Nebraska farmers may not have prevented the Keystone XL pipeline from going through in the long run, but they are to be credited for bringing environmental and safety concerns regarding such mega projects to the forefront. Hopefully, future projects will be held more accountable for past safety records and for disclosing the full negative potential impact of future accidents to host communities.
An environmental action website (http://www.tarsandsaction.org/spread-the-word/key-facts-keystone-xl/) indicates that while Keystone estimated that it would have 1 incident in 7 years, that in fact, Keystone had 12 spills in 1 year.
Even 1 spill in 7 years is too many considering the potential damage to the heartland of America’s grain exporting region – and the permanent damage that could be done to the region’s giant aquifers. In Canada, many First Nations’ groups have questioned the moral ethic of placing such pipelines across historic First Nations’ lands – and the potential devastation that accidents could wreak on both present communities and historic cultures.
Many historic Russländer Mennonite and Hutterite communities could be directly impacted by accidents in these Keystone projects – including the Hillsboro-Newton, Kansas region, noted academic centers for both the Mennonite Brethren and former General Conference, the former south reserve in Manitoba, the Nebraska birthplace of the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren (former Petersgemeinde), the historic American settlements for the Kleine Gemeinde and many others. This region is the North American equivalent to Witmarsum; to the Swiss Emmentale; or to the Ukrainian Chortitza, Molotschna, and Borosenko communities.
Russian Mennonites and Hutterites settled in the region as refugees from Russia about 140 years ago (ca. 1874). In that time, even by Keystone’s best estimates, they would have sustained 20 emergency ruptures. However, if their current track record holds, this Russian Mennonite heartland would have sustained 1,680 such incidents.
Many good arguments exist for why this and other such pipelines should be built – but recent events in the Gulf of Mexico, along the Alaska Pipeline, on Montana’s Yellowstone River, and on an even greater scale, in Nigeria, indicate that impacted communities and cultures need to be better informed about emergency prevention and maintenance issues. Involved governments also need to become proactive rather than reactive to potential emergencies. Trust funds need to be established to repair expected damage and to compensate impacted communities. Fees and fines for realized accidents need be meaningful and preventative in their scope.
As an ethno-sociologist, I would also like to see monies set aside by the owners of these projects to help develop, preserve and protect the local histories and unique cultural identities of these often small communities and cultures – aboriginal, Anabaptist, rural and otherwise. Only in the maintenance of strong community and cultural ties will the resources be found to protect the local environment and culture against the ill-effects of pollution and potential accidents, and to establish the cooperative networks necessary to both monitor the projects and to respond effectively to each potential incident.
Canada’s First Nations and the farmers of Nebraska have taught us that we need to value, protect and maintain our personal ties to the land from which our families and cultures originate. It is a mutual, multi-generational obligation. It is an obligation that current generations need to take a bit more seriously.
We owe it to the past. We owe it to the future.
Keystone Pipeline Map courtesy of www.transcanada.com (14 Nov 2011), modified 14 Nov 2011).