Keystone XL, A Different Opposition

Nebraska Public Service Commission

The Keystone XL pipeline is being held up by one body in the State of Nebraska. It is the duty of the Nebraska Public Service Commission to determine if this pipeline is in the public’s interest. At the time this article has been published, they have yet to decide, but let me offer a few scientific issues that this pipeline will create.

Decades of No-Till Farming

Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer who grows soy beans, rye, and corn, gave testimony in fear that construction of this oil pipeline will ruin 13 years of no-till farming. As shown by this video, the construction of an oil pipeline will definitely disturb the soil.

Mr. Tanderup fears his soil will be irreparably turned, destroying the air pockets, microorganisms and worms cultivated by this farming technique.

No-Till farming is important to our westward farmers, where the land is dryer due to less rainfall. It can be a more profitable method as it reduces labor, increases yield, reduces fuel use, less irrigation, and lower machinery costs. However, this is only possible if a farm doesn’t have to switch methods, as investing in the machinery would seem expensive for an already established farm.

Yield increase is correlated to a few of the outcomes of not tilling land. More water infiltrates the soil, there is higher storage capacity, and less erosion of land. With the higher water content it makes more economic sense to plant another crop on the same land, making this method more productive.

This method of cultivating land also has some short term environmental benefits. It can sequester carbon, essentially capturing its’ release into the atmosphere, lowering greenhouse emissions. Tilling requires organic matter in soil being broken down, which causes the release of greenhouse gasses. This method also reduces nitrous oxide emissions to a significant degree.

What are Oil Sands, What are Bitumen?

The product TransCanada is looking to push through the pipeline are known as oil sands or bitumen. It is essentially an extremely heavy hydrocarbon that has a higher density than water. This is shown empirically by the fact that it will sink to the bottom in case of a spill in water. Oil sands are such a heavy hydrocarbon that they require lighter hydrocarbons for dilution to flow through these pipelines. These lighter hydrocarbons would float to the top of any water source they might be spilled in.

The oil sands would be diluted with various hydrocarbons such as pentane and hexane. Hexane is dangerous as an aspirant, but it takes a relatively large amount to do serious harm. According to the Material Safety Data Sheet, pentane can be quite toxic as well. The biggest problem with hydrocarbons in possible spills, is our water potentially becomes flammable. Hydrocarbons are ingredients in gasoline, and are very flammable fuels in their own respect.

Should the Pipeline Be Approved?

Well, the issues raised in this article do not really discuss whether it is in the public’s interest or not. If the public is only interested in lower gas prices, which TransCanada seemingly could not promise, then no. If the public is only interested in the potential jobs, then maybe it is a yes. However, the costs of a man’s farming career, and potential disasters in case of an oil sands spill, I would argue are not in the public’s interest.

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