The U.S. government must consult with tribes on any issue that might affect them, but tribes say the government has failed to do so in regards to the path of the Keystone XL pipeline — a project that carries massive environmental and social concerns.
LINCOLN, Nebraska — Thousands of people are expected to rally at the Harvest the Hope concert on a farm near Neligh, Nebraska, on Sept. 27. Headlined by Neil Young and Willie Nelson, proceeds from the sold out show will benefit the Indigenous Environmental Network, Bold Nebraska and the Cowboy & Indian Alliance — groups that have united in opposition to the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“It’s about people expressing our needs to the government,” said Aldo Seoane, Oglala Lakota and member of the Cowboys & Indian Alliance. “We’ve all pulled together against this.”
TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL, a 1,179-mile, 36-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline, is slated to begin in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, enter the United States at Montana, then snake its way through South Dakota and Nebraska on its way to the Gulf Coast.
Art and Helen Tanderup, the owners of the farm which will host the upcoming concert, are members of the Cowboy & Indian Alliance, a group of tribal members, ranchers and farmers along the pipeline’s path who refuse to release their land to TransCanada.
The pipeline would also run through the historic Ponca Tribe “Trail of Tears,” in which the Ponca people were forcibly removed from their homeland in 1877.
“We’ve planted with members of the Ponca Nation, native seed on their native soil, growing right now on the pipeline route,” said Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, an environmental advocacy group that started in early 2010 — just months before the announcement of the proposed pipeline.
“So we took the battle on and never looked back,” Kleeb said, also noting that native corn will be harvested this fall for the first time in 137 years.
The alliance is grounded in a spiritual relationship, she said. There’s been a lot of cultural learning from both native and non-native. There’s been a lot of discussion, she continued, “Some of it uncomfortable.”
“An elder reminded us that the land didn’t belong to us. It’s their homeland. But always there’s been a sense of humor. There’s been emotional discussions, when we listened as an elder said they understand how the farmers’ and ranchers’ blood and sweat went into the land. Their ancestors are in the land, too. We didn’t know about treaty rights or cultural resource studies.”
Kleeb said Bold Nebraska sees the pipeline as catering to an export market. “They won’t make money if it’s land-locked to the U.S.,” she said.
Mark Cooper, a spokesman for TransCanada, told MintPress News, “As the International Energy Agency says, energy demand will increase by 33 percent by 2035 and about 75 percent will still come from carbon-based fuels. So far to date in 2014, Americans have consumed an average of 19 million barrels of oil per day, and are producing about 8.3 million barrels a day of that domestically. The U.S. will continue to be a net importer well into the future.”
Oil creates thousands of products people use every day, not just gasoline and diesel fuels, he said. “The plastics that encase our cellphones and televisions, asphalt for our roads and even the latex gloves doctors use when delivering a baby – all come from crude feed-stocks.”
Seoane, however, pointed out that what’s coming from Alberta is not “true oil.” “It’s tar sand. It’s a very toxic process to help emulsify to pass through a pipe. It can seep into aquifers and sink to the bottom.”
While Canada is already the largest importer of crude oil to the U.S., Cooper said, Americans still rely on oil from countries in the Middle East and Venezuela.
“Keystone XL will displace equally intensive heavy oil that comes from these countries that are often unfriendly to American values with heavy and light blends of oil from both Canada and the Bakken region of the United States,” he said.
In addition to environmental concerns, though, native people also contend that tribes were not consulted on the pipe’s proposed path. The government is obligated, under its own policy, to consult with native people whenever an issue will affect them.
“We’re not hearing from the State Department or the Department of the Interior,” Seoane said. “They’re relegating us to a position without a voice. We’re not able to effect or negotiate.”
This is a land, treaty and water rights issue, he said, adding, “Obama needs to come down and talk to us.”
Ultimately, the president has the final say on any approvals.
Holdout delays pipeline
“How can a foreign company from another country be able to come here and have eminent domain over someone’s property?” Seoane said.
On Sept. 5, the Nebraska Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the appeal of Thompson v. Heineman, a case that upheld three Nebraska landowners’ fight to protect their land from TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Earlier in the year, on Feb. 19, Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled Nebraska’s pipeline as “unconstitutional and void” and determined TransCanada is not authorized to condemn the property of the plaintiffs, Susan Luebbe, Susan Dunavan and Randy Thompson.
The decision struck down a 2012 law passed by the Nebraska Legislature which created a procedure tht would let Gov. Dave Heineman — rather than the Public Service Commission — approve the location of the pipeline.
