This Saturday, September 27, Willie Nelson and Neil Young will join the KeystoneXL (KXL) Pipeline fighters in the cause to protect clean water and soil. These musical legends will be playing along with other artists at a sold out benefit concert directly on the proposed Pipeline route at the home and family farm of Art and Helen Tanderup in Neligh, Nebraska.
If approved, the KXL Pipeline would cut right through the sacred Ponca Trail of Tears, also on the Tanderup’s land. Nearly 8,000 people are expected to attend, more than the number of people who live in the entire county of Neligh. In this small Nebraska town, this concert is what everyone is talking about.
The Pipeline is a controversial topic in Nebraska. TransCanada, the company behind the proposed KXL Pipeline, has spent a small fortune running ads on the local radio stations promoting the benefits of their project, most of which focus on jobs and a boost in the local economy. The trusting people of Nebraska, like folks all over the Midwest, care about jobs and small business. Why wouldn’t they want a boost in the local economy?
The trouble is, what TransCanada fails to highlight is that the number of jobs that will be created by their proposed project will result in very few locally sourced employees, and will be hired on a temporary basis. In addition, because employees are offered private housing, eateries, and entertainment in “man camps,” local businesses will likely see little to no boost in sales from the temporary “tourism.”
What the locals can expect, however, is near certain pollution of their water and air. For farmers and ranchers, this is a major concern, and together they have formed the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, joining BOLD Nebraska in the movement to “reject and protect.”
Pipelines inevitably leak. There’s just no way around it. Here’s a thought experiment: take a straw and bend it in half, then try to use it to suck hand-squeezed lemonade from an icy cold glass. What do you get? Massive disappointment, if you like lemonade. Try a little harder and eventually you will be rewarded with the sweet and sour taste of summer.
That straw is a good analogy for a KXL Pipeline, but instead of lemonade the “straw” is carrying tar sands loaded with a cocktail of chemicals to improve the flow of the thick tar sands oil. Unlike most straws, pipelines are rarely perfectly straight, so to “suck” the oil through the “bends” in the “straw,” the contents must be pumped at high pressure.
Angles create pressure points that run the risk of leaks. In fact, environmental impact reports on the project make explicit that some leakage is expected. With 840,000 barrels of crude oil a day, family farmers are worried.
Rightly so. In 2010, Enbridge’s 30-inch Line 6B pipe poured 843,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the waters that feed the Kalamazoo River outside of Marshall, Michigan. Residents as far as 35 miles downstream were evacuated and told not to drink the tap water. Costing more than a billion dollars, this was one of most expensive spills in U.S. history, so far.
On a hot sunny day in April, farming alongside local ranchers who were helping on the Tanderup Farm, I listened to concerns. To water their cattle, ranchers can simply grab a hollow pipe and stab it into the ground. Water flows freely from the top of the pipe, offering a welcomed cool drink to their free-range cows. This is common practice in the Sand Hills, where many of the farmers and ranchers fighting against the Pipeline live and work.
Reservoirs that sit atop the Ogallala Aquifer aren’t far below the surface. This means that all the happy little microorganisms, worms and fungi that would usually do the thankless job of cleaning up our mess, for example, oil spills, don’t have the chance. So, when oil and chemicals spill from the pipes onto the land, some will most certainly make its way into the water and subsequently into the livestock and vegetables all Americans eat – not to mention the water our farmers drink and bathe their children in.
If this pipeline is approved, then the people of this great nation and the leaders of our democracy will once again be choosing corporate pressure over health. In his latest release, which concertgoers can almost certainly expect to hear this weekend, Neil Young asks, “Who’s going to stand up?”
This Saturday, I’m standing up alongside the farmers, ranchers and Native Americans who have worked tirelessly to be stewards of the land, because healthy food and clean water are priceless. Will you join me?