How About Those Pipelines?

By now you have heard about the broken oil pipeline in
Mayflower, Arkansas that ExxonMobil is currently downplaying. By now you have
heard the residents of this neighborhood say that they bought their homes
without ever being informed that a pipeline full of tar sand oil from Canada
ran near their property. By now you have seen the photos of the nearby creek
and the lake with those only-somewhat-effective booms deployed to try to keep
the oil out of the lake. And by now you have seen the poor ducks that have to
be cleaned up after each of these oil spills, covered with oil once again. It’s
a wonder we have any ducks left. Apparently this is the third incident of this
type in recent history.

Do you want to live near an oil pipeline? Maybe you do live
near one right now and you don’t even know it. If you are someone who backs the
Keystone Pipeline (because we need energy and jobs), will you let them build it
across your property? The media tried to excuse the break by saying that the
pipeline was old and to suggest that the technology in 2013 is much improved.
But ExxonMobil, perhaps with an eye to liability issues, denied that the age of
the pipe had anything to do with the break. What did cause the break? We assume
we will eventually hear the results of the investigation (if there is one).

This environmental mess, which has chased people out of
their homes (we hope temporarily) and made a neighborhood unlivable, feeds into
all of the arguments that we, the clean energy/clean water people have against
building any more pipelines to carry oil (oil that doesn’t even belong to us).
Call us any names you please, say that we are against capitalism, against
business, against full employment, against energy independence and in this case
we do seem to be all of these things. But this is not really where we are
coming from. This is the rhetoric of our opponents who for some reason are not
worried about our air or our water or the health of the planet. Why aren’t they
worried about these things? They say it is because these are made-up things.
They say these things are not really happening. But science has measured these

We have to ask why these deniers refuse to accept the
evidence of the scientists. Maybe it is not just about money, maybe it is about
their wish to believe that our lives will not have to change. Maybe they feel that
these truths will ruin America’s greatness, although I don’t think this is an
inevitable outcome of not building one pipeline. I was almost swayed by
opposition argument about how important the Keystone is to our economy, and I
felt that if they moved the pipeline away from Nebraska’s water supply that I
might relent and back the pipeline; but, after hearing about the facts that
several pipelines have broken and that people who buy homes are not even
informed about nearby pipelines, I am back to being definite about my
opposition to the Keystone Pipeline. I have some allies and I have some

Robert Redford has spoken up over and over about the reasons
why we should say no to the Keystone Pipeline. He even attended a climate
change rally held in Washington, DC in February. Here is some of what Robert
Redford has to say:

director and environmental activist

You Can Move
Washington, D.C. Forward on Climate Change

02/03/2013 7:27 pm

February 17, tens of thousands are coming together in Washington, D.C. to ask
the president to stand up for climate. The Forward on Climate Rally is expected
to be the largest climate rally in U.S. history.

How fitting that this will happen on President’s Day weekend after the
inspiring inaugural address from President Obama about the moral necessity to
tackle climate change for ourselves and for our children.

This is the beginning. The beginning of a real battle, for America’s future.

Real economic security is found in clean energy. That’s our future, not dirty
energy that threatens us with ever worsening harm from climate change.

From rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to limiting carbon pollution
from our nation’s dirty power plants, President Barack Obama’s legacy will rest
squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would carry the dirtiest oil on the planet
from Canada to America’s Gulf Coast’s refineries and ports, and then most of it
likely exported overseas. It would promote one of the most damaging industrial
practices ever devised, to coax low-grade crude oil from tar sands. We don’t
need another pipeline for Canadian tar sands. It’s not in our national interest
but is a profit scheme for big oil that needs to be rejected.

And in addition to the ability to say no to this dirty fuels project, the
president has both the authority and the responsibility to limit the amount of
industrial carbon pollution emitted from power plants. Taking this action will
set the right course for reducing carbon pollution domestically and send the
right signals that the U.S. is ready to lead globally. The Natural Resources
Defense Council has laid out a common-sense plan that will cut carbon
pollution; provide jobs to thousands of Americans; and save families real money
in electricity bills.

He also has a video that you can search for on-line.

