What’s in the pipe (KeystoneXL)?

June 21st, 2014

It has never been about the pipe. It has always been about what is in the pipe. The diluted Bitumens (DilBits) that will go through the Keystone XL at the rate of 33,000,000 gallons per day are very hazardous. TransCanada recently released some Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for some of the DilBit blends:

Here are some direct quotes from those MSDS:
• “May cause cancer.”
• “May impair fertility”
• “May cause heritable genetic damage”
• “Danger of serious irreversible effects by a single exposure”
• “May cause serious injury to blood forming organs…”

The Benzene contained in DilBit caused:
• “Cancer (leukemia)”
• “Damage to the blood producing system”
• “Genetic effects”

Ecologically the MSDS stated:
• “May cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment”
• “Expected to sink and migrate into the sediment”
• “Low to moderate potential to migrate through soil”
• “Has the potential to bioaccumulate”

Thirty three million gallons every day, traveling just a half-inch away from our water and our land, on its way to the Gulf refineries where it will be refined and then much of it exported to other countries.

Are we crazy?

To the Nebraskans who have led the fight to delay the KXL project, I say, “Thank you for reminding us that our heritage and legacy are not for sale!”

To the foreign countries that have bought into much of the Canadian tar-sands, I would say, “It’s your poison. It’s your problem.”

Democracies die if you don’t feed them

May 20th, 2014

If you took the time to vote in last week’s Nebraska primary, you can stop reading this article right now, except let me first say thank you for voting. Now you can go about your day.

If you are still reading this and you didn’t vote in the Nebraska’s primary, and you stay with me until the end, you may be more upset with me than I am with you. That’s right, I am angry at those who didn’t vote.

Three out of four registered voters didn’t bother to vote last week. No, it wasn’t a “presidential” primary, but for crying out loud, we were trying to nominate a new governor, a new U.S. senator, a U.S. congressman and a state senator. What the heck is wrong with you!

If you didn’t vote you most likely didn’t know we were also nominating a Secretary of State, a State Treasurer, Attorney General and State Auditor. We had several county commissioner seats we were voting to fill along with Natural Resource District director and State Board of Education seat.

All the aforementioned elected positions will have an impact on your life. All the aforementioned elected positions will be paid with your dollars, mostly in the form of automatic payroll deductions from your paycheck.

So it is hard for me to believe three out of four of you did not care who we hired nor that they are taking money you earned first, then sent to them to spend however they choose. But then maybe you are completely satisfied with our city, county, state and federal governments and believe they spend every dollar wisely. If that is the case, you might be a minority of one.

If you think there is room for improvement, what can we do about it? The only thing we can do about it is vote. We hire people to work for us through the election process. If you don’t vote, you just doubled the power of somebody who does, and you ceded any power given to you by the Constitution to others as well. What’s wrong with you?

Me? I am not happy with our government nor am I happy with the federal debt, high unemployment, shrinking middle class, reduced wages and higher taxes. Maybe you aren’t either.

So if you are the least bit unhappy with the way things are going, but you couldn’t find five minutes to vote, then this is a classic, “Houston, we have a problem” moment in our nation’s history.

To the best of my ability, (which is minimal, I know) I have thought about why we don’t vote. The main reason of course is that we don’t care. If three out of four of us don’t care about our country, we have a problem.

If you think it doesn’t matter, and that one vote won’t make a difference, and three out of four of us think that too, we have a problem.

If you think that once elected, the folks in office don’t listen to us anyway, and three out of four of us feel that way, we have a problem.

Folks, this is a free country, but the freedoms we have in America are not free. They come with a huge price tag, “responsibility,” but if you would rather we simply be ruled than govern ourselves, and three out of four of us feel that way, we have a problem.

Democracies die if not fed, and what democracies thrive on are votes. If three out of four of us don’t vote to help maintain a healthy democracy the nation as we know it is doomed.

There is still another chance for you; the general election in November. It will be the final word on who you hire and pay to represent us next year. Please vote. In a democracy voting is more than a right. It is your responsibility.

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A tragic reminder

March 12th, 2014

Posted on Mar 11, 2014
by Greg Awtry

Just when you think you have everything figured out, life wakes you up with an elbow to the ribs and teaches you another lesson. This has happened to me (and most likely to you) several times in my life, but now at the age of 60, one would think I’d have all the elbow nudges behind me. Not so.

It was a beautiful morning. The wakening sun was doing its best to warm the cool air chilled by a cloudless night. The small group of friends was getting ready to enjoy a final day of a winter vacation before heading home to cooler climes.

One second we are laughing but the next; the unmistakable and horrifying sound of a human body falling helplessly to the ground. I had heard that sound one time before, the sound of a person’s head thumping on a hard surface when my son tumbled down a set of stairs.

