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MADELON FINKEL: Thank you. Thank you for such a gracious welcome, and welcome to you all. It's always nice to come up to Ithaca to get out of New York City, although I'm not quite sure why we did this in November. I think maybe September would have been nicer. But I'm delighted to be here, and I really thank you all very much for the opportunity for me to share a little bit of what I found researching the book on pipeline politics.
And while I tried to keep the material as up to date as possible, things change. And the chapter already on the Keystone XL pipeline has changed, because two weeks ago, a legal decision was made that now has stopped that pipeline from being constructed, which some may think is a good thing. Some may think it's a bad thing. You'll see where I stand by the end of the hour for sure, and also with the two climate publications that came out just this week and last week. Again, things are constantly changing.
In that, though, there are several things that are constant. And what I found when I was researching the book is that the geopolitics of energy and gas and pipelines is phenomenal. It's absolutely fascinating. And what I tried to do is to discuss many different issues, each one of which could actually be a book in and of itself. So let me backtrack a little, and you might think, well, here she's written on cancer screening and health care policy. How did I fall into pipelines?
And I asked myself that too when my editor, Prager Press, came to me and said, how about doing a book on pipelines? The fracking book did very well. What do you think? And my first reaction was, well, I know what a pipeline is, but I'm not sure I can really write a book about it. And I said, let me think about it. And I did a little research, and that's when there was a whole hubbub out in North Dakota and Montana with the Keystone XL pipeline. And I said, you know what? I think this sounds good. I think we can do it.
So I said, yes, and I wrote this book, actually, fairly quickly. From start to finish, to when it was actually out in all its glory, it was one year, which is very, very quick. I hope it doesn't read that way, but I wrote it quickly. And what I wanted to do was to actually share with you what I found. We can have a discussion afterwards.
There's no necessarily one right answer that's available or a wrong answer. But basically, I think the timing is great, particularly as we start to focus on climate, as we focus on the need for more pipelines, as we focus on the need for more drilling for oil and gas, as both oil and natural gas prices are probably the lowest they've been.
So what did I find, and what can we talk about? Here is a nice outline of the chapters in the book. I'm going to talk about some of them, some more than others. I'm certainly going to talk about the geopolitics. And then I'm going to talk a little bit about environmental justice and more so on pipeline safety and the health impact of pipelines. And we can go from here, and then as I say, have a discussion.
The global network of pipelines is absolutely huge. I put several facts on this page here, some of which you may or may not know. We're looking at oil reserves. We're looking at oil consumption here, and the fact that some of these countries are in the news for other reasons, I think it gives greater credence to the importance of how everything seems to be interrelated here as we look, just in this case, on oil and natural gas.
Russia is the largest oil-producing country. It's surpassed Saudi Arabia and the US. But if you look at what's happening in the US, we're certainly increasing up to the top three, for sure. Certainly, consumers, the US-- we are the largest global consumer of oil. That should not be a surprise to anybody probably in this room. China is number two-- voracious appetite for oil.
In terms of natural gas, Russia, again, holds a quarter of the world's total gas, natural gas reserves, most of which are in Siberia, which presents a challenge, obviously, from getting the product, the natural gas from source to market. This is a rather inhospitable part of the world. How do you build a pipeline that's going to take the natural gas from its source to market?
And a lot of the Middle Eastern, Central Asian countries also have significant natural gas reserves. I had the pleasure of visiting Baku, Azerbaijan, and you can certainly see how this small little country has prospered because of its proximity, actually, on its property, if you will, of natural gas. We were-- I was at a conference there, hosted royally. It was almost like money was not an issue at all there, and probably the same in Turkmenistan. I've never been. Qatar, I have been, and certainly, natural gas has transformed that desert country.
And I think, as you see in fact seven, those countries produce 2/3 of the total world production of natural gas. So it's not just centralized in one area around the world. It's certainly in other parts as well.
The US, though, is interesting.
SPEAKER 2: I have a question. The last line-- why doesn't it include the US, because the US is exporting natural gas?
MADELON FINKEL: It is in the next slide. OK? I did it worldwide here, and then I wanted to focus on the US. Thank you for the question. But for sure, we are now the leading producer of natural gas and the largest consumer of the product, again, followed by Russia, China, and Iran. So it was just a way to divide the slide up, if you will. But we are absolutely a major producer of this product.
