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Keystone Pipeline Shut Down After Leaking 383,000 Gallons of Tar Sands Oil and Nobody’s Talking About It

October’s spill solidified opposition to the Keystone XL project—a proposed expansion to the pipeline.

Emma Fiala

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(TMU)UPDATE (11.6.19): TC Energy now estimates that roughly 383,000 gallons (or 9,120 barrels) of tar sands oil spilled from their pipeline in North Dakota on or leading up to October 29.

The Keystone Pipeline was approved in 2006, despite strong opposition to the project. The pipeline began pumping in 2010 and now carries thick tar sands oil mixed with a cocktail of chemicals to decrease the viscosity from the tar sands fields of Alberta, Canada to Patoka, Illinois.

TC Energy estimated that the pipeline would spill 11 times in 50 years, which amounts to roughly once every seven years. However, the pipeline has spilled four times since it first began working in 2010—that’s already four spills in nine years.

When tar sands oil leaks, the chemical diluents evaporate, causing a quick bout of toxic air pollution in the surrounding area, leaving behind a very thick and heavy oil called bitumen. According to Diane Orihel, professor of aquatic ecotoxicology at Queen’s University, “Once bitumen sinks to the bottom of a lake or wetland, it is much more problematic to clean up than conventional oil, which floats nicely and can be skimmed off the surface.” 

The Keystone Pipeline crosses multiple wetland areas in the Dakotas with the most recent spill having unfortunately affected one of these important breeding grounds for migratory birds. And thanks to the agriculture industry, the total acreage of wetlands covering the Dakotas continues to decrease, with or without oil spills.

October’s spill has solidified opposition to the Keystone XL project—a proposed expansion to the pipeline.

“The spill confirms what we have been warning people about over the last 10 years,” said Jeanne Crumly, whose cattle ranch sits along Keystone XL’s approved path.

According to Reuters, “TC Energy had already begun eminent domain proceedings against 89 families who live along the Keystone XL route.”

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A pipeline carrying tar sands oil into the United States from Canada has reportedly leaked an unknown amount of oil across North Dakota. The pipeline’s owner, TC Energy—formerly known as TransCanada—shut down the pipeline as a result of the leak.

“TC Energy immediately began the process to shut down the pipeline, activated its emergency response procedures and dispatched ground technicians to assess the situation,” the company said.

According to State Environmental Quality Chief Dave Glatt, regulators were notified of the crude oil leak near the town of Edinburg in northeastern North Dakota late on Tuesday after detecting a drop in pressure. The oil was reportedly leaked over an area that regulators have estimated to be about 1,500 feet long by 15 feet wide as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Calgary, Alberta-based company is working to contain the spill, the cause of which is currently under investigation. Area roads are closed as the clean-up and investigation continues.

According to Glatt, area drinking water was not affected by the spill though some wetlands were affected.

It is unclear when the leak began and for low long it has been leaking.

At a cost of $5.2 billion, the 590,000-barrel-per-day Keystone pipeline, which began pumping crude oil in 2010, is part of a 2,687-mile system that would include the Keystone XL pipeline, if approved.

Just yesterday, tribal officer Kip Spotted Eagle told a South Dakota state panel that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline should not be allowed to divert water from three rives in South Dakota. The Yankton Sioux Tribe historic preservation officer said the proposed pipeline project could infringe on tribes’ hunting and fishing.

The $8 billion project is seeking permits to use water from the Cheyenne, White, and Bad rivers in South Dakota. The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended the board grant the permits.

By Emma Fiala | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Environment

Mexico Decrees Ban on GMO Corn and Monsanto’s Glyphosate Weed Killer

Elias Marat

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Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has rung in the New Year by decreeing an end to the use of glyphosate – best known as the active ingredient in Monsanto’s “Roundup” pesticides – and also ordering the phase-out out of genetically modified corn for use in the food industry, with both goals to be realized by January 2024.

The move has been widely hailed by organic food producers and environmental, health, and social justice advocates, who welcome the move as crucial to preserve Mexico’s native corn crops, national heritage, and food sovereignty from the threat of multinational food corporations.

On Thursday, the government published an official decree stating that federal biosecurity authorities would “revoke and refrain from granting permits for the release of genetically modified corn seeds into the environment,” reports Reforma news agency.

The decree noted that the object of the decision, which came after months of unsuccessful pushback from lobbyist groups representing the massive food industry, was to “contribute to food security and sovereignty” and protect “native corn, cornfields, bio-cultural wealth, farming communities, gastronomic heritage and the health of Mexicans.”

