Many people will write me off as soon as they read the next sentence. I am a geologist, I am American and I have worked in the oil and gas business for the last 36 years.

Many people will write me off as soon as they read the next sentence. I am a geologist, I am American and I have worked in the oil and gas business for the last 36 years.

There. If you are still with me, let’s talk dirty.

Keystone XL and dirty seem to go together like “Paraguayan” and “strongman”. In much of the press coverage, the crude in Keystone XL is referred to as dirty. Is it any dirtier than the other products that get carried in pipelines?

Are crudes extracted from oil sands more dirty than jet fuel, propane or motor gasoline? In my view, it’s all dirty.

Any liquids leaking from a pipeline that contaminates soil or ground water is a bad situation and we go to great lengths to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Worry about the relative merits of the contents of a pipeline though, seems a bit misplaced to me.

Discovering he is drinking ground water contaminated from a pipeline spill, only Zippy the Pinhead would say:

“Gosh, this tastes like crude, I wish it was jet turbine fuel!”

If the liquid is in your drinking water, the source doesn’t matter, it’s dirty.

Nobody wants to be in an airplane crash, but they do happen. Like airplane crashes, pipeline leaks also happen, but a quick perusal of the history of pipelines in North America since the end of WWII shows that the spills per carried volume are actually infinitesimal.

When spills do occur, they are quickly identified, stopped, and the spilled material is cleaned up. OK, here’s another disclaimer: I got this data from the Association of Oil Pipelines.

 “In 2013, 99.9992% of crude oil and petroleum product barrels delivered by transmission pipeline arrived at their destination safely”.

Pipelines are a far safer alternative than trucking, which has a far higher accident rate and the pollution from fine particulate matter from the truck, as well as wear and tear on the roads. The alternative, trains, are better from an environmental viewpoint, but trains also get into accidents.

Let’s consider the alternative: dying in the cold and dark of diphtheria.

Civilization brings us some pretty good things. Look around you right now and think about every “thing” that you see. How much of it is based on hydrocarbons?

How much of it arrived by ship?

It may surprise you, but the percentage of items carried by ship is going to number about 90%. (from Rose George, author of  “Ninety Percent of Everything”)

What fuels that ship? Bunker fuel, to talk dirty again. Bunker fuel is the part of the oil that condenses out from the cracking column in the refinery just after roofing tar. It’s dirty, and it won’t flow or even burn until it has been heated. We are part of a global civilization, and need to be aware of what drives that civilization.

Do I care about the environment?

Yes, deeply. I ride a bike and take the train to work, the thermostat in my house is set to “frigid”, my trash can goes out to the curb about every two months, and everything else gets recycled. I worry about deforestation, about overfishing of the seas, about plastics contaminating the ocean.

Stopping Keystone XL will not do anything about this.

Instead, if we really want to do something, let’s go for changes in taxation structures that will encourage us to conserve what we do have.

We need to have super-insulated houses and buildings. 

When we fill up our cars, how about if it cost $500 rather than $50?

Set taxes on aviation so that trip to Cancun costs $10,000 per ticket rather than $500.

Use the money that comes in to support not just good, but excellent public transportation. Got a big gas guzzling pick-up? Then you pay $10,000 per year in road tax. Got an electric vehicle? Then you pay no road tax at all.

Then, we won’t need a Keystone XL.

But until we don’t need it, we need to look at ourselves, and think about a change in lifestyle.


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