In these environmentally litigious times, "green" opposition to any project that moves a clod of dirt is to be expected, but in this particular instance the protests emerged already packaged for media consumption. A well financed & slickly produced campaign began, seemingly out of nowhere. This wasn't "grassroots" opposition, developed and conducted by those directly affected by the project. This was something else entirely. Precisely what it was, and who was behind it would not become clear until many months later. At the time of this writing, it is still not common knowledge.
To understand the motivations behind the protests, it is helpful to divide the protesters into two groups; first, the individuals who genuinely feel concern for the land, and their responsible stewardship of it. The second group, are entirely mercenary in their aims. They are exploiting the fears of the first group in order to provide cover for their real purpose - stopping their competition in it's tracks.
We have witnessed a remarkably contentious debate locally regarding the construction of the Keystone XL, revealing some rather disturbing attitudes regarding truth and its role in public discourse. I suppose it was naïve to think that the wild-eyed excesses of the radical leftist environmental movement would find little purchase in the commonsense plains of Nebraska, but the insupportable claims and charges being tossed about by the anti-pipeline crowd have proven that green insanity can take root even in our generally sensible state.
The opposition, led most loudly by a group called BOLD Nebraska, claims a catastrophic risk of contamination to the Ogallala aquifer should the pipeline suffer a breach. The aquifer underlies virtually all of Nebraska, and several other states, and supplies drinking water and irrigation to millions of people. It is understandable that reasonable people would express concern over potential hazards to such a valuable resource, and it is this reasonable concern that BOLD Nebraska is exploiting with a combination of half-truths, innuendo, and outright lies.
The reality of the geology and hydrology underlying the proposed pipeline route precludes any wholesale contamination of the aquifer. To understand why, it is important to understand what an aquifer is -- and what it isn't. It is a geological formation that is structured in such a way as to hold water in quantity. It is not an "underground lake." It is a vast filter system consisting of layer upon layer of sedimentary rock, silt, clay, and sand that in Nebraska lies much closer to the surface on the western portion of the aquifer than on the eastern portion.
For this reason, the water flow within the aquifer is easterly, making it a physical impossibility for any oil leaked along the proposed route to flow "uphill" to the 80%+ of the aquifer that lies to the west of the pipeline. Additionally, the chemical additives that make the bitumen easier to pump, are lighter than water and like the bitumen itself, do not emulsify. Leaked oil will simply migrate toward the nearest substrate, remaining localized.
This is according to Professor James Goeke, a hydro-geologist who retired from the University of Nebraska earlier this year after a forty-year career of studying the Ogallala aquifer and the Sand Hills region that overlies it. He is the foremost expert on the aquifer, and he informs us that the geological structure of the formation precludes any possibility that oil could travel for more than a few hundred feet in any direction before encountering substrate. Quite simply, the aquifer and the land above it are not in any real danger from this project.
Given that the science clearly shows the that pipeline opposition is persisting in perpetuating a demonstrable falsehood, it is reasonable to question the opposition's motives. According to their own website postings and editorializing in newspapers across the nation, their ultimate aim is not to reroute the pipeline, but rather to halt its construction now and forever. The thinking is, if the pipeline is halted, then the oil will stay in the ground, thereby protecting the earth from the ravages of such a "filthy fuel."
So what happens if the pipeline is never built? Well, to fully explore that, it is instructive to look at the players in this game. One can find the usual suspects among the hysterical left: Hollywood environmentalists such as Daryl Hannah and progressive agenda-driven scientists like global-warming alarmist James Hansen of NASA. These, however, are merely the "useful idiots" in the process, and not the actual players. I mentioned BOLD Nebraska earlier. This group is funded almost entirely by Dick Holland, who has been a close friend of Warren Buffett since boyhood, and a business associate since the 1960s.
Holland was an original investor in Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, and the two have remained close ever since. Buffett and Holland also share a similar political philosophy, both being liberal Democrats, with Holland giving exclusively to the Democratic Party. So why does this matter? It potentially answers a few questions about the recent behavior of Buffett and Obama, and perhaps the real reason behind the Nebraska-centric animus toward the pipeline.
A year after the election of Obama, Warren Buffett bought a giant railroad, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. The BNSF has more than 32,000 miles of track and right-of-way in this nation, running from the west coast and through the agricultural heartland of America. It is also hauls coal from the mines in Montana and Wyoming and is the railroad with the best existing north-south infrastructure. In fact, it's quite well-situated to perform precisely the task for which TransCanada has proposed to build a pipeline.
Should the pipeline fail, the oil will still be extracted, but it will then be transported by rail, and Mr. Buffett, thanks to the efforts of his friend Mr. Holland, will be uniquely situated to derive a fortune from that business, as well as enhance the value of his holdings in Conoco-Phillips petroleum. Is it possible that Warren Buffett's assistance to Obama in both policy and public relations lately may be his way of trying to tip the regulatory scales in his favor? After all, nothing says "I love you" to a
Democrat better than a public plea for more taxes.
In any case, the opposition to the pipeline is not only tainted, but intellectually and scientifically bankrupt. BOLD Nebraska are correct when they screech that there is an agenda being served here, but it is not big oil, environmentalism, or even green energy; it appears to be garden-variety crony capitalism, an Obama administration specialty.
I first wrote of this subject nearly a year ago, in October of 2011. Not long after that, Investor's Business Daily took my piece and advanced the narrative further. Since that time, Forbes has written their own piece, based on, (and linked to) my original column for American Thinker. It was this article in Forbes that led to an investigation and report by Glenn Beck and his show, then known as "GBTV."
The Left in general, and BOLD Nebraska in particular have no intention of letting up on their opposition to this much-needed project. Only by exposing their true motives will we be able to garner public support sufficient to drown out their well-financed and focus-group tested misinformation. We have to win on this one folks, or we might as well hand the environmentalists a big "VETO" stamp to be used on any project they choose to oppose. Don't reward the lies of the left, especially when they serve only to further the financial ambitions of a very few at the expense of our nation's economic and energy security.
Portions of this column were revised and reprinted in updated form from the original piece on American Thinker dated 10/6/2011.