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Fossil Fuel Industry Is Quietly Building Pipeline Network That 'Dwarfs Keystone' XL
Despite public opposition that has so far blocked the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, the fossil fuels industry has successfully—and quietly—expanded the nation's domestic oil network by installing thousands of miles of pipeline across the country, according to new reporting by the Associated Press.
"Overall, the network has increased by almost a quarter in the last decade," the AP reports. "And the work dwarfs Keystone. About 3.3 million barrels per day of capacity have been added since 2012 alone—five times more oil than the Canada-to-Texas Keystone line could carry if it's ever built."
While the Keystone project is still in limbo, the petroleum industry has "pushed relentlessly everywhere else to get oil to market more efficiently, and its adversaries have been unable to stop other major pipelines," writes AP journalist Henry Jackson.
That's not to say they haven't tried.
In Minnesota, for example, local opponents succeeded last year in getting state regulators to consider rerouting a 616-mile pipeline proposed by Toronto-based Enbridge around lakes and forests, delaying it for at least a year.
"More typical, though, was an Enbridge project to double the capacity of a 285-mile stretch of pipeline in Michigan," Jackson writes. "Groups like the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands fought the proposal, citing a spill in 2010 that caused serious environmental damage. But the Michigan Public Service Commission ruled the project acceptable, and the expansion went ahead."
Opposition to local pipeline projects is ongoing. In Iowa, the Meskwaki Indian tribe is objecting to a Texas company's plans to construct a 343-mile crude oil pipeline across 18 Iowa counties, the Des Moines Register reported Monday.
"As a people that have lived in North America for thousands of years, we have environmental concerns about the land and drinking water," tribal chairwoman Judith Bender wrote in a letter filed last month with state officials. "As long as our environment was good we could live, regardless of who our neighbors were."
She continued: "Our main concern is Iowa's aquifers might be significantly damaged. And it will only take one mistake and life in Iowa will change for the next thousands of years. We think that should be protected, because it is the water that gives Iowa the best way of life."
An analysis released in November by the Center for Biological Diversity found that there have been more than 8,700 significant incidents with U.S. pipelines involving death, injury, and economic and environmental damage since 1986—more than 300 per year.
In fact, a new proposal from the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration "is an implicit acknowledgment that some of the oil industry's testing technology isn't sophisticated enough to detect cracks or corrosion in time to prevent a pipeline's failure," according to Energy & Environment Publishing's EnergyWire, which reported exclusively on the plan on Monday.
According to EnergyWire:
Almost two years after an Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline split open and sent Canadian crude flowing through a neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark., federal regulators have quietly proposed a sweeping rewrite of oil pipeline safety rules.
If the proposal is finalized in its current form, as much as 95 percent of the U.S. pipelines that carry crude, gasoline and other liquids—182,000 miles—would be subject to the new rules and about half the system may have to undergo extensive tests to prove it can operate safely, according to information from the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The plan, known as the Hazardous Liquids Integrity Verification Process, is an implicit acknowledgment that some of the oil industry's testing technology isn't sophisticated enough to detect cracks or corrosion in time to prevent a pipeline's failure. And for the first time since PHMSA was created, it may wind up telling companies they have to replace certain aging pipelines.
The oil and pipeline industries are already lobbying against the idea, EnergyWire reports, though few details about the plan are publicly available.
According to EnergyWire journalist Mike Lee: "PHMSA declined to make any of its officials available for interviews over a five-day period and wouldn't answer written questions on the record—even though the agency has already briefed two oil industry trade associations about the proposal."
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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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