but what about all these other pipelines?

but what about all these other pipelines? December 5, 2016

I am thrilled to hear that the Army Corps of Engineers has opted to find an alternative route for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Tom Cahill at CNN reports on the reactions of the water protectors: 

“I’m really happy that I’m here to witness it and celebrate with a lot of my elders and the youth, but I think that we also need to keep in mind that we need to be ready to keep going,” said protester Morning Star Angeline Chippewa-Freeland.
“We are asking our supporters to keep up the pressure, because while President Obama has granted us a victory today, that victory isn’t guaranteed in the next administration,” Dallas Goldtooth, lead organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a statement. “More threats are likely in the year to come, and we cannot stop until this pipeline is completely and utterly defeated, and our water and climate are safe.”
This is a victory for the Protectors, for the earth and – as fellow bloggers at Steel Magnificat have pointed out –  for religious freedom. But it is only one small victory.
Among the many threats we face from the incoming administration, I am inclined to think that the threat to the earth is the greatest. We face the potential removal of the majority of our safety and environmental protections, in the energy industry.  Last month the Washington Post reported:

While vowing to “cancel” the international Paris climate accord Obama championed, Trump would also rearrange domestic energy and environmental priorities. He wants to open up federal lands to oil and gas drilling and coal mining. He wants to eliminate regulations he calls needless. He would scrap proposed regulations for tighter methane controls on domestic drillers. And he wants to shrink the role of the Environmental Protection Agency to a mostly advisory one and pull back the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s proposed plan to push utilities toward lower carbon emissions.

Although Trump has portrayed himself as the ultimate outsider, in putting together a transition team the New York real estate mogul has chosen veteran Washington insiders, many of them lobbyists for fossil fuel companies and skeptics about climate science.
“It is hard to find words to capture the fact that humans are facing the most important question in their history — whether organised human life will survive in anything like the form we know — and are answering it by accelerating the race to disaster.”
You can not separate pro-life from pro-earth, because our lives depend upon the earth, upon the water and air and topsoil, upon the thriving of microorganisms. Right-wingers appear utterly indifferent to this, and I’m afraid most progressive leftists, cut off from any real connection with life cycles and eco-systems, are insufficiently aware of the significance of environmental protections. Yes, the EPA has been inadequate in many ways. Yes, it tolerates pollution from big corporations while cracking down on poor individuals. But what Trump and his affiliates aim for is far worse. And if we imagine that the Democrats are leading the way towards radical ecological reform, I fear this is, largely, not the case.  For instance, in the midst of the furor over the Dakota Access Pipeline, back in September, Obama approved two new pipelines: 

In May, the federal government quietly approved permits for two Texas pipelines — the Trans-Pecos and Comanche Trail Pipelines — also owned by Energy Transfer Partners. This action and related moves will ensure that U.S. fracked gas will be flooding the energy grid in Mexico.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is also set to carry oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but in the northern U.S., from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Formation through several Great Plains states to Illinois.

Within a two-week span in May 2016, as the Sacred Stone Camp was getting off the ground as the center of protests, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued presidential permits for the Trans-Pecos and Comanche Trail Pipelines. Together, the pipelines will take natural gas obtained from fracking in Texas’ Permian Basin and ship it in different directions across the U.S.-Mexico border, with both starting at the Waha Oil Field.

This topic happens to be personal, for me. I live in Utica Shale country, in Ohio, where we recently experienced a fracking boom which enriched a number of large out-of-state corporations, and brought in an influx of out-of-state workers (to take the jobs that had been promised as bait to the locals). Our boom lasted a few years, but drilling is now on hold, because the flooding of the market has caused prices on oil and gas to go so low, it’s no longer financially worthwhile for companies to engage in the expensive fracking process. Once prices rise again, and once our pipelines are in place, the boom is supposed to commence again, although some argue that the boom remains a pipe (pun intended) dream:

Unlike conventional projects, shale wells enjoy an extremely short life. In the Bakken region straddling Montana and North Dakota, a well that starts out pumping 1,000 barrels a day will decline to just 280 barrels by the start of year two, a shrinkage of 72%. By the beginning of year three, more than half the reserves of that well will be depleted, and annual production will fall to a trickle. To generate constant or increasing revenue, producers need to constantly drill new wells, since their existing wells span a mere half-life by industry standards.

So far our region has not enjoyed any significant spike in prosperity. Whether we get a boom or not, however, the environmental damage remains a reality – whether in the form of spills (we have had a quite a few gone unreported), the disposal of fracking waste, the degradation of topsoil, the rise in earthquakes. Maybe you are disinclined to care much about the environment? I hope at least you care about the health dangers posed by fracking.

As a small eco-grower, the idea of having a pipeline anywhere near my property is terrifying – especially with the buffoon administration looming over us. And it’s really a matter of crossing fingers and whispering prayers, that no one decides to run a pipe across our property. Landowners who have tried to prevent pipelines from being put across their property have not had their property rights respected, in local courts:

Late last month the Seventh District Court of Appeals in Ohio upheld the appropriation of private land for a pipeline that will carry pure propane and pure butane, ruling that such fractionated natural gas liquids still constitute “petroleum” under Ohio’s eminent domain laws.  The case is now on appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, but if left undisturbed, the Court of Appeals decision will provide significant flexibility to developers of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in Ohio.

Even without ecological concerns, anyone who claims to uphold libertarian ideas about the inviolability of private property ought to be appalled by this.

Our fossil fuel dependence is creating a situation in which we are rapidly using all our resources while placing intolerable burdens on the environment, and investing insufficiently in alternatives in advance of crisis. A few nips and tucks here or there is not going to be sufficient. And we need to think globally, about how our energy consumption harms developing cultures. What’s called for is a change of lives – but, it may be too late. That’s one terrifying reality. The other is that, even if it is not too late, what political move could be suficient – or even possible? We can not even govern ourselves intelligently. Perhaps we are witnessing the failure of the liberal enlightenment experiment; unfortunately, it is not likely to be a bloodless one.

But our failure is not merely political or economic: it is a failure in community, a willingness to place burdens elsewhere and then look away in disdain from those who bear them for us. If we look to what Pope Francis has said about our obligations to creation, we must understand it as a religious failure, as well. And therein, perhaps – paradoxically – lies our grain of hope.

For the Christian, these concerns with both our present failings and our future dangers are tied into our advent imaginings, which are – we must not forget – apocalyptic, even at the beginning of our liturgical year. I refer you to this excellent piece on the connection between our ecological danger and our religious obligations:

Apokalupsis is not the Greek for catastrophe, but for revelation. History is unfolding, and with each passing day revealing itself.
Now we stand before our own revealed future, the seas literally rising around us, the earth literally burning beneath our feet, the creatures literally falling into the abyss of mass death, the “city of chaos” described by Isaiah, wherein “every house is shut up so that none may enter,” and still we look first to the Institution, the System, the Revolution, any depersonalized imitation savior, for an escape.
 And still we have not turned to one another, enfleshed, present, suffering, and reached for the gift freely offered: love.
Lord, help me because I am not faithful. Christ, have mercy.

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