Mobile, Alabama has become the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. The ill-fated, unwanted tar sands have found a hub on the beautiful and fragile Gulf Coast of Mexico.
The trucks and trains of dirty steaming tar sand diluted bitumen, a much cruder grade of oil, are already rolling in. The pipeline is being built at such a fast and furious pace the public has barely had time for comment. Why, you should ask, is an area that relies so heavily on tourism rapidly becoming another one of America’s energy sacrifice zones?
One possibility is that taxes and tariffs are lower. And there’s the tiny detail that the Governor of Alabama Robert Bentley is the Chairman of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Board Commission.
The trucks and trains are bringing the tar sands in heated rail cars, putting everything in their path at risk. The tar sands are then offloaded onto barges in the Mobile River and transported to Pascagoula, Mississippi for refining. When the pipeline is built they will go through the pipeline. The proposed pipeline for the tar sands is to be built very near the municipal water supply for the city of Mobile. With clean water at a premium these days this seems a senseless and risky plan. The pipeline will make its way from the Mobile River through lower income, minority, and underserved areas of Prichard and Eight Mile in Mobile, which are already overburdened by 50 years of paper mill emissions and the ongoing Mercaptan leak from the nearby gas company. These communities have reported many cancer fatalities.
Currently the pipeline is permitted to cross 11 streams and 128 wetlands before reaching Pascagoula. If we have learned anything from the recent tar sands spills, this dangerous, dirty, toxic oil is nearly impossible to clean up. It compromises human health, wildlife and property values. Basically everything in its path.
The storage tank farm for holding the sludge is under construction at the Port of Mobile. The elevation of the storage facility is sea level. The storm surge from Hurricane Katrina at the Port of Mobile was over 11 feet. High water is a reality along the GulfCoast which is under a flood warning as I write. A tar sands contamination in an area so compromised by the BP disaster would be the final straw for ecosystems here, and human health already under attack from Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and hydrocarbons.
In this age of global warming and climate change due to our insatiable thirst for fossil fuels you would think we’d be building wind mills and solar panels as fast as we could, instead of digging pipelines with no regard for landscape, natural resources, private property or our current state of climate chaos and global weirding.
The Sierra Club organized a meeting recently to inform the public of the tar sands issue and more than 200 people showed up. By the end of the meeting a people’s movement was born. The seasoned and the accidental activists stood together and told the Mayor of Mobile “We don’t want these Tar Sands, and we will rise up in the streets if they are not stopped!” Find more information here.
Jo Billups is a native of Louisiana and has spent her life teaching environmental education. She is a member of Sassafrass along with Karen Harvill, a folk rock duo singing all original music dealing with everything from global warming to fracking. Jo became a Greenpeace supporter after the BP oil spill and has continued to work closely with the organization as an activist and ally in the Gulf region.