The move makes good on promises by President Lopez Obrador, popularly known by his initials AMLO, to preserve native corn varieties from the threat of GMO corn.

The government of Mexico has taken numerous steps in recent months to safeguard the over 60 types of corn developed with traditional and indigenous agricultural methods that are, by law, considered a part of Mexico’s national food and cultural heritage.

Indigenous peoples in the Mesoamerican region cultivated the first strains of corn thousands of years ago, but multinational corporations have been flooding the Mexican market with varieties of corn that have been genetically modified to resist certain types of infestations and adverse climate conditions such as drought.

The government also ordered the phase-out of GMO corn imports for use in the food industry and decreed the elimination of the chemical glyphosate – the active ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s weedkiller, Roundup.

While a total ban on glyphosate isn’t yet possible in Mexico – especially amid major pushback from Big Ag lobbyists – federal agencies must immediately halt “purchasing, using, distributing, promoting and importing glyphosate or agrochemicals that contain it as an active ingredient,” according to the decree.

Instead, they must use “culturally appropriate” alternatives such as low-toxicity agrochemicals and organic products.

Opponents of the use of genetically modified crops have hailed the ban.

“It’s a great victory,” said Homero Blas, the director of the Mexican Society of Organic Producers. His group, like many other civil society organizations, blames GMO crops for contaminating the native, ancient varieties of corn while saying that the widespread use of dangerous pesticides endangers the health of both producers and consumers while undermining biodiversity.

However, GMO advocates such as the National Agricultural Council (CAN) claim that the prohibition of GMO corn cultivation will harm farmers while curbing imports will harm the Mexican food chain.

“The lack of access to production options puts us at a disadvantage compared to our competitors, such as corn farmers in the United States,” said CNA spokeswoman Laura Tamayo, who is also the regional director for the German multinational Bayer AG, the parent company to agro-chemical subsidiary Monsanto.

Glyphosate has been at the center of safety concerns in numerous countries and has also been the focus of massive lawsuits in the U.S. in recent years over the allegedly carcinogenic effects of the herbicide Roundup, which Monsanto introduced in 1974.

In July, Bayer agreed to pay as much as $10.9 billion to settle nearly 100,000 lawsuits in the U.S. claiming that the chemical causes a type of blood cancer.

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Environment

Over 1.5 BILLION Face Masks Now Believed to Be Polluting Oceans Thanks to 2020

Elias Marat

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As 2020 draws to a close, one of the most recognizable symbols of the year may be the protective face mask.

As the novel coronavirus swept across the globe earlier this year, billions of people began wearing the face coverings, with one study estimating that no less than 129 billion face masks were being used every month around the world.

However, as face masks have become ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives, they’ve also grown to litter every corner of our neighborhoods, from storm drains to creeks, parks to beaches.

And now, it turns out that our oceans are swimming with face masks, according to a new report from marine conservation NGO OceansAsia.

“Once plastic enters the marine environment, it’s very difficult to move,” Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, the group’s director of research, told Denver 7.

“The fact that we are starting to find masks that are breaking up indicates that this is a real problem, that microplastics are being produced by masks,” Bondaroff said.

The Hong Kong-based group estimates that some 1.56 billion face masks will have flooded our oceans in 2020 alone – a grim statistic that they have witnessed firsthand since face masks began washing up on a small island off the coast of the Chinese mega-city since the start of the pandemic.

The masks could become yet another major contributor to the ongoing crisis of plastic pollution in our ocean, with disposable face masks taking as long as 450 years to break down.

The single-use masks that are recommended by health authorities and used as personal protective equipment in hospitals across the world are made of multiple layers of polypropylene, which are thin fibers of plastic.

And with 52 billion masks being manufactured in this year, with the average weight of each single-use polypropylene surgical face mask being 3 to 4 grams, we could be looking at anywhere from 4,680 to 6,240 metric tons of new marine plastic pollution.

Ocean pollution has already reached such monstrous proportions that an estimated 100 million tons of plastic can now be found in the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations. Between 80 and 90 percent of it comes from land-based sources. And according to a report prepared for the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by 2050 it is estimated that plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh all fish.

In recent years, ocean biologists and conservationists have expressed alarm over the growing problem of plastics and microplastics inundating the world’s oceans and water supplies, leaching carcinogenic toxins and chemicals into the marine environment, with plastic drink containers trapping and confining — and ultimately killing — marine wildlife.

“The question that we couldn’t answer was how many [masks] are entering our oceans? We just didn’t know,” Dr. Bondaroff said.

