This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
For years, “not in my backyard” has been the battle cry of residents in Cape Cod who stand opposed to an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The giant turbines will forever mar the beauty of the landscape, they say.
Energy is ugly. Some forms more so than others, as nuclear near-meltdowns in Japan, the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and deaths in a West Virginia coal mine explosion have driven home in the last year. Energy kills plants, plankton and people. It imperils the environment, poisons the oceans and is threatening to turn part of Japan, one of the most advanced nations on the planet, into a contaminated zone for decades to come.
David Daniel knows this all too well. He built his dream home on twenty acres of lush wilderness, alive with panthers, wild boar and deer, in Winnsboro, East Texas. Then a nightmare called tar sands appeared on his doorstep.
Tar sands are sandy soils laden with a tar-like substance called bitumen. Getting oil out of them is a dirty, dangerous and deadly process. Daniel knew none of this when a neighbor phoned in the fall of 2008 to say that he’d seen trespassers on the property. “I went back [from work] and I found survey stakes that cut my property in half,” he recalls. Several months later, an eminent domain letter arrived, telling him that a pipeline carrying oil from Canada’s “oil sands” would cut through his pristine property. When he complained to TransCanada, the company in charge, its lawyer responded with a veiled threat: “Should I put the letter in the ‘cooperative’ or the ‘uncooperative pile?’ ”
So began the Daniel family’s struggles with TransCanada, whose powerful US backers include Koch Industries (best known for its stealth attacks on the federal government, and big spending on climate change denial campaigns). By the time TransCanada’s surveyors entered the Daniels’ lives, the corporation was already hard at work pushing a pipeline that would run from the Canadian border to Texas’s Gulf Coast, along the way slicing through the Daniels’ land and the properties of countless other Americans.
At no time did TransCanada’s representatives volunteer information about tar sands, leaving Daniel to do his own research. When he asked how tar sands oil would affect the pipeline, TransCanada responded only that the effects would be determined after the pipeline was put in place. “They made us feel like lab rats on our own property,” he says.
Behind his painful schooling in corporate arrogance lies a startling fact: Canada is the leading oil supplier of the United States. Let me repeat that: the US imports more oil from Canada than (yes) Mexico, which ranks second, and (believe it or not) Saudi Arabia, which ranks only third. Tar sands are largely responsible for Canada’s new petro-status. Nearly a million barrels of tar sands oil arrive in the United States every day. By 2025, Canada is expected to be producing 3.5 million barrels of tar sands oil daily. Most of that, says Ryan Salmon of the National Wildlife Federation, will be imported to the US. And believe me, when it comes to energy ugly, tar sands could take the cake.