The U.S. Senate on Monday approved a budget amendment that supports the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, which has raised concerns among American Indians across the country – including in Oklahoma.
Casey Camp Horinek, a Ponca Indian who has been involved with the American Indian Movement since the 1970s, has joined forces with local resident and activist JoKay Dowell, Quawpaw/ Cherokee/Eastern Shawnee and Peoria, to raise awareness about the dangers the Keystone XL expansion creates.
“I am affiliated with about every group that is resisting Keytone XL,” said Horinek. “The Ponca people of north central Oklahoma have already been victimize, suffering from environmental genocide already.”
Horinek said the presence of Conoco-Phillips’ refinery, and spiderweb system of pipelines that come to and from that company near Ponca City, is just one of a number of environmental offenders that have created problems for her people.
“We are also dealing with Continental Carbon Black, a landfill that feeds into two leeching ponds on the Salt Fork River, and Ponca Iron and Metal that was polluting so horribly in the city that they moved it out of the city and into the Ponca peoples’ territory. All of these have polluted the air, the earth and the groundwater.”
According to Horinek, the Ponca is a tribe of 3,000, with 600 to 800 citizens living in the area between the Salt Fork River and the Arkansas River.
“We have averaged one funeral per week over the past five years,” said Horinek. “You can do the math on that. We’re suffering from cancers that have never been heard of, auto-immune diseases and others. We’ve been damaged psychologically, physiologically and economically. No business wants to locate to such a polluted place.”
Horinek said Keystone cut a backroom deal with three tribal members several years back, giving the company access to tribal land in exchange for $18,000 worth of playground equipment, much of which was never delivered.
“Or at least that’s the deal that was acknowledged and circulated among our people,” said Horinek. “We were in a reactionary position to try to stop that, but it was a done deal.”
As a result, the original Keystone Pipeline snakes through Ponca territory, running along fence lines right next to tribal property.
“We know from Keystone press releases that the pump stations they’ve installed on Ponca land have all failed,” said Horinek. “Again, this is all along the Salt Fork River.”
Horinek said the plans for the extension will cross through a number of sensitive ecosystems, particularly the Oglala Aquifer, which stretches from western Texas to South Dakota.
“Once the pipeline comes through Nebraska - aboriginal territory, it will follow along the lines of the Ponca Trail of Tears of 1877, furthering the damage done,” said Horinek. “On the trail, one in three died, and we’re still dying. When it finishes that trip, if Obama allows it to happen, it will arrive in Ponca territory and they will use the existing Keystone line that crosses through a number of tribal territories to Cushing, where Obama has already fast-tracked it and will continue through Creek, Seminole territory, on to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Dowell said some tribes were notified about the pipeline extension as far back as 2008.
“But notification is not consultation or consent,” said Dowell. “Oil and gas operations threaten native communities and sacred sites, with little or no compensation for the incalculable risks imposed by controversial practices like hydro-fracturing, or fracking, of Earth in earthquake zones; returning to the groundwater millions of gallons of fracking wastewater tainted with life-threatening benzene and toluene; huge pipelines running through pasture and playgrounds and beneath streams and creek beds; and more concerns.”
According to a study recently released by Columbia University and the U.S. Geological Survey, fracking can be linked to the 5.7 temblor near Prague on Nov. 6, 2011. According to the report, evidence has been found that wastewater from an active oil drilling operation was being pumped into a set of abandoned oil wells, putting increasing pressure on a documented fault that finally “jumped” under the stress. Overall, the study estimates an elevenfold increase in earthquakes occurring the nation’s midsection compared to 30 years ago.
Horinek said the product being extracted – bitumen – is not actually crude oil, but a substance that is more rock than anything. According to Wikipedia, bitumen is a sticky, black and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum, generally used in road construction.
“The process used to extract the substance requires eight barrels of oil to one barrel of bitumen,” said Horinek. “The cost far outweighs the benefit. It is such a heavy substance that it has to be injected with chemicals to make it thin enough to push through the pipeline. Pumping such a thick substance through the stations also raises the ground and water temperature in the area about 5 degrees.”
Horinek said the U.S. will not even be using the oil produced if the pipeline is approved.
“To add insult to injury, this is not even destined for the U.S. market,” said Horinek. “What will happen is that the world powers will bid on it, and it will most certainly go to China. We’ll have the environmental devastation, while another country benefits.”
Dowell said the extension, like the existing Keystone Pipeline, may be a foregone conclusion.
“Keystone Pipeline has been in the ground for years and for all practical purposes, KXL is, too,” said Dowell. “I see our efforts as more aggressive seeds being planted for the future. I hope that young people seeing us will continue to oppose such projects that choose profit over human health and safety.”
Horinek said a number of organizations have formed to resist KXL.
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