In mid-June a group of us from The Post took off for Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada to check out oil sands operations before driving down the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. I produced a story about the environmental impacts of different types of extraction methods companies are using to pull the oil out of the sand there, as well as a story about what it’s like to live in the boom town that is Fort McMurray. I put together this moody piece about our departure from Canada and did a quick story about the town in Montana, with a population of only nine, just over the Canada/U.S. border.
We went a little off course to North Dakota to check out the oil boom happening there since some of that oil will likely be shipped to the Keystone XL. We found that infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the population growth in the western part of the state and many people have struggled to find affordable places to live. Jobs, however, are plentiful and the pay is good. It felt a bit like a modern day gold rush, with people flocking there to make a fortune of their own.
In South Dakota we met rancher John Harter who has been fighting TransCanada in court to try to stop them from bringing the Keystone XL across his land. But TransCanada recently won the case on the grounds of eminent domain and Harter could not have seemed more downtrodden about this. Harter is now hoping he can at least demand more money for the inconvenience of having a pipeline built across his land. I didn’t realize a private company like TransCanada would be able to obtain eminent domain, so it was interesting learning more about how that works and how people like John Harter are impacted by it.
My last stop was in Nebraska, where we went to a cookout and fundraiser in Spalding for state senator Ken Haar. People there wanted to thank Haar for his work to redirect the pipeline from their land, the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer. Many of them also gathered there to talk more about how to completely stop the construction of Keystone XL because they see it as a threat to the water and land throughout their state.
In all I spent two weeks on the road before hopping on a plane in Omaha to head home. My colleagues, Steven Mufson and Michael S. Williamson, along with Mufson’s daughter Natalie, kept going after I returned to Washington, heading down to Port Arthur, Tex., to see where the refining process will happen. They stopped at some Native American reservations in Oklahoma along the way, which was a part of the trip I was especially disappointed to miss. Keep up with the rest of their journey at www.washingtonpost.com/keystone.
It was eye-opening to get a firsthand look at the oil sands operations in Canada and to see how folks along the proposed pipeline route may be impacted if it comes their way. Environmental, social, economic and political effects will be important considerations if plans move forward to put this pipeline into place.
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