Yes, I am a slacktivist. I am one of the million or more people who checked into Facebook as though I were in Standing Rock, North Dakota, to symbolically support the demonstrators there. The Sioux people and their allies are protesting against the installation of a pipeline that skirts around two native reservations and is intended to cross an essential waterway.
They don’t want traditional hunting and grazing lands disturbed, and they really don’t want possible ancestral burial grounds dug up. They are also very suspicious of the safety of these pipelines with regard to land and water resources.
As an Albertan, I have very mixed feelings about pipelines. The oil and gas industries are primary contributors to the Albertan economy and most of us are directly or indirectly indebted to these industries for employment. We also benefit every day from the use of oil and gas, and would not like to imagine our lives without those sources of energy.
At the same time, the industry in general has failed to adequately monitor and maintain millions of miles of pipelines, some of which are now fifty years old. They may be underground or above ground, on prairies or through mountains, near water sources or near natural habitats.
Leaks or accidental ruptures may be large or small, and may be discovered quickly or not for a very long time. But, whenever there has been a pipeline leak, the industries have done their best to clean up as quickly and efficiently as possible. Pipelines are, we are told, safer methods of transportation for oil and gas than are trucks and trains, which are more likely to crash and cause fires.
As it stands, then, our choices seem to be all bad. We can either risk fires or polluted ground and water, or we can give up using oil and gas. However, we can’t give them up until we have adequately created alternatively sources of energy, and that’s going to take some time.
There is, though, another possibility that I don’t see being discussed much (or at all) in the media. The companies that distribute oil and gas could put a lot more time, money, and effort into upgrading existing pipelines and inventing safer new ones. In fact, those requirements should be legislated into the permits to build pipelines.
Since we know that old pipelines become less stable, and since we know that even newer pipelines sometimes leak, then more of the industries’ efforts should go into maintenance, research, and development. We need reassurance that before any new pipelines are installed, the old ones are being consistently and effectively maintained. Then we need to know that new pipeline technology does a better job of preserving the land and water sources than does the old technology.
It’s not good enough to spend a lot of money on clean-ups. We want to reduce spills and leaks to zero. But that is, literally, a pipe dream.