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Point: Fighting ‘authoritarian oil oligarchs’



The “Arab Spring” inspired freedom-loving people everywhere, even as it helped drive oil prices above $100 per barrel. Back home, we face our own authoritarian oil oligarchs. A foreign company — TransCanada — is trying to ram a new pipeline down the throats of Oklahoma landowners like the Kelso family of Bennington. The Kelsos want to keep TransCanada off the land they and their parents worked so hard to pay for.

No matter what TransCanada says, the Kelsos are not interested in money. Profit motivates TransCanada; profit does not motivate the Kelsos or me. We simply believe it is wrong, illegal and unconstitutional to take the Kelsos’ land by eminent domain for TransCanada’s own private profit. Some things are more valuable than money.

TransCanada’s pipeline, the Keystone XL, is marketed as an alternative to Mideast oil and a boon to U.S. energy security.

In reality, it’s a scheme to raise prices for Canadian producers by sending Canadian heavy crude to the Gulf. This will raise gas prices even further in the Midwest, take land from Oklahomans like the Kelsos, and threaten public safety, while enriching Canadian producers.

The market will take care of the bottleneck of oil at Cushing; it doesn’t require investing in Canada’s dirty “oil” and TransCanada’s tactics.

The Keystone XL pipeline won’t carry oil. This is bitumen: It’s the consistency of peanut butter and is often mined, rather than drilled and pumped. Extracting, refining and burning it is more damaging than any other source of oil. Bitumen pipelines are more likely to leak and more likely to cause harm when they do leak, according to the Pipeline Safety Trust and other watchdog groups. TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline, the sister project to Keystone XL that terminates in Cushing, leaked 11 times in just one year of operation.

Most Oklahoma oilies and politicians have sided with TransCanada, which threatens using eminent domain to take private land for the company’s profit.

One exception was prominent Oklahoma oil man Harold Hamm. Hamm warned of risks associated with foreign influence in domestic energy markets. There are plenty of risks: PetroChina, owned by the Chinese government, invests heavily in Canadian tar sands. China also backs Enbridge, another Canadian company trying to build a bitumen pipeline to Canada’s west coast where it can be shipped to China. While the Canadian government likely won’t approve that pipeline, Oklahomans are expected to give up their land for TransCanada’s pipeline. But Hamm’s cautionary comments are drowned out by cries from the oil patch.

Short-sighted oilies want to take land from Oklahomans so this “oil,” produced in Canada by companies owned by the Chinese government, can be piped through the heartland to Cushing and exported from Texas. Will Cushing be proud of that?

Is this what Oklahoma is about? Is this what America is about?

Hentges, an Edmond resident and attorney who represents the Kelso family, is executive director of Center for Energy Matters Inc., a nonprofit that promotes sustainable energy.

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