And in order, as I said, to move the product from point A to point B, we need pipelines. I go into detail in the book about the history of pipelines, starting thousands of years of BC, up to the present, and how people were very creative in terms of either using bamboo or copper or some other alloy to mold the pipe to bring oil at that point to the surface, and then try and transport it here.
And I think this part of the world is quite pertinent to that. In Pennsylvania, I think it was Titusville, where they first started to notice that the gas and oil-- the oil was bubbling up, and how do you capture that and move it on? So I'm not going to go into the history of how we got from the early pipeline to the now major pipeline, but it was, I thought, fun to research and certainly to learn about it.
There are transmission gathering and distribution pipelines. They're in different sizes. These are kind of big ones and so forth. But basically, the global network is absolutely huge. Here's a picture, a graphic of the United States, with all the different lines criss-crossing the country. And you can see the hub-- does this have a little pointer? It doesn't matter. You could see the hub down in Texas and Louisiana, which certainly is known for its refineries and producing of oil and gas.
We have about 22.4 million miles of pipe-- that includes oil and natural gas-- and 72,000 miles of crude oil lines that connect the regional markets. In Canada, its pipeline system would extend, they say, 17 times around the Earth if it was laid out end to end. So basically, these pipelines criss-cross countries, and move the product across the globe by various means. It could be by tanker, a ship tanker. It could be rail, but it seems to work.
What happens, though, when one region relies on, let's say, oil or natural gas from one source? And the European Union is certainly a prime example of this. They are heavily dependent on natural gas and oil from Russia. And I think that placing all your eggs in one basket is probably not the best bet, but what are they to do? What are their other options?
And I go into that in the book. Certainly, it is a complicated, complex world of trying to figure out the pipeline politics. And the interplay with economics, the interplay with the geopolitics is evident just about daily.
Wars have been fought over pipelines. Countries have become pawns, if you will, in this high stakes pipeline game. And backwater countries, if you will, have become major players, all of a sudden, because of the natural resources within their sovereign states. But for the discovery of oil and gas in many of these countries, they really would not have as much global influence as they now do.
But without pipelines, they're just going to drown in oil and natural gas. They need to transport it out, and they need to transport it out usually over major distances. So let's focus a little bit on the geography of the world. I titled this, From Russia with Love. I list here the three major players-- Gazprom, Rosneft, and Transneft. And they control Russia's oil and natural gas exports. Mostly in this photo, you can see to the European Union.
Russia is expanding, moving eastward to try and satiate the need of China for its product. But basically, these are the major players within Russia. And Russia does flex its muscles. Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic all risk supply distribution of oil imports because of their high dependence on oil supplied through pipelines from one single supplier, and that's Russia. Greece is heavily dependent on oil from Iraq, and any fluctuations in the flow of oil or natural gas will cause gyrations on the world market.
Ukraine-- again, and this Ukraine seems perennially to be in the news. But Ukraine is a perfect example of putting your eggs in one basket and the geopolitics. Russia's dispute with Ukraine certainly disrupted the supplies and prices of transportation of oil and natural gas to the point where in the United Kingdom, in one day, the price soared by 27%. I mean, that's remarkable. So just a little gyration can cause tremendous disruption in the world markets.
Now Ukraine absolutely depends on gas revenues from the pipelines that cross its country. You can see several of them criss-crossing the country. So if there was to be an alternative route, if there was to be a disruption in the products that are being carried through the Ukraine, obviously, that's going to economically hurt the country. So what Russia is planning to do with acceptance on behalf of the European Union is to build the Nord Stream 2 offshore pipeline, and that's going to go through the Baltic Sea to northern Germany, and then through pipelines throughout the European Union.
Now, obviously, this is going to benefit Russia. It's going to make it easier to get natural gas and so forth to the European Union without going through Ukraine, their enemy at the time. So Russia is going to benefit. The European Union will benefit. They're going to, perhaps, get a better deal on their oil and gas, and the one who's really going to lose, of course, is the Ukraine. So this plays out daily. And we'll see. Nord Stream 2, I believe, is still in production. Yep.
AUDIENCE: Isn't it more dangerous to do it through the Baltic Sea? [INAUDIBLE] transport gas that way?
