The Jan. 24 editorial supporting approval of Keystone XL “for safety’s sake” offered an illusory argument, and for it to further argue that the case for regulatory approval is sound and that the private sector, not the federal government, should make the ultimate decision on the project’s economic decision is illustrative of the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s bias in supporting the pipeline.

The private sector is primarily, if not solely, concerned with the potential profit it can make, whereas, the federal government is rightly concerned with the infliction of harm to the public if Keystone XL is approved.

The Canadian tar-sands oil pits, from which the pipeline will originate, lie under an enormous arboreal forest that withdraws a huge amount of carbon dioxide and is the only habitat for some of the largest populations of woodland caribou in the world. In addition, 30 percent of North America’s songbirds and 40 percent of its waterfowl rely on the wetlands and waterways of the forest. Getting at the sands requires clear-cutting thousands of acres, diverting rivers and strip mining. Destroying that forest will make those species of songbirds go extinct, and carbon dioxide held by the forest will be released, adding to the increase of global warming.

The editorial weakly argues that the development of the Canadian oil sands most likely would continue even if the pipeline were not built. It failed to mention that the steel for the pipeline is made in China and India. Just one flaw in the steel along the 1,700 miles the pipeline must traverse or one mistake by a worker doing pipe fitting, and you will have a huge explosion that releases a vast amount of hot, poisoned water plus tar, which will sink into the local water table and aquifer. The surrounding land will become uninhabitable.

A historical account puts the likelihood of a spill in perspective. The existing Keystone I tar-sands pipeline has spilled more than 12 times in its first 12 months of operation. In July 2010, a spill of more than 800,000 gallons of toxic tar-sands crude from the Enbridge pipeline contaminated more than 30 miles of water and shoreline along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. This created public health problems, threats to groundwater, widespread fish kills and the destruction of wildlife habitat — contamination that is still being cleaned up, at a cost exceeding $700 million. Government tests indicate defective steel from the same Indian manufacturer.

To get the tar out of the ground, you have to pump a huge amount of water and toxic chemicals. The water sinks underneath the sticky oil, pushing it up, and the toxic chemicals help break down the stickiness of the tar. The water used is so polluted by the toxic chemicals that it is rendered unfit to drink. The oil companies do not pay for the water; they simply drain the aquifer it comes from, while letting most of the poisoned water stay in the ground.

Keystone XL will ensure short-term profits for the oil companies, profits permitted because the major costs are paid by U.S. citizens, namely “free” water from the aquifer, the “free” cost of the arboreal forest, the “free” cost of songbird extinction and the “free” cost of risk — major risk, largely uninsured and uninsurable, borne by millions of people living along the pipeline, now and for decades to come.


Melvin Ogurak lives in Edina.