID-19:</strong> The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-no-evidence-treatment" target="_blank">hydroxychloroquine can't prevent or treat COVID-19</a> (<em>SN: 8/2/20</em>).)</p>
Vitamin C<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It's found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.</p><p><strong>Why it might help:</strong> It's a potent antioxidant that's important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong>Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the <em>Journal of Medical Virolog</em>y, looked at <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jmv.25707" target="_blank">what is already known about vitamin C</a> and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, "suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions."</p><p>But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">didn't support the idea</a> that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial."</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: </strong>About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas' study at the Cleveland Clinic.</p><p>In a review published online in July in <em>Nutrition</em>, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vitamin may help prevent infection</a> and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.</p><p>Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There's <a href="https://www.drugsincontext.com/can-vitamins-and-or-supplements-provide-hope-against-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful</a>, the pair concluded in July in <em>Drugs in Context</em>. "It's not really clear if it's going to benefit patients," Badowski says.</p><p>And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: "Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart."</p>
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