MADELON FINKEL: More dangerous in terms of leaks or more dangerous in terms of costs? I'm sure they've done-- well, we have many pipelines that go underwater-- they've done their due diligence, and they've decided that be it as it is, that's what they're going to do. Don't forget in Norway, or off the coast of Norway, they have a gazillion pipelines that run under the North Sea. So engineering-- from an engineering perspective, it's possible. So that's what they-- they are definitely going ahead with this.
So Russia supplies the European Union, and basically, as I said, within the European countries, Scotland benefited from North Sea oil and gas. Norway, for sure, has benefited substantially by its rich deposits of oil and mostly natural gas. And the pipeline to get that from the North Sea, wherever, if you extended the pipeline, the Norwegian pipeline, it would extend from Oslo to Bangkok. That's how big it is.
Norway supplies a quarter of Europe's natural gas needs, but it's Russia that provides the majority of it. So one might ask or say, well, if Norway's sitting on such a huge deposit, why can't they, in a sense, get it out faster and take care of the European market? I don't have the answer to that. We can discuss that later. But at the moment, Russia is the dominant player.
So we have Russia, and then we have the Mid East. And certainly, as I say here, it's probably an understatement to say that the geopolitical realities in this region complicate matters significantly. The Persian Gulf region is very rich in oil and gas, and it seems to be perennially involved in politics, religious conflicts, wars. And it has always been the epicenter for price wars and pipeline alliances.
I talk about, in one of the chapters in the book, the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline that would have extend-- note the past tense-- that would have extended pipelines from Damascus to Lebanon, and then the gas would be delivered to the European Union from Lebanon. So why is this such a big deal? Well, for a lot of reasons, one of which it would snub Russia in the process, because now the European Union wouldn't be so dependent on Russian natural gas. They could get it from another source.
But we have a situation in Syria. We have a situation in a lot of countries in the region. And before Syria imploded, Assad really wanted to turn his country into a transit hub for natural gas. And basically, with Syria in shambles today, any hope of this pipeline being built is probably a pipe dream at this point in time. So certainly, the geopolitical realities of the region complicate things, and some pundits have said or question whether the Syrian Civil War is also a pipeline war.
I don't take a stand on that. I just bring it up. But certainly, again within the region, the effort to control energy supplies, energy transports, you'll have to take into account what Saudi Arabia is doing. You'll have to take into account Qatar, Turkey. All of them, the three that I just mentioned-- Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey-- wanted to remove Assad so that they could benefit from new pipelines and cut Syria out and Russia out.
But again, politics came into play. Saudi Arabia has a little dispute, shall we say, with Qatar. Qatar's the bete noire of the region. It's shunned. It's isolated. It has its natural gas. It's still selling its product, but basically, nobody in that region wants to do business with them. Russia, as you know, is backing the Assad regime, and basically, is at odds with Iran, with Tehran.
And then there's Yemen-- not on the map, but down below Saudi Arabia. Yemen is an interesting problem on many dimensions. Saudi Arabia wanted an outlet for its oil at the bottom of the Saudi peninsula. They felt that Iran might blockade the Hormuz Strait, and that would be damaging to its transport of its oil and gas.
So Saudi Arabia wanted to build a pipeline through Yemen. But there's a war going on. Saudi Arabia is mad at the Houtis. The Houtis control the Gulf of Aden, and this high stakes game is being played out daily. So far, nothing has been done in terms of building the pipeline down there. It's definitely not happening at the moment.
So oil, gas, politics always has sort of been bubbling, if you will, in the Mid East. The objective of all the oil and gas-rich countries is to get the product out and to sell it on the open market, and to do so sometimes is complicated by disagreements and wars.
Central Asia-- the Central Asian countries are interesting. Lousy picture here. I'm sorry. I couldn't find a good one. But these countries-- I call them the Stans-- they're all landlocked, and they're all oil and gas-rich. So in order to get the product anywhere, they need the pipelines. And they have a huge network, and now they're looking to service, if you will, Asia, particularly China.
So they're separate from Russia at this point, and it would probably be to their advantage to try and cut into Russia's dominance of the region by selling to China. So the development of the region's infrastructure has really taken off. And as I said earlier, some of these countries-- you can describe them as backwater or not terribly important a couple of decades ago-- now are very important in terms of energy, oil, and gas.
