Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region threatened by fossil fuel extraction industries (other places, too)

Posted May 6th, 2013 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region threatened by fossil fuel extraction industries (other places, too)

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Mostly I think residents of the Upper Midwest do not have a clue – even though there are clues – about what’s in store for us. Tar sands oil pipeline battles are mostly about stopping the Keystone XL and the threat it poses to the Great Plains aquifers (keeping in mind that the southern section of Keystone is already well underway).

This is all good, as are the various campaigns targeting the Alberta tar sands oil industry itself. But one hopes this attention is opening people’s eyes to the greater picture here, raising awareness to how much this is only one part of the threat of the new fossil fuel regimen that has gone into overdrive thanks to high energy prices and new technologies that make super-exploitation of oil and gas reserves possible.alberta tar sands

We need to start seeing the whole picture in order to see how true it is that the section of the Keystone that is the subject of so much controversy is only one piece, albeit an important one, of a whole plan for how to move the Alberta bitumen, and the oil being fracked from the Bakken fields in North Dakota and Montana, across our nation.

Here in Wisconsin, we are finally beginning to get a picture of what is intended for this state in the service of moving all that nasty crude around. And when you widen your gaze beyond the local threats, you begin to see the vast nationwide network that is being constructed – not only pipelines but also railroads and barges in the Great Lakes up through the St. Lawrence Seaway – to move Alberta’s bitumen from North America across the oceans to places like China and India to feed their insatiable thirst for energy to feed industrial growth.

I don’t want my state, my beautiful Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region, to be used this way.

pipeline by 2019 fourth-draft-continental-update-april-2009

Source: Oil Sands Truth

Check out the image to see how vast and absurd this is – to move tar sands bitumen, about the dirtiest stuff ever removed from the earth, all the way to the deep ports of Maine as well as the ports along the Gulf of Mexico. Our country is being used to service Canada’s emerging role as a petrostate.


Video: Tar sands oil extraction: the dirty truth

Keep in mind that this has little to do with our “energy security” since we will be burning precious little of this stuff. No, we are being used by the companies engaged in the oil tar sands industry and the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper largely in a transhipment role, to move the oil from Alberta to the sea for export. This is an industry that has already destroyed and contaminated boreal forests and the Athabasca River, and made an industrial wasteland of an area the size of England, an area that will double in size in the near future by recent approval of the Canadian government.

Then hold this additional thought: the industry, besides being a voracious destroyer of the planet, is also not safe. Spills have become a plague and they are on the rise. For all the promises of safety, pipelines still leak, accidents are common. They learned this along the Kalamazoo River and in Mayflower, Arkansas.

A pipeline project called the Alberta Clipper will bring bitumen to refineries in Superior WI and then southeast across my state to Illinois, then both south and east from there. Enbridge, the pipeline company responsible for the Kalamazoo spill, is seeking to double the amount of oil flowing from Alberta and Bakken through the Wisconsin pipeline section. Railroads are already shipping the stuff through the state, on railroad tracks right along the Mississippi River, and through towns and countryside and right through the city of Milwaukee. And trains have accidents. They learned this in Minnesota where a derailment of a freight train carrying bitumen caused tens of thousands of gallons of the toxic goo to spill out over MN countryside.

Another project under consideration would load bitumen onto barges in the port of Superior and sail it right through the Great Lakes, through the still-almost pristine Lake Superior, to eastern ports.

I want to write: are we absolutely out of our minds? But then I remind myself that very few people in my part of the world are even aware of these plans. They are being decided upon without our consultation, without any chance to respond, protest, organize, or mount an effective opposition.

I know we claim to live in a democracy here, but we actually do not, because when it comes to our future well-being on this planet, most of the crucial decisions are being made before we ever hear about them.

If Keystone did not require the involvement of the State Department along with the E.P.A., therefore involving the White House (because it crosses an international border), 350.org, Tar Sands Blockade, and others would not have had the time to mount the movement that has been successfully raising consciousness about the pipeline over the past couple of years.

