Why I Came to Washington to Protest the Keystone Pipeline
By Rick Bass
It’s not exactly as if hell has frozen over, for me, an oil and gas geologist to be protesting – maybe even beyond the extent allowable by law – the folly of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. I’ve hugged a tree or two before, written some letters opposing this or that dam, mine, clear-cut, or whatnot. I’ve lived the last 26 years in the backwoods of northwest Montana, writing pretty little stories, poems and essays about the million-acre garden of the Yaak Valley, a lush wild rainforest of a place, in which I’ve pleaded, argued, scolded for its protection.
But before that time, as a geologist, I lived underground, if only in my mind, studying geological maps, borehole recordings, and descriptions of old drill cuttings, trying to determine where the great thing, the treasure – the oil or gas – might be hiding.
In those years, I spent many, even most, of my waking hours dreaming, and in that manner inhabiting, a world beneath this one, where the terraces and ledges of an unseen landscape, buried just beneath a few thousand feet of stone, were at least as real to me as the world of concrete and traffic above. My mind blazed with desire for these lower lands, and with a hunter’s yearning to reach them. You could call it a need.
In that dreamy world, I walked along underground beaches, head down, studying the sand grains and listening to the waves, which sorted the different sizes of sand and whispered – or shouted – of their ability to one day hold oil. Old swamps, and sheer cliffs, ridges, and ravines: I covered thousands of miles, and always, far below – hunting oil, trailing natural gas, with the intensity of the wolf that happens across the first speck of blood in the snow, the wolf that is drawn to that speck.
And when I was not earth-diving, I was pushing laterally through the night, driving the back roads of the South to analyze one or more of the wells I’d first dreamed into being, attending to that event as if to the birthing of an animal. The wells seemed always to be finished at night. The twin lights of my big American-made V-8 car powering through the twists and turns, up into the hills of north Alabama, or down into the swamps and bayous of south Louisiana, or the soybean fields of Mississippi – arriving then, to discover whether we had found the treasure, or not.
Dreaming, and moving: Those were my days. Running pipe, we called it, when we found oil or gas. We found so very much gas. We’d tie those reservoirs into the spiderweb veins of gas lines that fed the populated Northeast, until natural gas prices went into their 30-year free fall so we couldn’t even sell it. People had set up to use oil, or coal. Somebody, somewhere, wanted things to go that way.
Our country still sits on that natural gas, a glut of it, and, with new drilling technology, it’s far cheaper – half the price, even unadjusted for inflation – than it was back when I was finding it. Imagine, please, buying eggs today for 50 cents a dozen, or a gallon of gas for 75 cents. You’d take that deal in a second.
Instead, we are being led as if with a ring through our nose, being sold the lie that Alberta tar sands oil is conflict-free oil, gotten by scraping away the boreal forest of Canada – the great lungs of North America, one of our last hopes for temperance against rising CO2 levels – and are steam-cleaning, with huge amounts of fossil fuel, thick tar from the sandstones buried beneath that forest. An open pit 50 sprawling years in the digging, before it’s done, and the Athabasca River running sheeny with fracture fluids and other toxins, to feed the world market. They boil the tarry sand – as if making the last of stone soup – but what malicious residue remains, from getting to that last cup?
To read the full article, please click here: http://e360.yale.edu/digest/why_i_came_to_washington_to__protest_the_keystone_pipeline/3768/
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