OceansAsia’s recent study could offer some alarming clues as to the extent of the pollution, however.

“The 1.56 billion face masks that have entered our oceans in 2020 are there for the long run,” he said. “They will remain in the ocean for 450 years or more, and they’ll break into smaller pieces.”

The report notes that the global sales force of face masks has grown exponentially, increasing from $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion in 2020.

The surging sales come as health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued official health guidance urging U.S. residents to always wear a face mask in public in lieu of or in addition to physical distancing measures meant to help prevent person-to-person transmission of the deadly disease.

“That’s important, we need to keep people safe, but at the same time that has a lasting impact on our environment, and we’re seeing that on the beaches,” Bondaroff added.

The report requests that the public wear reusable masks when possible while also disposing of masks properly as a step toward drawing down overall consumption of single-use plastics.

The group also calls on authorities to encourage the use of reusable masks, including releasing guidelines on the proper manufacture and use of reusable masks, while also educating the public about responsibly disposing of masks, among other measures.

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Animals

Mass Die-Off of Birds in U.S. Southwest Caused by Severe Starvation

Elias Marat

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Photograph: Jenna McCullough/University of New Mexico

When hundreds of thousands of songbirds mysteriously began “falling out of the sky” in September across Western states in the U.S., wildlife researchers were aghast over what possibly could have caused the mass die-off.

Various bird species were discovered to have been injured or simply perished en masse across hiking paths, backyards, and roadsides in states such as Arizona, Colorado, Nebraka, New Mexico and Texas. These included flycatchers, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, loons, swallows and warblers. Many of the birds were also bird and insect eaters migrating from the northern tundra in Alaska and Canada to winter in Central and South America.

Biologists sent the results to the federal laboratories of the U.S. Geological Survey, which found that some 80 percent of specimens were victims of severe starvation – with carcasses displaying such tell-tale signs as emaciated wings, empty stomachs, dehydration, and depleted fat stores, reports Audobon Society.

However, the starvation itself was the result of unseasonably frigid weather conditions linked to the erratic and fast-changing climate conditions caused by humans, according to researchers.

“It looks like the immediate cause of death in these birds was emaciation as a result of starvation,” Jonathan Sleeman, director of the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, told the Guardian. “It’s really hard to attribute direct causation, but given the close correlation of the weather event with the death of these birds, we think that either the weather event forced these birds to migrate prior to being ready, or maybe impacted their access to food sources during their migration.”

The climate crisis was already a top culprit in the mass die-off, with experts speculating that the birds perished as a result of a brutal cold front, droughts, or even the tremendous amount of smoke being pumped out of the unprecedented wildfires raging across western states at the time.

While lab results ruled out physical damage from smoke as a factor in most bird deaths, however, many of the migratory birds were likely pushed off-course by the wildfires and into the windy and freezing southwestern snowstorms raging around Sept. 9 or 10, causing them to freeze to death, collide into buildings and cars while in a disoriented state, and die from either the impact or from being consumed by predators.

The birds were also ravaged by the effects of the mega-drought ravaging the U.S. Southwest, which left them vulnerable to the coinciding extreme weather events.

“We’re not talking about short-term starvation – this is a longer-term starvation,” said Prof. Martha Desmond of New Mexico State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology. “They became so emaciated they actually had to turn to wasting their major flight muscles. This means that this isn’t something that happened overnight.”

“Here in New Mexico we’ve seen a very dry year, and we’re forecast to have more of those dry years,” Desmond added. “And in turn I would say it appears that a change in climate is playing a role in this, and that we can expect to see more of this in the future.”

“I think it’s just very sad … Especially the thought that we are seeing some long-term starvation in some of these birds.”

Desmond, who worked with experts at the Bureau of Land Management and White Sands Missile Range to collect bird carcasses and assess the extent of the losses, had described the losses as a national tragedy.

Those who also worked with the massive influx of carcasses were chilled by the experience of working with such a huge volume of bird carcasses.

“The fact that we’re finding hundreds of these birds dying, just kind of falling out of the sky is extremely alarming,” commented NMSU grad student Allison Salas.

Since 1970, bird populations in North America have plummeted by 29 percent, or three billion birds. According to a 2019 study, rampant high temperatures resulting from climate change are drastically altering the migration patterns of bird species. Likewise, the conversion of pastures and grasslands into large crops has thinned out nesting places, while an accompanying mass die-off of insects eliminated by pesticides has deprived birds of their natural food sources.

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