How safe are our pipelines?

09-30-2011 // Debra Haight

This excerpt is from The Herald-Palladium

Much more can be done to ensure oil and gas pipeline safety, a National Wildlife Federation representative told a League of Women Voters forum.

An estimated 75 people attended the meeting at the Niles Senior Citizens Center on Tuesday night.

Pipelines are now a topic of national and regional interest - and local interest, too, given the number of pipelines that crisscross Southwest Michigan, the July 2010 Enbridge oil spill into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall and interest in building a transcontinental pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

NWF pipelines expert Beth Wallace spoke about the problems associated with pipelines - not only because of the age of many in the Midwest but also the material now being pumped through them. She spent much of her presentation talking about the Enbridge spill but also spoke about the proposed Keystone XL transcontinental pipeline.

It was the Keystone topic that was the most controversial, at least with one audience member. Niles resident Dick Pfeil took issue with Wallace's statements that the construction of that pipeline would cause environmental problems and that the oil transported would be exported and not used in the United States.

Pfeil said the Keystone pipeline will be new and not have the age-related problems associated with existing pipelines like the ones around Southwest Michigan. He also said it would give the country some energy independence, with oil coming from a friendly country like Canada and not from "people who hate us."

"The U.S. government said the pipeline would be all right and conformed to our rules. Now we've gone back on our promise to the Canadian government, and the equipment (to build it) is backed up, even here in Niles," he said. "People who are working on the pipeline have another side to the story."

Wallace said her concern with the Keystone pipeline is that "we're putting the cart before the horse" and not dealing with outdated regulations and laws as well as the environmental concerns raised by extracting oil from tar sands. She showed pictures of areas in Canada that have been strip mined to extract the tar sands.

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