I suppose the main question about the new oil pipelines that are soon to be part of the subterranean veins crisscrossing our little stretch of Heaven is whether this is really how things are supposed to happen?
Are citizens, public officials and media really supposed to find out about new pipelines moving petroleum through our waterways at the point when they are almost a done deal? And then when the oil-soaked cat’s out of the bag is this game really rigged so everyone who did know the score can simply shrug, point and say “not my job?”
Because that’s what it looks like.
If you’ve been living under a piece of shale and don’t know what I’m talking about, then Plains Southcap’s Gulf Coast Pipeline must not be cutting through your yard. But this 45-mile pipeline is designed to cut through your drinking water so it’s worth a little of your attention. At least until college football starts.
What we’re looking at is a pipeline carrying Canadian petroleum products from Eight Mile all the way to the Chevron refinery in Pascagoula, “The City of Seven Smells.” (It’s OK, I lived over there and I can name each of the smells. Cat food was one when I was growing up. Moist cat food.)
While proponents will argue we need the oil and energy availability, and the project will provide jobs and cost about $50 million to complete, almost no one seems excited by the fact the builders decided to route this line right through the watershed of Big Creek Lake. BCL is where all of Mobile’s sparkling clean, oil-free tap water comes from, if you didn’t know.
Along with this big pipeline, there is another smaller line that may pump tar sands oil under the Mobile River to ARC terminals on its eastern bank. Tar sands is a particularly nasty, thick petroleum product that has proven harder to clean up than Anthony Weiner’s reputation. Oh and we’re also going to see an increase in the number of large storage tanks on the river.
So we’re going to be pumping some oil around the area. And maybe that would be just fine if we had ever gotten much of a chance to decide as a community whether the rewards of these fine projects are worth the risks. For instance, we’ve been told the pipeline will create 100 jobs. Yawn. So would a Red Lobster and that comes with Lobsterfest, which is delicious and unlikely to pollute our drinking water in some hideous drawn butter spill.
But the real issue to me is how we just found out about this thing in early July and it is well underway already. Surely someone thought such a project might be of interest to the general public? Actually the way things were handled seems like Southcap and some of the permitting agencies involved may well have considered what public input on the project might be and have done all they could to keep a bunch of water-drinking tree huggers from ruining their pipeline.
It all worked out rather conveniently that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Alabama Department of Environmental Management provided permitting for the line running through wetlands, while the state Public Service Commission gave it the OK based solely upon whether it furthered industrial growth in the area and Mobile County simply granted right of way. Individually no one takes the blame for the pipeline. Together, though, they allowed this company to come in and run an oil-filled pipe through our drinking water.
So why wasn’t more known about this? Why weren’t there press releases from the company and government agencies touting the economic development? After all, just about everyone puts out a press release crowing about economic development that brings 10 or more jobs to the area. But the only media coverage anyone knows about concerning this pipeline is four tiny ads purchased in the Press-Register’s legals section warning of a public hearing before the PSC in Montgomery in November 2011.
Surprisingly no one showed up and the PSC rubber stamped the project on the grounds it was “in furtherance of industrial development.” A PSC spokesman told our reporter that really is the only criteria they consider when permitting, which makes me really, really hope they’re not about to consider permitting a power plant that burns old tires and Walmart bags but employs 100 people.
Surely that can’t be the way things are supposed to work. How can Twinkle Cavanaugh and the rest of the PSC board honestly think no one would care? Why wasn’t anyone there curious enough to make a few calls down here to see if people knew about this and really weren’t concerned? Same for ADEM and the Corps of Engineers. And certainly the people at the county who knew what was happening might have mentioned it. At least it seems like that’s how it should have happened.
So now we’re stuck with a pipeline that’s well underway, being installed by a company that was given the right of eminent domain in order to get the land they need. That’s right, this private company can take your land if you get in their way. (Cue Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the U.S.A.” Wait a minute, he’s Canadian too! Keep your filthy oil Lee!)
And the powers that be are left trying to cajole Southcap and Chevron into scooting the pipeline around some so it won’t go through our water, something we’re not even sure can happen. The same thing is happening over in The Landmass known as Mississippi too, where people are now alarmed at how many of their local waterways are traversed by this oil pipe.
Proponents of the pipeline say there’s already been a line running through Big Creek Lake, handled by the same company, for 50 years and it hasn’t caused a problem. So what? This isn’t 50 years ago and sensibilities are different. Good government should require that the people were informed about these projects, even if it meant having to deal with outraged environmentalists.
You would think if the project had merit it could survive the scrutiny.