I talk a lot in the book about African politics and pipelines. Africa's complicated. It's a complicated continent, and I'm not going to discuss it here at this point, because we have other topics to talk about. I talk about Latin America. I talk about Mexico. The energy sector is certainly crucial to Mexico. In Latin America, Venezuela is in turmoil. I guess that's the nicest way to describe what's going on in Venezuela.
Brazil has been hampered by a lot of corruption charges against Petrobras-- they're the big oil company-- and corruption charges against former presidents. Note the plural. And basically, they're oil-rich. Brazil was trying to develop its liquid natural gas infrastructure, and I give a broad overview in the book about each of the regions. I haven't talked about the US yet, but I will. I promise.
In Asia, there are pipelines, of course. There are two. You can see from Russia into China, Japan, Korea, and then in the lower map on the right here, what's happening in Indonesia and Malaysia. Again, these are natural gas pipelines, a lot of them servicing that region. They're not global players, per se, but they're mostly servicing the region.
What I do want to talk about a little bit is the health hazards of pipelines. As was mentioned, I did do a book on the environmental and health impact of hydraulic fracturing. And so most of the chapters focused on, what are the health hazards associated with all of this?
Pipelines are different. They're not the same as oil wells. They're natural gas wells and so forth. But they obviously do have a potential for harm to the environment and to human health. And I want to bring up the Enbridge energy line B pipeline explosion in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was a tremendous, tremendous disaster. It was carrying oil sands, which is heavy. It's viscous. It's toxic. It's horrible. And it destroyed quite a bit of the area around Kalamazoo.
And then there was the Pegasus pipeline disaster in Mayflower Arkansas, which destroyed quite a bit of Lake Conway. Now leaks happen all the time. Explosions happen less. Explosions happen less frequently, but certainly are there. Blowouts-- these things will-- the explosions and the fires will release flammable vapors and gases.
What happens? I mean the images of the birds covered in oil are iconic whenever there's a big spill. And what happens, particularly if they're carrying the heavy viscous oil sands, which are not the same as crude oil? It doesn't dissipate. It just sinks to the bottom of wherever it is and continuously pollutes the area. So it's much more dangerous, in my opinion, to look at transporting oil sands-- and I'll talk about that in a minute-- as opposed to crude oil, which has its own problems.
And what are the health effects? So what happens? The environmental risks-- I mean I show some pictures. I mean they're for shock value and so forth to make a point. But basically, in Alberta, where there are the oil sands, the deposits, we have seen, based on a couple of studies, forget what's happening to the environment, but now we're beginning to see the ill effects, if you will, on health among the people that live in this region. A lot of it has been underestimated, according to some researchers, because they don't take into account the evaporation from tailing ponds and dust and so forth.
And certainly, my second point here-- this has implications that need to be discussed when we debate the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline that will go through some really gorgeous, pristine area of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota. And I'll get to that in a minute. Let's just talk about health for a second.
And as an epidemiologist, I'm well aware that trying to show associations, forget causation, but trying to show an association between x and y is amazingly difficult, particularly when you're dealing with factors with a long latency period. In other words, you can have a spill, and you can see some immediate effects of people complaining of nosebleeds or headaches or dizziness or what have you. But what are the long-term effects, and how do we determine whether the insult from the spill is actually significantly, if you will, contributing to the health effects that are being expressed?
There are many factors that have to be taken into account to determine what I call the strength of association between the risk factor and the disease. Let me just digress for one second, get off pipelines for one second, just to show you how difficult this is. I did a study-- got it published.
We looked at cancer incidence in southwest Pennsylvania, and it was very deliberately selected because of all the wells that had been drilled there. There's a lot of hydraulic fracturing going on in that particular region, particularly in certain counties compared to others or town-- I think they call them townships-- compared to others.
So what we did is we looked at the observed number of cancers that are known to be environmentally caused-- bladder, thyroid, leukemias. And I looked at the rates in the areas that had a lot of wells. And I looked at the same data in counties that did not have much drilling. And I did it before the wells went in. I started before the wells had been drilled, and then going forward.
And what we found-- that there was a very high-- it was actually the number of observed cases was much higher than the number of expected cases for all the cancers. And this was true before drilling started, which made no sense. If you're trying to show that the drilling was harmful, you would have expected to see an uptick in some of these cancers after the drilling started, understanding that it's only been a few years, and some of these cancers take a long time to develop.