There is no other sound like it. When we heard THE noise a friend said, “Someone has fallen.” Collectively we turned and saw it was our dear friend. He had fallen down a set of stairs, but unlike my son, who was not injured, here laid our companion, obviously in a desperate way.

Just seconds ago we were enjoying our morning together and now he was struggling for his life. How could this be? This wasn’t a car crash or a burning home. This was just a simple set of stairs leading up to a golf green. Our friend had done this thousands of times in his life, but now, at this particular moment, he lay there nearly motionless except for the irregular raising and lowering of his chest as he struggled for each breath.

The paramedics arrived quickly and soon our friend was whisked off to a hospital which would do everything it could to assess what happened and what should be done. As I write this, three days after his fall, our friend has still not regained consciousness and we wait for news and pray it will be good.

Why? Why does this happen? We all know we are mortal, but if you are like me, most of us live in denial of the fact we could die today. Are we ready? Do we have any regrets? Do we wish we had another chance?

I think God uses his elbow all throughout our lives, nudging us, trying to tell us, be ready, your day is coming too. These unfortunate events in our life tell us to live like it was our last day. I know you have had these same reminders and generally we follow God’s nudge, but only for a short time, then reality and difficulties of life get in the way and we return to our old ways.

I hope that doesn’t happen to me. As I knelt there just a few days ago, cradling our friend’s head in my hands, I said to myself, “I hear you God, but our friend doesn’t have to be the example. He isn’t ready, and I hear You.”

Life is so fragile, so temporary, and ends much too quickly. What a different world it would be if we all could live life as though today is our last day. That is what I learned again last week. I pray I won’t need any more reminders and I pray for a friend who could use your prayers as well.



Is the Keystone XL in the nation’s interest?

February 5th, 2014

The Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline has been released. It claims the construction of the KXL will not significantly increase the carbon emissions. The State Department, who conducted the study, stops short of recommending approval of the project and does acknowledge many of the environmental risks associated with the building of the pipeline.

Nebraska Representatives Adrian Smith and Lee Terry seem all too eager to sidestep the final process in TransCanada’s quest to receive a presidential permit from President Obama. This completed study is just environmental. The final stage will be to determine if this Diluted Bitumen pipeline is in the national interest of the United States.

Smith’s press release stated, “The State department has once again confirmed the Keystone pipeline would be safe and in the best interest of our nation… it’s time to move forward with this project which would improve our energy security, create jobs and spur economic growth.”

Terry’s comment, “There is no question that moving forward with Keystone XL is in our ‘national interest.’ …It would be a disgrace to allow extreme ideologues to obstruct this critical project that will create jobs and help us down the path of energy security.”

Smith and Terry must not understand that a 90-day period for other federal agencies to weigh in is required for the permitting process. Agencies like the Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service and Rural Utilities Service Agencies. Others like Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and Office of Pipeline Safety must all weigh in. Smith and Terry must not be concerned about their input.

On the other hand, USA Today reports Congressman Raul Grijalva D-Ariz. responding to the study, “The State Department is asking us to believe this pipeline is in the national interest. How can a pipeline that ships Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico for export, that does nothing to increase our energy independence, and that will deal irreparable damage both to our landscapes and our air quality possibly meet that definition?”
The federal study also goes into great detail about other concerns that people in Nebraska have become so knowledgeable about. The study states that after pipeline completion, the pipeline will create only 35 full-time jobs and 15 temporary contractor positions in the entire United States.

The study indicates that if the pipeline is constructed that the price per barrel of bitumen could increase “by up to $8 per barrel.” This increased cost will most likely be felt at the pump in the form of higher fuel prices.

Dozens of pages of the report indicate the chances of a spill and cite recent oil pipelines as their reference source. In fact, the State Department reports crude oil pipelines have had 321 incidents in the ten years 2002 to 2012. The average incident for all oil pipelines was 16,000 gallons each. But for “large pipelines”, and that means 16 inch diameter and larger, (the KXL will be a 36 inch diameter) the news is even worse. In that same time span there were 71 incidents with the average being over 46,000 gallons.

Now, keep all that in mind as the State Department Report also calculates the “Potential Releases Associated with the Proposed Project.” They report potential oil spills of 22,000 gallons every year transporting oil by pipe, rail, marine, and truck. Keep that in mind as the proposed pipeline (according to the study) crosses 294 miles of the High Plains Ogallala Aquifer, 62 major water crossings, and will be laid in the ground “within 1 mile of 2,537 wells, including 39 public water supply wells. Wells that are in the vicinity could be affected by a release from the proposed project.”