The Alberta Clipper needs similar attention. The plan for the barges, the movement by rail already well underway, these things also need similar attention. And you get people’s attention by announcing an imminent threat to their lives and well-being and the future of their children – which is what all of this amounts to.

Here in Wisconsin, we have the misfortune of having vast quantities of the perfect sand required for fracking, sand that is mixed with the toxic cocktail of water and chemicals that are flushed down into the ground to free up the gas bubbles in shale rock. In our western counties where this sand exists, formed by Mother Earth over thousands of year, strip-mining for frac-sand has already destroyed rich farmlands, threatened or already poisoned waterways, air, and soil. The sand contains silica, the stuff that causes silicosis, a lethal lung disease. Silica dust blows around farms, fills the air, makes people sick [check out frac-sand mining photos of this here].


Video: one woman’s testimony of being trapped in a frac-sand mining distrist

By the time the industry is being discovered by people of this state, 70 such mines already exist and dozens more are planned. That’s what happens when an industry moves in fast and it and the politicians that support it just don’t want you to know too much about it before the fact [more personal testimonies here].

Now we are dealing with the fact – an already-entrenched industry setting farmers against each other, claiming job creation as a leading benefit (as if other kinds of businesses or more just farm policies could not also employ people), and claiming energy benefits for the society at large (you know, providing all that energy the industry says we want for our way of life – which is true).

Friends, the growth of fossil fuel extractive industries is explosive, vast, it boggles the mind if you step back and look at the whole picture. Because of high energy prices (yes, we are all paying for this destruction every time we refuel our cars, fly on an airplane, or pay our utility bills) and technological breakthroughs (like giant earth-destroying machines), humans are now able to get to vast energy sources still buried in the earth, and the industry and politicians determined to keep industrial growth as the predominant economic model for the planet are bent on getting every bit of it as fast as they can to feed the insatiable appetites of the Growth Gods. Much of this is happening faster than we realize, and our economies at local, state, national, and international levels are becoming steadily more dependent on this industry.

And so I’m writing this today to help all of us especially in this part of the world, the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region, to become deeply disturbed by what is going on, by the threats posed to our living habitats, and to become ever more inspired to do what we can to disrupt these plans. This is political work, for sure, but it is even more right now an educational work, a work to build constituencies of love for our ecological communities, the habitats in which we live, to build constituencies made up of defenders of those communities.

I am putting a lot of time and energy into that this year and next. From witnessing to the tar sands industry, from work on the frac-sand mining phenomenon in western Wisconsin (now also in Iowa’s uniquely wonderful sand bluffs), from speaking and writing, from lending time and energy to community organizations working on these issues, this effort will be a real priority for this project.

Because our love and care for the planet has to come down to our most intimate relationships with it. We have to feel this like the rape of a loved one, because that’s what it is. We need to appreciate that all of this put together looks like a picture of violent destruction of habitats in which we live and move and have our being. When you start putting together the tar sands exploitation, the pipeline networks, the trains and barges, the fracking and the frac-sand mining, and then throw in our old favorites like mountaintop removal coal-mining, and the proposed open pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin – well, you get the idea. It adds up to a terrifying view of our future on this planet.

I hope this alarming scenario is not debilitating but rather mobilizing, empowering, angering in that good sense that makes people want to get to work.

So let’s do what we can right where we are to slow this industry down, to slow it enough, to stop the destruction enough, that we can start pondering a different future than the one slated for us by these extractive industries and by the Industrial Growth Gods. And then let’s go about the work of creating that different future – together, in community. The pace of the pondering is way too slow right now for the pace of the destruction. But it is still not too late. And there is so much healing that can begin to repair some of the damage if we can keep it from unraveling much further.

The slowing of the destruction and the work of new creation – both are necessary, and the stakes could not be higher.

Mother Earth has taken a lot of punishment from this species. But she is resilient. Now we have to prove that we are as well.

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