Letter: Keystone leak is a reminder what’s at stake here
I grew up near the latest Keystone pipeline leak. My husband’s family still farms land in Washington County, Kansas. He grew up there swimming in farm ponds, fishing along creek banks and tromping through grassland pastures. Our children were raised doing much the same on visits to grandparents and cousins.
This is the northernmost part of the Kansas Flint Hills. An area where farmed fields are broken up by pastures with topsoil too thin to farm sitting on top of shale and limestone. The native grasses have roots through the shale so deep that they have supplied cattle and bison nourishment for centuries. It’s a stunningly beautiful land with rolling hills and sunsets that you can watch for hours, not what Coloradans might imagine when they think of Kansas, but it is a hidden gem.
For these reasons, the Keystone pipeline explosion is personal. The news talks about getting it back up and running, about how many gallons leaked, and assures us that drinking water is safe. My niece walked the site the day after the pressure from the leak sprayed oil over a half mile from the broken pipe across a grassland pasture. She said the smell was overwhelming and toxic. A flock of wild turkeys skirted the edge of the place looking for safety. There is oil sludge four miles down Mill Creek. It is “tar pit” oil so it sinks instead of floats which seems to be better from a clean-up standpoint.
What they don’t mention is that this land will not be the same for generations and may never completely recover. Cattle won’t be able to graze the denuded land and their water source will need to be monitored for years. The grass that must be removed with the contaminated soil will no longer sequester carbon that helps offset the oil we use. This lovely pasture of native grass with steep banks down to a creek that feeds domestic and wild animals is done. The scar the oil leaves might not be seen by us as we drive our cars and complain about the price of gas, but it is very real.
Our job is to be aware of the actual damage of a spill like this and to speak out against the possible scenarios of it happening again. Here in the Eagle River Valley, we are facing a similar “pipeline” issue. The Utah oil fields need to get their waxy crude to the gulf coast refineries. They want it to travel by train along the Colorado River. It is not a question of if there will be an oil spill into our beautiful river valley, but when.
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