In American history, cowboys and Indians have always been enemies, fighting against one another for control of the land. Today, their descendants have teamed up to fight an enemy that seeks to destroy them both – the Keystone XL pipeline. On April 22, members of the Cowboy Indian Alliance, a group of farmers, ranchers and tribal communities who live along the route of the proposed pipeline, will ride and march on Washington, setting up a camp for five days outside of the White House.
On the Bold Nebraska site, the Reject and Protect event describes what will occur during the demonstration:
“Four days after the Cowboy Indian Alliance tipis first go up on the Mall, we’ll gather at 11 a.m. on Saturday the 26 at an encampment to make our closing argument against the pipeline. As we gather, everyone there will be asked to make their thumbprint mark on a tipi. Then we’ll hear from the farmers, ranchers, tribal leaders and refinery community members who will be directly impacted by Keystone XL and the tar sands – and who have pledged to lead the resistance should it be approved.”
The environmental threat TransCanada’s Keystone XL poses is very real, and pipelines carrying tar sands oil have already had negative impacts. Last week, a BP Oil refinery in Chicago that processes tar sands destined for the Gulf of Mexico experienced a mechanical problem, causing an oil spill in Lake Michigan. This tainted the drinking water of millions of people, although officials with BP claim the environmental impact is very small and the water safe to drink.
In March 2013, the town of Mayflower, Ark., was inundated with more than 200,000 gallons of heavy Canadian tar sand crude when an Exxon-Mobile pipeline ruptured. A year later, many of the residents of the Northwood neighborhood, which saw the worst of the spill, have had to sell their homes to Exxon-Mobile in a buyout program because the spill had contaminated their homes beyond repair. Some home owners continue to pay mortgages on uninhabitable homes, and others developed health problems as a result of the toxic spill.
The Mayflower spill was widely reported, with the company coming under scrutiny for buried pipelines with a decades-old defect. But what about other lesser-known spills?
In the summer of 2010, Enbridge (another Canadian tar sands oil company) was responsible for an oil spill near Marshall, Mich. John LaForge, who owned a house in the path of the goopy tar sands spill, was forced to leave his home when the spill contaminated nearby Talmadge Creek, flooding his front yard and his well water. Nearly one million gallons were dumped into a two-mile span of Talmadge Creek. It contaminated nearly 36 miles of the Kalamazoo River, which Talmadge feeds.
Diluted bitumen – or dilbit – is another name for tar sands oil, and when it spills, the smell can cause immediate physical responses – burning throats, headaches, watery eyes, dizziness. Bitumen is also the dirtiest, thickest oil with a consistency of peanut butter. It must either be diluted or heated at extremely high temperatures in order to move it through pipelines. Because of the extreme measures oil companies must take to get this sludge moving toward refineries, dilbit spills can pose especially difficult cleanup challenges.
This is the reason why the Nebraska Cowboy and Indian Alliance is working so hard to prevent TransCanada from gaining approval from the White House to build its pipelines. Nebraska has a massive underground water supply, called the Ogallala Aquifer. If the Keystone XL succeeds in building its underground pipeline through this ecologically sensitive region, the water supply for millions of people will be compromised. A spill could devastate the region irreparably, and Nebraska ranchers and members of First Nations tribes understand this well. And even if the Obama administration approves the pipeline, the Alliance will do everything in its power to protect the land, the water, and the surrounding environment from dirty tar sands from flowing through the region.
On April 27, the last day of the demonstration, the Alliance will hold “an interfaith ceremony to formally close the tipi camp,” which starts at 10 a.m. Their message, “Reject the Keystone XL,” will hopefully give President Barack Obama a bit more to consider before he makes a final decision pertaining to TransCanada’s pipeline.
A list of organizations that support the protest include Oceti Sakowin People of the Seven Council Fires, Bold Nebraska, 350.org, CREDO, The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Conservation Law Foundation, Labor Network for Sustainability, Natural Resources Defense Council and others.
The United States does not need another tar sands pipeline. What the nation needs is to invest more money into alternative energy sources. The environmental impact of such pipelines may be huge, and the health of those in the path of the pipeline may be irreversibly compromised if it is built.