So I started to ask people who commissioned the study-- they live in this area. I said, what else is going on? I know you're near coal country. You have coal mining. I know you had some battery factories and so forth. Why should we see this? What's going on? And then I did a little bit of research, and I found out that there are some uranium tailings that were buried in two of these counties, and a golf course was built on top of this. A child's playground was built on top of this, so you can't really say it's because of the drilling. There was stuff going on that confounded and complicated things.
So trying to figure out what the impact on health is not easy, and it will take time, particularly if you're looking at the incidence of cancers. Be that as it may, some of the short-term studies have shown an increase in symptoms and diseases and conditions that you wouldn't expect to see normally. So we need to monitor that, and we need to see what-- unfortunately, they're like canaries in the mines or collateral damage. We need to see what's going to happen, because what's happened already happened. How do we clean it up to protect people going forward?
We have a lot of toxic byproducts that are carried through pipelines and so forth. And I just list four of them here. All of these can do tremendous harm to the body, if you're exposed to it for great periods of time. Also, it's not just the time, but it's the amount, the amount of the exposure. I mean just a little bit haphazardly is not probably going to do too much, but certainly, long-term exposure at higher rates is probably not going to be so terrific for you.
So let me just go back to this for a second. We're investigating-- not just me, but many researchers are looking into it, and two members in the audience are also looking at the effect on animals in the environment. And again, what can we say about this? We can say that there's probably cause for concern, but we can't state with statistical certainty that A, being exposed to whatever the toxins here, cause B, the cancer or whatever else you're looking at.
I talk about compressor stations a little bit, too. Take a look at this map. These are all the compressor stations. The blue is interstate pipeline. The gray is intrastate pipeline, and the little red dots are compressor stations. Now compressor stations are really necessary, because basically, they compress the natural gas as it travels through the pipeline, and they need to do so at periodic markers, every 40 to 70 miles, I'm told. They need another compressor station to move this stuff forward.
So what effect does living near one of these things have? Forget the pipeline. Assuming that the pipeline is clean, and it's not going to leak, it's not going to explode, what effect does living near a compressor station have on your health? And essentially, we're just starting to see some evidence. People have complained of-- I'm sure it's not minor to them-- but dizziness, fatigue, sort of soft complaints that could be caused by a lot of different things, but they didn't exist until the pipeline was built. So we always have to kind of take that into account and so forth.
And again, the number of compressor stations required to move the product is going to depend on the terrain and the conditions of the area. There's a growing body of literature that seems to say that living near a compressor station increases the risk of exposure to VOCs, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides. Noise is a big issue. These things are loud, I'm told. I've never actually been near a compressor station, but I'm told that they're loud. Sounds like a jet taking off, people say.
And basically, what has to happen with these stations is something called blowdowns, and venting stuff, bad stuff into the air. And this can last 20 minutes. It can last two to three hours. So again, we need to take into account what's happening with the compressor stations. And I know a couple of areas have started to mount lawsuits to prevent the compressor station from being built in their neighborhood and so forth. I don't know how successful they are, but you can see that quite a number of them, throughout the northeast, south, south central, and so forth have been built. So I talk about that in the book.
But what I want to talk about a little bit is the politics in the United States with the Keystone XL pipeline. And I suppose this was the impetus for my getting into this in the first place. In other words, there is a pipeline that exists, the red. You can see kind of squiggles there. Steel City is a big transit hub. It goes down. And the hypotenuse of this triangle is designed to move the oil sands from Alberta to Steel City, and then down to Houston and Port Arthur, where it will be refined.
OK, no other pipeline in the United States has generated as much fury as the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access. And basically, it's interesting, in this case, because you can see it crosses an international border. So since it crosses an international border, final approval has to be given by the United States State Department. The Dakota pipeline, the Dakota Access, which I don't show, but it's in North Dakota, South Dakota, that doesn't cross an international border, but it crosses interstate waterways, which means that the US federal government has the authority over that pipeline.
So in a nutshell, proponents are saying, we need the XL pipeline to be built, because we don't want to be dependent on foreign oil. Now if you remember back earlier with the slides, the US is pretty much oil self-sufficient, certainly natural gas self-sufficient. So we might want to take issue with that.
Then the proponents say, well, it's going to create jobs. Well, yes, it will, because you need people to build the pipeline. But this is going to be temporary, and most of the people who are going to be building the pipeline are going to be pulled in from other areas. And then once the pipeline is completed, they leave, and basically, one estimate says maybe 35 jobs would be created over the long term.