“In Nebraska, the state constitution, for more than a century, requires the Public Service Commission to decide this,” said David Domina, the Omaha-based attorney who represented the plaintiffs. “We filed suit based on the state constitution.”
The ruling left TransCanada with no route to build across the state.
Domina explained that Keystone XL needs a permit from the U.S. to cross the international border that only the president can grant. TransCanada applied for that permit in 2008, then a review process was established for the State Department.
The State Department is required to know exactly where the pipeline will go in the U.S. Once it crosses the border, safety factors are governed by federal law, but states control the routes.
“They need permission from each state to be approved,” said Domina. “Then, if a state permits it, the company can use eminent domain. The state can approve the route, but the State Department must know the route and inform the president.”
Our women and children
Meanwhile, at camps across the plains, Lakota people have been gathering for prayer.
“We’re afraid of how this threatens our women and children,” Seoane, of the Cowboys & Indians Alliance, said. “The camps of workers, 1,200 to 2,000 men, bring a 70 percent increase in violent crimes.”
He said there is not much they can do to protect everyone, and the Violence Against Women Act that will allow tribal nations to prosecute non-native offenders does not go into effect until 2015.
“A reservation the size of Rhode Island is difficult to patrol,” he continued. “One region has only one sheriff in the area. It may take the officer 45 minutes to respond to a call.”
He pointed out Winter and Gregory as rural communities of major concern.
“There’s been awful stories about what’s happening to women, children and young men,” he said, adding that the jobs the pipeline might bring aren’t worth the price paid by the community.
A study by Cornell University Global Labor Institute projected that Keystone XL will create between 93 and 257 jobs for residents in Montana; 121 to 333 jobs in South Dakota; 90 to 248 jobs in Nebraska; 6 to 18 jobs in Kansas; 41 to 113 jobs in Oklahoma; and 156 to 470 jobs in Texas.
The report also forecast negative impacts on the “green economy.”
“By helping to lock in U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, Keystone XL will impede progress toward green and sustainable economic renewal and will have a chilling effect on green investments and green jobs creation,” the report states. “The green economy has already generated 2.7 million jobs in the U.S. and could generate many more.”
If it weren’t for the people’s unified response, this project would already be a done deal, said John Crabtree, media director for the Center for Rural Affairs, which joined Bold Nebraska in opposition to the pipeline.
“One of our biggest concerns is the Ogallala Aquifer,” said Crabtree. “The aquifer is crucial to our survival here in Nebraska. Once it’s poisoned, it’s done.”
The Ogallala Aquifer supplies eight states and is the heart of Nebraska. Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska, said it supplies 85 percent of Nebraskans’ drinking water and 35 percent of the water for agricultural land throughout the country.
Kleeb said she’s never seen an oil spill that remains localized. “But if companies want to use that term ‘localized’ – it is families who will never use their land again.”
The science on Keystone XL is clear, said Cooper, the TransCanada spokesperson, and the latest Environmental Impact Statement from the State Department states that the proposed pipeline will not have a discernable impact on climate change and will have a minimal impact on the environmental resources along the route.
The Sierra Club, however, reports that oil sands are 16 times more likely to breach a pipeline than regular crude oil.
“The pipe they’re installing is a half-inch thick,” Seoane said. “Mixing sand with corrosive chemicals and heating it to 150 degrees, how long before it cuts through the metal? It’s 40 feet underground. How long will it take for anyone to get to a leak? And hope to God it hasn’t leaked into an underground water main.”
The Keystone XL would pump 830,000 barrels each day through the U.S. heartland. Seoane said that moving each barrel requires 2 to 6 barrels of fresh water (110 to 350 gallons). “We don’t want our water being used that way,” he said.
But Cooper said TransCanada has an industry leading safety and operating record, with a focus on zero incidents.
“On the original Keystone Pipeline there has not been any issue with the integrity of the pipeline,” he said. “We have already safely delivered more than 610 million barrels of oil into U.S. Midwest refineries since this pipeline began operating in 2010.”
TransCanada takes additional safety measures when building pipelines near waterways, he said, such as “using high-strength carbon steel that can withstand the impact from a 65-ton excavator with 3.5 inch teeth. Our standards for steel are incredibly high. The steel TransCanada will use for Keystone XL is specially designed steel with special features that reduce corrosion and enhance strength and pliability.”
