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Sick of slicks



One of those tree-hugging environmental wacko liberals here at the Metro Times (the one writing this very column, actually) recently reported on a group of Michigan environmentalists protesting the proposed construction of a pipeline that would carry tar sands — also known as heavy crude — from Alberta, Canada, to an oil refinery in Texas.

We printed the piece ("Crude awakening," July 14) in part, because it seemed that many people in this region were unaware that the same sort of sulfur-laden heavy crude is being piped from Alberta to the Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit, and that expansion of the facility means even more of the stuff is on its way. Along with the health and environmental problems associated with the refinery at this end of the line, these environmental activists also wanted to spread the word about just how harmful excavation of the tar sands is to the people of Alberta and their environs, including devastation of subarctic forests and massive water pollution.

"We're all connected," was one of the messages opponents of the pipeline wanted to spread. "Our reliance on fossil fuels is an extremely dangerous thing," was another of the messages they hoped people would hear.

Well, an exclamation mark was placed at the end of both those points when part of a pipeline system that originates in Alberta ruptured in Marshall Township near Battle Creek, spilling somewhere between 800,000 to 1 million gallons of heavy crude into a creek that feeds into the Kalamazoo River. Wildlife suffered. People suffered. The full extent of the damage done and the costs of cleaning it all up have yet to be calculated. Government oversight and corporate safety measures are being questioned. Lawsuits are being filed. 

Are we getting the message?

"One thing has been made very clear by the Gulf disaster and the spills that have followed — we cannot accept Big Oil's assurances that their massive and growing infrastructure projects are safe," Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a staff attorney for the Natural Resource Defense Council, wrote on her blog. "The public has been clear about a desire to make the shift to clean energy. As the mess in Michigan shows us, tar sands oil is anything but clean." 

For Rhonda Anderson, an environmental justice organizer for the Sierra Club in Detroit, the issue isn't tar sands per se, it is clean energy vs. dirty energy.

The environmental and economic havoc occurring as a result of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the blowing apart of mountains in West Virginia to get at coal, the tar sands of Alberta, where boreal forests are being destroyed and massive amounts of fresh water are being turned into toxic waste as part of the extraction process there, and now what's being described as the worst environmental disaster in Michigan's history — all are evidence that we can no longer afford our reliance on fossil fuels. Add to this equation the climate change being caused in large part by the greenhouse gases released from burning coal and oil, and it's easy to see why Anderson compares the United States to a junkie willing to do anything to get his next fix.

"For an addict to want to get off of drugs, they have to hit bottom first," she says.

If this isn't the bottom, News Hits is fairly certain we can't handle seeing what it looks like when those depths are fully plumbed.

"Here we have Lake Michigan, one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, being threatened," says Anderson. "If that doesn't wake people up, what will?"

As Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune notes, "This disaster comes right as the federal government is considering a proposal to build a massive new pipeline that would carry the world's dirtiest oil from the Canadian tar sands across the Midwest. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would jeopardize an aquifer that is the most important source of water for the High Plains region — America's breadbasket. Clearly, we can't afford to take that risk.

"It's time to heed the lesson from these oil disasters. Instead of going to greater and riskier lengths to support the oil industry, we should be investing in the kind of clean, safe energy that will keep our waterways intact and help infuse new life into our economy."

"These oil disasters are a wake up call," he adds. "The price of dirty energy is simply too high. We need our leaders to deliver a bold plan to end America's dependence on oil and put America on the path to become a leader in the global clean energy economy."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or

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