I worry about the fresh water resources on Earth. The Law of
Conservation of Matter and Energy applies here. It says that energy is neither
created nor destroyed but simply changes form. Which means that matter can
become energy and sometimes energy can become matter, but there is only a
certain amount of energy in the universe and we cannot add to it, we can only
move it around from one state to another. This same law of physics is true about
the fresh water available on Earth. There is only so much of it. Once it gets
dirty (especially with oil or toxins) we don’t really know how to turn it back
into potable fresh water. And so far we have not found any place to get more
fresh water. I wrote a post about water wars. Here’s a reprint. The break and
subsequent oil leak in Arkansas has me worrying about future water wars all
over again.
How Likely Are Water Wars? – (Reprint of previous post)


I am not the only person on the
planet who worries about water shortages. I have been doing some reading online
and there are many reports about the worldwide shortage of fresh water
resources. Scientific American
reports about it and CNN, and Web of Creation (which may not sound
quite as good as the other two sources). Some places never had great reserves
of fresh water, places that are obvious like deserts and interior areas of
Africa which only have rain for a part of the year and may have droughts that
last for several years. We know the American Southwest also is a desert or near
desert climate and lacks fresh water resources. If an area is unpopulated the
lack of fresh water is not a problem (nature adapts), but as we have spread
into areas where fresh water is scarcer, which people have done all over the
world, water supplies in these areas become more problematic. Redirecting
rivers will no longer do it for us.


The lack of water can mean a lack of food for obvious reason.
Crops do not grow without water. When populations try to grow food in low rain
or snow environments they must irrigate. To irrigate one takes groundwater and
exposes it on top of the earth. It will evaporate and fall again as
precipitation, but perhaps not in the same area where it evaporated. It takes 1
ton of water to grow 1 ton of wheat, which makes wheat a water-costly food,
says BBC News. Many other foods do
not require as much water but do not have the appeal of wheat. We may find
ourselves having to get used to things like soybeans. Of course meat is also a
very water-costly food.

Irrigation and raising farm animals are also activities that increase the
pollution of fresh water. Manufacturing waste pollutes water, or air and
therefore water. Retrieving and using fossil fuels also pollutes water in all
kinds of ways. Of course, polluted water cannot be used to quench thirst
without negative outcomes, including death. Children are especially susceptible
to diseases borne in polluted water, especially in poorer countries without
water filtration systems and in low-water environments. There are dead water
zones even in salt water off many of the coastlines of developed nations

Scientists also say that global warming is having an effect on
water reserves as snow packs, glaciers and ice caps dwindle in size. The Yellow
River in China never used to run dry, then it ran dry for about 15 days a year,
and now it is dry for over 200 days a year. It is not the only river that dries
up for part of the year when it never did before.

The 10 worst cities in America in terms of available fresh water
are not at all surprising. We could almost name them without a list. However,
more and more people are moving to these areas. Some populations have grown as
much as 20% in the last decade which creates a larger demand for water. They
are, as named in an article by Yahoo

1. Los
Angeles – Major water supply, Colorado River Basin, Pop. 3,831,868

2. Houston
– Major water supply, Jasper Acquifer, 2 Lakes, Pop. 2,257,926

3. Phoenix
– Major water supply, Colorado River Basin, Pop. 1,593,659

4. San
Antonio – Major water supply – Groundwater – Pop. 1,373,668

5. San
Francisco Bay Area – Major water supply, Various, Lake Hetch Hetchy – Pop. Over

6. Fort
Worth – Major water supply, Multiple – Pop. 727,577

7. Las
Vegas – Major water supply, Lake Mead/Colorado River – Pop. 567,000

8. Tucson
– Major water supply, Local ground water – Pop. 543,000

9. Atlanta
– Major water supply – Lake Lanier, Ga – Pop. 540,922

10. Orlando
– Major water supply, Floridan Aquifer – Pop. 235,860

There are spots around the world with water problems similar to
these problems of United States cities or some areas with even more pressing
needs for fresh water. Will those of us with plentiful supplies of fresh water
be expected to share? Will companies privatize our water supplies and sell them
to us for big bucks? Will water resources belong to public utilities which give
people with plentiful water no choice about sharing water; water might essentially
be sold down the grid like electricity. Will these water resources be
distributed equally or go to the highest bidder? Will some of us take luxurious
showers while others die of thirst? Oh, we already do this! Will we continue to
develop wetlands out of existence although we know how much they contribute to
a healthy water cycle? Will we need a Global Water Management Agency? How happy
would privileged people be about this? Oh, the protests! Will we learn to
control the weather so it will rain where and when we need it to? We can’t even
desalinate the oceans because we have nowhere to put the brine that is produced
as a side product.

How many years of fresh water remain on our beleaguered little
planet? What things can we do now to tip the fresh water resources in our
favor? Humans are the only species on earth which can manage our water
resources. Will we actually do any of those things unless laws are passed to
force greater respect for fresh water resources, which for economic reasons,
seems unlikely? Perhaps we could all go live in low water areas and leave the
great water zones pristine. Then we can all have our water piped in. Humans,
for all our capacity to evaluate and recognize problems before they become
crises, seem unable to react quickly to take steps to lessen the impact of
these problems. It could be a fatal flaw.

Posted 31st January
2012 by Nancy Brisson




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