When This Oil Spills, It's 'A Whole New Monster'
By: Elizabeth Shogran
Sometime in the next few months, David Daniel probably will have to stand by and watch as bulldozers knock down his thick forest and dig up the streams he loves.
His East Texas property is one of more than 1,000 in the path of a new pipeline, the southern stretch of what is known as the Keystone XL system.
For years, Daniel has tried to avoid this fate — or at least figure out what risks will come with it. But it has been difficult for him to get straight answers about the tar sands oil the pipeline will carry, and what happens when it spills.
"I want to know exactly what I'm dealing with," he says. "Maybe other folks want to go through life with blinders on, but I want to know how to protect my family, and without knowing everything, you don't really know how."
New pipelines, like the one coming to Daniel's property, are spreading out around the United States as the nation gears up to get much more of its oil from Canada's deposits of tar sands in Alberta.
This is not conventional crude. It is so thick, sticky and full of sand that companies have to shoot steam deep underground to liquefy it or scrape it out of sprawling surface mines. These complex extraction techniques are expensive, and they also produce a lot more greenhouse gases than conventional oil wells. But high oil prices are finally making tar sands oil profitable.
Many people are welcoming the jobs, money and friendly oil that will come with these pipelines. And politicians including President Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney tout the benefits of getting more of our petroleum from such a friendly neighbor.
But pipeline spills are inevitable; hundreds of spills happen each year in the U.S.
And that terrifies some people in these pipelines' paths — Daniel included.
Planning For A Pipeline
Daniel lives about a 2 1/2-hour drive from Dallas in East Texas.
He learned a pipeline was headed his way four years ago, when a neighbor called him at work to alert him that surveyors had been on his land.
He rushed home and hurried down the shady path from his house to where spring-fed streams meander through what looks like a fairy-tale forest. He found surveyors' stakes, with some cryptic writing on them, right in the middle of his 20-acre property.
"I didn't know what 'K-X-L' was; '36-inch,' I understood what that is. That meant pretty big. And 'P-L' had to be pipeline," he recalls. "My heart just sunk that this is the piece of the property that we fell in love with, and this pipeline would tear all this up."
A few months after he saw the stakes, he got a letter from a corporation named TransCanada asking for permission to send out more surveyors.
The letter warned that TransCanada could take him to court if he didn't comply. He called an attorney whose name was on the letter.
"I said, 'I have questions. I don't know anything about this project,' " Daniel remembers.
According to Daniel, the lawyer said, "The only question I have for you is which pile to put you in, the cooperative pile or the f - - - ing uncooperative pile."
The lawyer says that he doesn't remember the conversation, and that he doesn't use such language. But Daniel took notes at the time, and he says the conversation is seared into his memory.
Daniel usually doesn't intimidate easily. He's a carpenter and used to work for circuses, riding motorcycles on the high wires. But he knew he didn't have the money to take on a big corporation.
TransCanada kept threatening Daniel that if he didn't give his permission, they'd get it from the courts through eminent domain, which forces people to give companies rights of way through private property for highways and other uses considered in the best interest of the general public.
What Daniel wants most from TransCanada is answers. He actually drew up a list of 54 questions.
"One of my many questions was: If there's a spill and we have to leave, are you going to take care of us?" Daniel says.
He also wanted to know things like: What kind of damage could a spill cause? And what chemicals would flow in the pipeline?
Published 1 year, 3 months ago under Law