There are ‘many’ Keystone-like pipelines, all enabled by the Army Corps

You probably know about the Keystone XL pipeline and the nasty stuff it contains, like tar, sulphur, arsenic, and mercury. You probably think that stopping Keystone XL from being built will stop the tar-sands pipeline problem in the U.S.

What you don’t know is that there are many “Keystone”–like pipelines, all carrying diluted tar under high heat and heavy pressure, all owned by foreign corporations, all waiting to burst in a neighborhood near you.

And all getting approved as fast as possible, thanks to those bad people at … the Army Corps of Engineers.


Yes, the Army Corps of Engineers, those saviors of your liberty, are monetizing the carbon assets of Canadian tar-sands companies as fast as it can. And you thought they worked for you. If there were ever any doubt which side of the People-vs-Money coin your government was on, this should erase it. The Corp of Engineers works for Money, especially Tar Sands Money.

Let that sink in. Not only is the Corp of Engineers in on the plot, they’re a prime enabler. Rick Perlstein, writing at The Nation, has the story (my emphasis and paragraphing throughout):

You know something about tar sands, those petroleum deposits sedimented within mineral layers, concentrated in the Canadian province of Alberta. They can be converted into crude oil via a highly disruptive refining process, then transported to market via a process that is even more disruptive: overland and underwater pipelines.

You know about tar sands, no doubt, because of the Keystone XL controversy. At Bioneers yesterday I attended a strategy session led by tar sands activists who were glad that the Keystone XL controversy has focused attention of the whole ghastly business; XL, because it crosses an international border, requires presidential action, which has provoked activists to launch a highly visible pressure campaign aimed at the White House.

But they were worried about that attention, too—because “XL” serves a distraction from other, more proximate pipeline crises unfolding now, today, perhaps beneath a waterway or across a county near you, that you might be able to help stop now, through grassroots action.

And it’s not just new pipeline construction. Older existing pipelines are being repurposed to hold the new high-pressure goo. Perlstein explains:

It’s not just the record number of pipelines that are being builtThere is also the newly flourishing and massively risky practice of reversing the directional flow of existing pipelines, often in conjunction with massive increases in pressure that the pipes were not designed to withstand (here’s a story about a pipeline reversal in which the volume will almost triple).

That was almost certainly a major reason for the disastrous rupture of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline last March in Mayflower, Arkansas, which you may have heard about—or which you may not have heard about, given that the Federal Aeronautics Administrationin a suspicious move made in cooperation with ExxonMobil, immediately banned flights above the spill from descending below a floor of 1,000 feet, while inquiring reporters on the ground were told by local sheriff’s deputies, “You have ten seconds to leave or you will be arrested.”

You might want to stop and absorb that. It’s a stomachful. Note the role of the FAA in covering up for ExxonMobil. Whose government, exactly? This under a “transformational” Democratic administration. Transformational for Obama, perhaps (do click; it’s an interesting connection). And of course, transformational for us, in an end-of-the-Holocene kind of way.

It’s not one long pipe, it’s hundreds and hundreds of short ones

But back to our story. How are these pipelines getting approved? Perlstein describes the method by focusing on one pipe-reversal project, called “Keystone Pipeline Gulf Coast Project,” owned by our friends at TransCanada. This is not Keystone XL.

Perstein again:

The clever lawyers for the pipeline company TransCanada, you see, had devised a shifty way to get pipelines reversed, built or both, before opposition can have time to gel. They get a special kind of expedited permit from the Army Corps [of Engineers] called “Nationwide Permit 12,” which is supposed to be limited to projects that disturb less than a half-acre of wetland in a “single and complete project.”

But companies claim, in clear violation of the intent of the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, that each crossing of a body of water (there are more than a thousand for the project in question, adding up to 130 acres of high-quality forested wetlands) is a “separate” project, each falling below the threshold of scrutiny.

That way they can avoid public hearings, avoid filing a environmental impact—can avoid any accountability at all, really.

They claim that each single pipeline is really hundreds of separate short projects. But that’s absurd, and as Perlstein points out, a clear violation of the law. Does the Army Corp of Engineers really issue these permits? They do, and gladly.

[W]hat the NWP 12 scam allows is for pipeline companies to overwhelm the system, as the legal complaint from the Sierra Club and Clean Energy Future Oklahoma explains, by “piecemealing” what is obviously a single project (even though you obviously can’t have a pipeline if it’s in pieces), “into several hundred 1/2-acre ‘projects’ so as to avoid the individual permit process.”

So it is that Army Corps of Engineers, the named defendant in the suit, gets to mete out little chunks of permission every eleven miles or so, in secret, the public and the planet be damned.

Our Carbon Betters, and the Army that works for them. The Corps of Engineers expedites these things as fast as it can. Perlstein’s story is about how the Corps was sued to try and stop these approvals, and about the fate of the suit (spoiler alert: your first guess is right). Not only did the suit fail, it failed for an amazing reason — I’ll leave you to read for yourself what that reason is.

Perstein tells a good story, weaves a nice tale, all in a well-sized piece of writing. You won’t be unhappy you read it. And if you’re Keystone-minded, this is essential stuff. We’re being Keystoned every day without the phrase “Keystone XL” ever coming up.

Your bottom line — Not only does your government not work for you (see the FAA bit at the top of this post), but the Army brass — those wonderful people who parachuted troops onto all those Veterans Day gridirons — doesn’t work for you either. They work for ExxonMobil, TransCanada, Enbridge (another Canadian tar company), and their own post-“retirement” cashout careers with Gruman, Lockheed and the like. Money for them; toxic spills for you.

Keep that in mind the next time they want you to salute the military, our wars, or the military budget. You’re saluting your tax dollars at work, to someone else’s benefit.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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