Opponents have a whole list of arguments against this thing. Number one, of course, is the potential damage to the environment and the climate. Oil sands create more greenhouse emissions than conventional oil products. More carbon is going to be released into the atmosphere, which will increase global warming.
And jobs are not going to really be long-lasting, so it's not going to help people who happen to live near the route. But if you take a look at the route, there not so many people that live there anyhow, which, again, raises the issue, if there is a leak, if there is a spill, how long is it going to take to get somebody into that area to stop the leak and minimize the damage? And I talk a little bit about that in the book as well.
The Dakota Access has different issues in that its route will cross the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's lands. And this land is held sacred by the tribe. They say it's an issue of tribal sovereignty, and the US did not go through proper protocol to, indeed, get approval for this. And so it goes.
Now when I was going to give this talk two weeks ago, the timing was really pretty amazing, because on the 10th of November, a federal judge block work on this Keystone XL pipeline. And they said that, basically-- oh, let's see. What did he say? It was a US district court from Montana, and he ruled that the Trump administration failed to present a reasoned explanation for the pipeline to go forward and that it's simply-- quote now-- "simply discarded the effect that the pipe project would have on climate change."
So at the moment, it's not going forward. The judge has blocked that. The judge also found that the administration did not adequately account for how a decline in oil prices, which we are seeing, might affect the pipeline viability. So what I tried to do in the book is become sort of neutral. I lay out the facts. People can come to their own conclusions and so forth.
AUDIENCE: Did you say it was the red one or the proposed one that they stopped?
MADELON FINKEL: The red one's there. The proposed one is the blue. That's what they want to do.
MADELON FINKEL: Yeah, yeah, the blue. Yeah. Yeah. He said, no, can't do it, because much of the pipeline has been completed in red. But what's at issue is that final leg, and then going down from Cushing to Houston. And you need a special pipe to move oil sands. It's not the same as moving crude oil, so it's terribly complicated. And I talk about it in the book.
How safe are they? Well, the National Transportation Safety Board has a listing of pipeline accidents. I went on the site. It's actually really scary. These things are-- they're reported by event date, city, and state, and the numbers astounded me. I mean, this is not an infrequent occurrence. So if you have nothing better to do over the weekend, you can click on that site, and it just goes pages and pages by date, where, the extent, and so forth.
Who's supposed to be monitoring this? Well, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, is. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is, and the Office of Pipeline Safety is supposed to do all this. But FERC, in particular-- they're supposed to provide oversight on the commercial aspects of pipelines. That's what they're supposed to do.
And pipelines that cross state boundaries are regulated by FERC, and as you saw from the couple of slides ago, the map, most of the pipelines cross state boundaries. It's supposed to be an independent agency. It's supposed to not be political, but in reality, from what I could tell from my research, there is not a pipeline in existence or proposed that FERC doesn't love. They just-- whatever. If you propose a pipeline, you could propose a pipeline, they'll say, sure, fine. Wonderful.
The FSMA is a federal agency, and that focuses on hazardous materials and safety. They're supposed to set standards. They're a little bit better than FERC, from what I could tell. But a lot of the inspections and so forth are really done by the pipeline operators, which is sort of letting the fox into the chicken coop kind of thing. They're supposed to monitor their product.
Now it's impractical. I get it. It's impractical to assume that there are never going to be any leaks, never going to be any spills, never blowouts or explosions. But I think evidence shows that we could do a lot better in terms of monitoring safety, particularly, as you mentioned, how are they going to get onto the Baltic Sea, or how are they going to bring it through rugged Montana land? How are you going to do that?
Well, you need strong regulators to make sure that you're not just running roughshod over everything and hoping for the best. And I think what I try to do in the book is to go over this and to present who's doing what. I give a whole timeline and so forth. Clearly, my impression is that we could and should do better. There was a whole to-do with the Trans Alaska pipeline. People said, how are you going to do it in the tundra? The weather's so harsh. Well, they did it. We've had leaks and so forth. We've certainly had leaks there.
So we need to do a better job. And I'm going to end with a little discussion on environmental justice. Historically, for decades, environmentally hazardous sites, be they toxic waste sites, landfills, and pipelines, have been disproportionately located in ethnic minority areas or low income communities, which, of course, means that you're placing those individuals at much higher risk because of exposure to these hazardous sites.
