The pipeline cometh

road work

“Road Work Ahead,” the signs say. They make their first appearance a mile and a half from our house in the woods.

I walk down to take a picture. The “Smile Ear to Ear” is for our nearby farmstand, where sweetcorn is also making a first appearance.

Smile. Be happy. A corridor marked with party flags has been laid out through another neighbor’s strawberry patch.


But this is not about our country roads, which are always in need of repair. It is not about parties or backyard festivities.

A mile farther east, the nature of the “road work,” the activities taking place in our neighbors’ backyards, becomes clearer.

A crane pokes up behind a flowerbed.


A ridge of dirt rises a few yards beyond the shade trees.


A “road” is being carved through cornfields.


The trucks, the heavy equipment, the port-a-potties, and the pipe show up another mile further to the east.


The “road” is for the Enbridge Pipeline, which is being laid to carry oil from the Alberta tarsands to the east coast of the USA.

This is not a new pipeline path. We already have a pipeline under our feet, under our corn and vegetables and horse pastures. That pipeline went in less than 20 years ago. Three years ago it leaked and created the worst spill ever in a body of fresh water, the Kalamazoo River, 50 miles away.

This new set of pipe is supposed to replace the leaky line.

Until it, too, leaks, I guess. Or until the oil or our appetite for it runs out, i.e. not any time soon.

I saw that earlier pipeline being laid back in the late 1990s but I didn’t know–I didn’t think about–what it was. I was not curious. It was one of those big infrastructure things.

But meantime I spent a dozen years working in the environmental movement and I learned to notice such things, to think about what was in front of my eyes as well as hidden under my feet, and why these things are there, and what the consequences are and can be.

Such thinking is inconvenient for the powers that be, economic and political. So they call it road work. They pay a few dollars compensation to people whose backyards and farms and vegetable patches are being torn up and hope they’ll stay calm about it all. Most people do. Most people really need the money.

A notice appears in our township letter: “Bertrand Township is eligible for a $15,000 Enbridge Environmental Stewardship Grant. We are looking for volunteers to participate on an ad hoc committee for how to use these funds.”

I call up and volunteer for the committee. I call up a local conservation organization and tell them to start thinking about a proposal for spending Enbridge guilt money.

It’s a pittance, but hey. We can come up with a party to go with all those party flags. A party for the trees and the toads while we try to remember what is under our feet.


20 thoughts on “The pipeline cometh

  1. Did you see Vice on HBO? Bill Maher produced it. There was an episode about Nigerian oil pirates who gave up on the big oil companies paying them for the oil they’re literally taking out of the NIgerians’ backyards. They break into the pipelines and make gasoline as well as creating environmental destruction because they’re desperate and hungry and they just don’t give a shit anymore.

    What separates us from them? People will welcome your pipeline … Obama talks tough about the Keystone Pipeline but he’ll sign the go-ahead behind closed doors. We are no different from third world countries. Go USA.

    • Well said. Nigeria is just us with the gloves off, us more desperate, us in the future with a trashed countryside. I think of this when I go to Congo. There but for a few more decades of collapse and conflict (environmental, political, social) go we. I feel great compassion and empathy for my African friends–we’re all in the struggle together and they have much to teach us about resilience and survival. But we MUST protect our precious land and waters. Don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.

  2. Albertan here, formerly from British Columbia, where the latter would have the citizens up in arms.

    A party?? Look, take those funds, create a community garden…far from the freakin’ pipline.

    • Actually the pipeline runs directly under a community garden, the CSA I belong to. And if it were a NEW pipeline (like Keystone) people would be up in arms. But the first line was laid in the 1990s when people (myself included) were asleep about all this. We should have been up in arms then. This one follows the same path and is supposed to be an improvement. Like many things it’s complicated. And we are all implicated. Thank you, Alberta, for the oil …

  3. What ? Anyone remember the exploding train just recently? Want your oil transported by rail or road? Or would you prefer the pipeline to be above ground? Nice to look at and so secure too.

    Or no pipeline at all – stop driving your cars (and the tractor that ploughs those fields) …and heating your homes… and powering factories?

    A pipeline is not an evil thing – pipelines are the arteries of the country, are safe and cost-effective. The methods of installation are disruptive – but only temporarily – in a year you won’t even know the line is under your feet. A leak is a very rare event.

    And there are families whose livelihoods depend on the work – pipe mills – welders – engineers – inspectors etc etc.

    So maybe less doom-saying and less tut-tutting?

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Tizer. I had this discussion with my brother last Saturday. We tend to talk ourselves into all-or-nothing positions. Of course as long as we are using oil there will be pipelines. Our economy–people, jobs–depends on oil. But I’m sorry, the doom has to be said: if not spills, climate change and scarcity of fossil fuels. (Digging up Alberta is a sign of looming scarcity.) Change is coming, one way or another. We need energy policies that wean us off big oil so we and our grandkids can weather those changes. Pipelines are an efficient way to keep us on the old familiar track, not to get us to the future. We can’t bury our heads in the sand or the problem under our feet.

  4. Pingback: Spending pipeline money | the practical mystic

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