And keep this is mind when the federal study clearly acknowledges what I have been writing about for years. This is not conventional crude; this pipe will carry DilBit, and diluted Bitumen (DilBit) sinks. The study states, “… in the event of a spill into water, it is possible that large portions of DilBit will sink and that submerged oil significantly changes spill response and impacts.” The study also must include, “a means to address the additional risks of releases that may be greater for spills of DilBit than other crudes.” The State Department says the study should, “more clearly recognize that this characteristic of dilbit is different from the fate and transport of oil contaminants associated with conventional crude oil and refined product spills from pipelines.”

So there you have it. DilBit is significantly different that conventional crude. Risks associated with spills may be greater than other oils. Large portions may sink in water. It crosses hundreds of miles of the aquifer and is near thousands of private wells. And, Keystone XL won’t lower the price of fuel, as it only transports DilBit to the Gulf coast so it can be sold for greater prices on the world market.

People in Nebraska, along with ranching and farming landowners, are being asked to accept all this risk for decades to come, for a little bit of construction activity and a few tax dollars that will depreciate over a fifteen-year time span according to Nebraska law.

And now, we have come to the point we have to decide if this pipe is in the national interest of the United States. To repeat Congressman Raul Grijalva’s question, “How can a pipeline that ships Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico for export, that does nothing to increase our energy independence, and that will deal irreparable damage both to our landscapes and our air quality possibly meet that definition?”



Candidate 101, blah, blah, blah

January 21st, 2014

At some point, we get all of the statewide candidates running for Governor, Congress and the Senate through the York News-Times office. Why? Because it is free publicity, that’s why! And, despite all you may heave heard or read about newspapers being a dying business, these candidates still know newspapers are the primary source of local news, be it in print or digital formats.

So here they come, one at a time, some traveling with aides that drive them around like royalty, taking notes on every word the candidate says, presumably keeping them on a tight leash, and coaching them not to say anything that could come close to a campaign promise they might be held accountable for at a later time. (Which is why we shoot video of them when they are here, so we have a complete record of what they tell you though us.)

On a rare occasion a candidate comes into our office alone. Example: Sen. Deb Fischer did, but not any longer. In fact the last time Deb was in, her “keeper” refused to let us use video. In hindsight, we should have stopped the interview right then and there.

Not Tom Osborne. Tom always drove up to the office alone, came in and made sure he said hello to most of the News-Times staff. Can’t say we ever had any other candidate say hello to the staff before. Tells you a lot about the man, Tom Osborne, doesn’t it?

In our conference room, under the watchful eye of the candidates’ “handlers” the interview begins. Usually we ask, “Why are you doing this?” The normal response, “I think I can make a difference.” Then the actual issues are raised, and here is where most candidates drift off into that all too predictable “Party Line”. They tell us all the problems in Washington or Lincoln; can’t get along, spend too much, tax too much, need more bipartisanship, blah, blah, blah.

Well, here at the News-Times we are tired of hearing what the problems are. We know the dang problems. We have to live with them every day, and most of these problems were created by government in the first place.

We want answers. We want the candidates to tell us their solutions. We want to know exactly what they intend to do in exchange for your vote. But no… all we get are “positions”.

What is a position? Let’s play a little game. I’ll give you several positions, and then tell me if you would vote for this candidate.

“I am all for the middle class. The middle class will be high priority for me when I am elected.”

“We need to balance our budget, just like the voters have to balance theirs. I will not rest until we have a balanced budget.”

“We need to concentrate on creating jobs. I will work across party lines to create jobs and put Americans back to work again!”

“Taxes are too high and the amount of waste, fraud and abuse is unacceptable in Washington. We need to hold our government accountable and get back on solid fiscal policy.”

“Washington just doesn’t get it. We need to take Nebraska values like common sense and hard work to Washington.”

“We must take care of our seniors. We made promises to them and we need to do all we can to keep those promises.”

“We need to make education more affordable and accessible to all children. I’ll work hard on making college education more affordable.”

“Nothing is more important than our nation’s security and I’ll be there for our current military and our brave veterans.”

“Healthcare remains unaffordable despite the Affordable Care Act. We need to repeal Obamacare and offer a different solution.”

More blah, blah, blah. Did you see anywhere above where our make-believe candidate tells you exactly what they would do to change anything? Of course you didn’t. That’s the idea. Don’t say anything that means you actually may have to produce some measurable results.

I can just hear some of the handlers when they get back in the car. “Good job! You followed the two rules of politics perfectly! One, say what you must to get elected, and two, say what you must to get re-elected. You are good!”

So the next time you listen to a candidate, don’t pay any attention when they tell us all the problems in government unless they follow it up with their specific plan to remedy the problem. Don’t pay any attention when they tell you all their positions, unless they follow it up with exactly what they intend to do to make it happen.

Then and only then will you have a candidate worth listening to.

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