TransCanada’s New Permit Still Threatens Nebraska’s Water and U.S. Energy Security
News broke today that TransCanada plans to re-apply for a Presidential Permit for the cross-border Keystone XL tar sands pipeline sometime tomorrow. However, all indications show that the new application breaks its promise to Nebraska consumers and landowners by failing to avoid the Sandhills or Ogallala aquifer. TransCanada appears to be coming back to the president without any new rationale for approval. Most significantly:
- Despite promises to the contrary, the proposed pipeline route still goes through the sensitive Sandhills region and still threatens the Ogallala aquifer, the most important source of fresh water in the Midwest.
- The new application does nothing to ensure that the tar sands will be limited or their impact on climate mitigated. Tar sands are the dirtiest source of oil on earth, and the most important climate scientist in the U.S. has said it’s “game over” in the fight against climate change if tar sands are fully developed and burned as an energy source. The reckless expansion of the tar sands is encouraged by this project.
- The main goal of the Keystone XL pipeline is to reach Gulf Coast ports where much of the tar sands oil would be exported, undermining American energy security and leaving Americans with all the risks, all the costs and little benefit. Like the original application, this new permit is for a pipeline through—not to—the U.S.
- TransCanada and tar sands oil producers will profit from the new pipeline by up to $3.9 billion per year, money raised by increasing the price of oil in 16 Midwest states. Refineries accepting the high toxic tar sands crude will emit more air and water pollution, further increasing the pollution burden on some of the nation’s most environmentally impacted citizens.
Keystone XL Benefits Canadian Producers and Gulf Refiners, Not America
Instead of increasing the tar sands supply for the U.S., in the coming years Keystone XL will merely redirect supply to the Gulf so that it can be exported and sold for higher prices on the global market. The proposed route makes it clear that the pipeline contents are not intended for domestic distribution. Rather, the straight path from Canada to the Gulf facilitates Canada’s effort to position itself as a top supplier on the global market. A recent Inside Climate News piece examines the more than 10,000 miles of planned pipelines that would send an additional 3.1 million barrels a day of Alberta's oil to export markets.
Evidence abounds that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is an export pipeline intended to go through—but not to—U.S. markets. When Senator Tester (D-MT) advocated for a requirement that oil from Keystone XL stay in the country, TransCanada’s executives refused to support that prerequisite and commit to not selling oil outside of the U.S. TransCanada’s deceptive practices deserve further scrutiny and as a BOLD Nebraska report makes clear, America cannot afford to entrust our economic future to a company with TransCanada’s record.
Moreover, the export nature of the Keystone XL pipeline will be detrimental to U.S. consumers who are likely to be subjected to higher prices at the pump. TransCanada itself acknowledged to the Canadian government that the pipeline would increase the cost of crude oil in the U.S.. TransCanada brags that the pipeline is “expected to realize an increase in the heavy crude price of approximately $3.00 per barrel by avoiding a discount” at the U.S. Gulf Coast. The market price of heavy crudes should rise an additional $3.55 per barrel when the new pipeline “relieves the oversupply situation in the Midwest.”
Finally, the U.S. has no actual need for a new tar sands pipeline. In fact, there are enough pipelines to handle all the tar sands crude that Canada could produce for the next 10 years or more. The debate surrounding Keystone XL has obscured the fact that Canada does not produce enough tar sands to fill existing pipelines, let alone new ones. The catch: none of those existing pipelines filter tar sands to the Gulf.
Pipeline Threatens Sandhills Region and Country’s Largest Freshwater Source
Despite assurances to the contrary, and Gov. Dave Heineman’s (R-NE) own concerns about water safety, the new corridor still endangers some of the Nebraska’s most sensitive environmental regions—including the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer.
While TransCanada’s proposed corridor avoids the Sandhills of southwest Holt County, it still crosses through northern Holt County. According to Inside Climate News and local landowners, the soil here “is often sandy and permeable and the water table is high—the same characteristics that make the Sandhills so vulnerable to the impact of an oil spill. In some parts of the new corridor, the groundwater lies so close to the surface that the pipeline would run through the aquifer instead of over it.” Even the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) originally labeled the entire northern part of the state “Sandhills” before being pressured by TransCanada to call that region simply “North-Central Nebraska."
Original DEQ Map:
Shows that entire northwest region is designated as Sandhills:
Shows route will go through Ogallala Aquifer where the water table is high.
Maps of the proposed corridor clearly show that though the route would avoid what DEQ now calls the Sandhills, it would still pass through the area originally designated as the Sandhills—a designation that is affirmed by soil tests and farmer anecdotes.
Even more obvious is that the new corridor still runs directly through the Ogallala aquifer. Despite Gov. Heineman’s August 2011 comments that, “I am opposed to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route because it is directly over the Ogallala Aquifer,” Gov. Heineman now backs the Keystone XL, though he has yet to provide an explanation for why his litmus test has changed so dramatically.
A University of Nebraska at Lincoln study found that the pipeline is expected to experience up to 91 significant spills over a 50-year period—a number further compounded by the fact that the route passes through the aquifer, which, as the country’s largest source of freshwater, provides 30 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation in the U.S. and provides drinking water for 2 million people.
“Water has always been first and foremost in our mind,” said Tom Genung of Hastings, Neb., who owns ranchland in Holt County. “We were promised everything would be okay if [the pipeline] got out of the Sandhills ... but it's not.”
Meanwhile, TransCanada face another uphill battle as they continue to push for construction of the southern segment. In Texas and Oklahoma TransCanada is seeking a single “nationwide” permit from the Army Corps for the southern segment of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. However, in fall 2011, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) determined that the southern segment is ineligible for a nationwide permit and must obtain individual Clean Water Act permits for approximately 60 of the pipeline’s crossings of U.S. waterways. EPA cites wetlands and stream loss of ½ acre at these crossings—an environmental impact that requires scientific review and public input.
Good for TransCanada, Bad for Americans
The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be good for TransCanada shareholders and good for a few Gulf refineries—including a Saudi-owner refinery—but is not in the best interests of American consumers. The president stood up for America when he stood up to TransCanada earlier this year and denied the pipeline permit.
What was a policy debate has become a political game. Yet Americans’ health and livelihood should not be subject to partisan gamesmanship in an election year. The massive risks that would be borne by America would reward Big Oil and the world market, not American consumers and workers. Due to existing capacity, we don’t even need another tar sands pipeline—let alone one that is so heavy on risk and so light on rewards.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>