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.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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