National Public Radio has begun a fascinating series on the implications of importing more Canadian oil from the tar sands of Alberta. The first of a two-part report focused on the current methods of transporting the fuel from Alberta into the United States, namely large trucks.
“A tractor-trailer creeps down a winding mountain road in Montana, caution lights flashing through the midnight snow flurries. It's hauling a coke drum for an oil refinery in Billings, Mont., and the drum, imported from Asia, is huge — two lanes wide, three stories tall,” said NPR’s Martin Kaste on "Morning Edition" this week.
The report goes on to explain that some people welcome the trucks because they represent fuel, a necessity for anyone who loves driving. Kelly Sayler, who lives not far from Montana’s Highway 12, is one of those who has no problem with the increasing truck traffic. "It's gonna make gas for us," she said in the report. "So if people like driving their cars, I don't think they should have a problem with it,” she said.
The giant tar sand trucks may not be a permanent presence in Montana, Idaho and the Dakotas. There are plans to extend the current pipeline infrastructure operated by TransCanada. But those plans, which include the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline through a few states including Nebraska, are being met with some skepticism. One of the skeptics, according to the NPR report, is Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), "[There] could not be a worse route in the entire state of Nebraska," he says. "Maybe ... in the entire country.” Johanns’ issue boils down to the potential impact that a long-term pipeline could have on food and water supplies. "You can drive through areas and the water is sitting there on top of the surface," Johanns says. "I mean, the Ogallala Aquifer lays right there.”
Canada remains the largest exporter of oil to the United States. And while I am not an international relations expert, I feel safe saying that our relationship with our neighbors to the North is more straightforward than our relationship with oil-rich countries in the Middle East or Russia. This relationship makes using Canada's energy supplies appealing. But the basic concerns of the cleanliness of the Alberta tar sands combined with these local stories shows that this is not a black-and-white issue.