Pipelines are monitored 24 hours a day from a high-tech pipeline monitoring and control center and through ongoing inspections and maintenance by field staff across North America, he continued. Employees are regularly trained in how to respond to an incident.
“We use satellite technology that sends data every five seconds from thousands of sensors that can detect very small changes in pressure, temperature, flow rate and other indicators that are used to detect a possible leak,” Cooper explained. “In the rare event that a drop in pressure is detected, we can isolate any section of our pipeline by remotely closing any of the hundreds of valves on the system within minutes.”
“What it all comes down to is the waters,” said Tom Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota.
Poor Bear, who’s been working with Bold Nebraska, Cowboys & Indians and others opposing the proposed pipeline, said, “We need to protect the waters for our future generations.”
“I shared with them ‘Now you know how Indian people feel about Mother Earth,’” he said. “We only have one mother. Without water, there is no life. As one of our ancestors said, this land does not belong to us, we borrowed it from our children.”
Poor Bear said he sees the project as an 1,800 mile black snake boring into Mother Earth and spitting venom into earth.
“They did not consult with us,” he said. “Coming across our sacred lands, our burial lands, they never had respect to consult with us. They avoid tribes.”
Seoane added that, “TransCanada was supposed to do a survey but did not consult with recognized tribes. It violates NAGPRA.” (NAGPRA, or the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, requires that American Indian and Native Alaskans and Hawaiians be consulted if a project is expected to encounter cultural items of gravesites.)
TransCanada’s Keystone I had 14 leaks in its first year of operation, while its Bison pipeline exploded just two months after the company testified to its safety. The Indigenous Environmental Network reports that “the conditions TransCanada has agreed to for Keystone XL are similar to those agreed to for prior pipelines largely replicate existing requirements.”
Indigenous Environmental Network began as a grassroots effort in 1990 based in Minneapolis. It has since expanded globally to partner with Indigenous people, ethnic organizations, faith-based and women groups, youth, labor and environmental organizations, and others to impact policies effecting environmental justice.
The group reports that in northern Alberta, Canada, beneath 10.6 million acres — an area roughly the size of Florida — are oil sands, a mixture of sand, clay, and a heavy crude oil or tarry substance called bitumen. To extract this, the industry strips all the trees, plants, and critical habitat called “over-burden.”
“I’m sad to hear in the U.S. President Obama hasn’t listened,” said Chief Steve Courtoreille of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, a community of about 2,500 in Alberta.
“When it comes to money, where there’s a prime minister or president, they don’t care about the impact to people or land. Once you destroy land, it’s gone. That’s the way we understand land,” he said.
In 2005, in the case of Mikisew Cree First Nation v. Canada: The Duty to Consult and Accommodate Aboriginal Treaty Rights, about development issues with the Wood Buffalo National Park, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the government had breached its responsibility to consult and its obligation to respect the treaty rights of the Mikisew.
Alberta approved the withdrawal of 119.5 billion gallons of water for oil sands extraction in 2007. An estimated 82 percent of this water comes from the Athabasca River. This water flows downstream, carrying northward into indigenous territories.
“We won our case in the Supreme Court in 2005, the right to be consulted,” said Courtoreille. “Since that time, the government has not consulted. They tell us to go to the hearings. We go. We gave them a lot of information, and it is ignored.”
New health study
“In our land there is so much water in the ground,” Courtoreille said. “It’s all polluted. Nobody drinks it.”
Locals are noticing changes in the land, and fish are found deformed. A study released in July conducted by the University of Manitoba, University of Saskatchewan, the Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is the first to correlate oil sands extraction and declines in health in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta.
Stephane McLachlan, professor at the University of Manitoba, warned, “The results of this study, as they relate to human health and especially the increasing cancer rates, are alarming and should function as a dramatic wake up call to industry, government and communities alike.”
Community members who participated in the study were concerned about declines in health and increases in allergies, asthma, hypertension and gastrointestinal illness. The study states that 21.3 percent of the participants had experienced various types of cancer. There was a high association of the cancers in those who were employed in the Athabasca Oil Sands as well as those who consumed local fish and traditional foods.
The study also revealed elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, selenium and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in a number of animal species that indigenous groups depend on for food — such as moose, muskrats, ducks, beavers and fish. Indigenous populations are especially vulnerable to these impacts because of the close link between their livelihoods and the environment.
Courtoreille said the Mikisew Cree First Nation is alarmed and would like to see more studies.
“We’ve been shoved aside,” Courtoreille said. “We had no choice but to challenge it in court. We need to take this international.”