We think of fossil fuels as dangerous to the environment because of the massive amounts of carbon emissions they create when they are burned. But that is just part of the problem. As the events of this week have proven, transporting fossil fuels is dangerous to the other parts of the environment as well.
While the protest against the Dakota Access pipeline continues in North Dakota, a 36″ diameter pipeline carrying gasoline from refineries in Houston up the East Coast to New York City broke near Birmingham, Alabama, allowing more than 300,000 gallons of gasoline to escape into the local environment. The news media, missing the main point altogether, immediately pounced on the Alabama fuel leak story to make dire pronouncements about rising fuel prices following the leak.
Hello? What about the damage to the environment, people? How can a responsible news organization ignore the impact of the spill on the environment but wring its hands about how much more it will cost people to fill their Escalades and Stupid Duties? What is wrong with you people? Does the health of the environment not merit even a mention in your reportage?
Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders lent his suppor to the Dakota Access protest late last week. He said something that actually makes sense. “We cannot allow our drinking water to be poisoned so that a handful of fossil fuel companies can make even more in profits. We stand united in saying, ‘Stop the pipeline, respect Native American rights and let us move forward to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels.’”
Indeed, Senator. Moving away from fossil fuels is exactly the point. The Dakota Nation has every right to be concerned about a catastrophic leak from a pipeline under the Missouri River. The issue is not if a leak will occur, but when.
The history of fossil fuel transportation and storage is replete with examples. The list of pipeline accidents at Wikipedia is long and growing longer every day. It does not even include ancillary events like oil train fires, the BP oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the Exxon Valdez disaster, or the enormous methane leak near Los Angeles last year that caused 8,000 people to leave their homes.
The governors of Alabama and Georgia have bravely stepped up to the plate to declare a state of emergency in their states. But those orders have nothing to do with protecting the states or their residents from futher environmental harm. Instead, they permit truck drivers to work longer than the maximum number of hours allowed by law so all that precious gasoline can be trucked to fuel starved motorists. They also warn merchants against price gouging, which is strictly forbidded during a state of emergency.
How about prohibiting fossil fuel companies from transporting hazardous materials that endanger the health and safety of your residents? Why are there no state laws against that? Does anyone seriously think the toxic stew seen in the photo above will somehow dissipate and have no impact on the aquifer below? Is there anybody who believes all the heavy crude that gushed out of the BP offshore oil well has not coated the floor of the Gulf of Mexico with a lethal layer of petroleum that will impact local fish and shellfish stocks for generations? Where do we think all those spilled hydrocarbons go after they are released into the environment? Mars?
In the calculation of fossil fuel costs, there is never any mention of the effects they have on water. The billions of gallons of toxic water injected into the earth as part of the fracking process is not taken into account. The millions of people whose health is adversely affected by contaminated water is not take into account.
One of the issues in the current presidential campaign is rebuidling the American economy into the robust engine of prosperity it once was. The way to do that, according to Donald Trump, is to redouble our commitment to fossil fuels. More coal, more oil, more natural gas. Extract every molecule from beneath the surface of the earth so we can make America great again. Has any candidate for public office ever said anything more stupid than that?
Here’s a thought. Instead of turning back the clock to a time long ago, why not capitalize on the promise of the future? Think of the profits waiting for a country that uses only renewable energy to power its economy. Picture the extra productivity from workers who are not made sick by the land, water, and air around them. Imagine the new industries and the jobs that will be created by building solar farms, wind turbines, hydroelectric, geothermal, and tidal power facilities.
It’s a question of priorities. Is it more important that our roads be clogged with more and bigger vehicles? Or is it more important to leave our children and grandchildren a clean, healthy environment? We assume that fossil fuels are the answer because they have been the basis of our prosperity for the past 100 years. It’s hard to imagine life without them. But that is exactly what we must do if our country is to long endure.
Source: Alabama.com Photo credit: Colonial Pipeline