Thursday, September 29, 2011

A proposed pipeline through places of "low consequence"

The New York Times reported yesterday from Glendive, Montana, population 4,582, about the proposed pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma, to refineries in Texas. This pipeline has been much in the news of late, including a few weeks ago when environmentalists were demonstrating against it outside the White House.

Yesterday's NYT headline "A Pipeline Divides Along Old Lines: Jobs Versus the Environment," sums up well what's at stake, as does this excerpt:
Addressing that question [of whether the pipeline is in the national interest] — especially in the sprawling sweep of six huge states through which the pipeline or its pump stations would run like a spine — takes in a universe of conflicting, interlocking issues, from short-term economics to global climate, from the discontent of a rural belt losing population to issues of national energy security, joblessness, corporate power and prices at the corner pump.
As the headline suggests, the conflict between jobs and the environment is really "old" news. What was different about this report were some of journalists Kirk Johnson and Dan Frosch's characterizations of rural people and places, as well as quotes from the Montanans they interviewed. Here's the first:

And people in rural areas like eastern Montana say they also know that the dry and mostly empty ranchlands where they live are not, and never have been, places of high consequence.

“Nobody wants to be told they’re of low consequence,” said Tim Hess, 65, a wheat farmer and cattle rancher born and raised here in Montana who would have about 1.5 miles of pipe cross his land but still did not know how much he would be paid for it.

It's interesting to see journalists acknowledge how insignificant these individual land owners and their property are in the great scheme of things. No sentimentality there. The second quote is from Glendive mayor Jerry Jimison, which Johnson and Frosch characterize as containing a veiled threat.
All I ask is that you treat the 50,000 people in these six counties [in Montana through which the pipeline would flow] with respect and dignity ... That will affect the long-term relationship into the future.
A threat perhaps, but I read the statement as reflecting fear as much as anything else--fear that the pipeline company will not compensate them fairly, and perhaps also fear about short-term and long-term environmental damage to their land and their livelihoods.

NPR has covered the pipeline story closely this week, and you can find other stories about public hearings in Nebraska and Oklahoma here, here and here.


Scarecrow said...

When I worked at The World newspaper, I wrote numerous stories about a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal and connecting natural gas pipeline. There was certainly a sharp divide between people supporting the project (jobs) and against it (environment, safety). One of the few areas of agreement was over the issue of eminent domain. Both sides didn't like the idea. Supporters would look at the floor when I asked about it and say that they hoped the developers would negotiate in good faith. Judging from the tone in their voices, I don't think they had much faith in that happening. There is definitely an inferiority complex about corporations not caring about what happens to rural people.

KevinN said...

The story underlying this post seemed to be a little confusing. It highlighted the issues raised by environmental groups around the country while juxtaposing those against the concerns of the rural residents who would feel the immediate effects of the pipeline. However, none of the quotes from any of the rural residents focused on the environmental concerns. I'm sure that if you were to press, that would be somewhere on their list of questions about the project, but I think that they are probably more worried about more pressing issues on the whole.

For instance, one man was quoted as stating that he wanted a job out of the pipeline. It would seem that he is more interested in making sure that construction and maintenance contracts go to local companies. Another resident seemed concerned about the amount of money he would receive from the federal government in exchange for the land that he would have to give up for the pipeline. And the mayor seemed most concerned about making sure that his constituents had their voices heard rather than simply ignored. I wonder if when you really get down to it, how many of the rural people that would be impacted by the project share the same concerns as the protestors in Washington. That's not to say that the potential effects of a spill are not a concern in rural areas, but it seems like it probably is not the primary one that was reported here.