FERC has taken little action in this area. As I said, any pipeline will get approved by them. And the chapter on environmental justice focuses on some of the newer pipelines that are being proposed in the southeast going through the Carolinas and Georgia and so forth. And most of them, if not all, will go through areas that are heavily inhabited by ethnic minorities and low income populations.
There are supposedly laws and regulations on the books here in the United States to prevent this. But if truth be told, basically, this area is not really taken seriously, particularly by this present administration. As a matter of fact, in 2017, the head of the EPA's environmental justice program-- environmental justice is in the EPA-- he resigned, stating that the Trump administration and the EPA are hostile to environmental justice principles, and he resigned. And he has not been replaced at all.
So what we try and do is to try and understand. I mean, I'm not naive to think that we can't-- that we shouldn't have pipelines. I mean I'm not naive to think that we're going to be in a world without oil and gas. If we have that situation, how do you make it safe, safe for the environment, and safe for people who are living in close proximity to either the drilling sites or the pipelines or the compressor stations? And essentially, I think we could do a much better job.
It's not just within the United States. Just within environmental justice, if you take a look at what's happening around the world, Nigeria comes to mind. These kind of principles are just trampled on. The most important thing is to get the pipeline in, get the well in, get the product out of the ground, and get it transported out. And people who live there have to fend for themselves.
So what I try and do in my concluding thoughts in the book is to make some sense out of all of this. And I guess I have more questions than I could answer. So it's sort of an evolving, ongoing discussion of, how do we get it right? And I think-- and I said, I would declare a little bit of where I stand.
I think the judge's ruling in Montana was quite correct, because due process was not done. No one really-- I mean, well, many studies were done, but the data, the findings were not taken into account. And he, in my opinion, correctly stated that you have to take this into account. You can't just go ahead and do what you want, because it has consequences. All of this has consequences.
So I kind of had fun writing the book. I certainly enjoyed researching it. And why don't we have a little discussion? I think we have a little bit of time. And if you have any thoughts-- yes, my-- I didn't pay you to ask all these questions, but yes, in the back.
AUDIENCE: I have-- I have a couple concerns. One, you just said that the Montana proposed pipeline was blocked because of what you just said. I can't really hear. But why did that not happen with the other pipeline? It was just such protest to stop it, and it's really sad that it went in. So that's one thing.
The other thing is I noticed in the map, when you were talking about pipelines, there's a proposed pipeline from Turkey. I think that's the one in the Baltic Sea. I don't know.
MADELON FINKEL: No, that's not the Baltic Sea.
AUDIENCE: Oh, OK. Well, it goes over Greece, and it goes over the part of Greece where my family's from. It's very mountainous, so I don't know how they would tackle that.
MADELON FINKEL: A lot of compressor stations, I would think. No, I know. No, I mean they build pipelines in deserts, in tundra, mountains, under lakes, and so forth. The engineers will figure that out, but yeah.
AUDIENCE: I want to thank you for giving that overview in the beginning, especially, because that is very important, because I really think the wars are happening because of-- the pipeline is not something that's really discussed in the news. So what you told us today was so crucial, and I thank you for that, because I didn't have a clear understanding. So seeing the maps and having you talk about that-- because this is real. People are dying, and the whole Middle East, at least some parts of it, has been to ruins.
And when you talk about what you just talked about, OK, if you do put a pipeline in, putting it in in a way that you could've tried 99% to make it not blow up. I mean, obviously, this is not happening. So anyway, I think your talk was very, very good, and I appreciate it. Thank you.
MADELON FINKEL: Let me just speak a little bit about--
AUDIENCE: Hope you come back.
MADELON FINKEL: What?
AUDIENCE: I hope you come back.
MADELON FINKEL: I have to do another book then. No, OK. Now let me talk about the Dakota Access, which is, I think, the other pipeline you were talking about. There are lawsuits against that, too. The Sioux tribe absolutely has filed lawsuits. The ACLU has filed lawsuits. This is going through their sovereign land. It's quite near the major water supply, the major aquifer for them. From an environmental perspective, it almost sounds crazy. Why would you run a line there, kind of thing?
So there are lawsuits on that one. I brought up the Keystone XL one, because the judge just ruled against that. So we have to see where that plays out. And another question, of course, is, well, why do we even want to bring this toxic stuff down from Canada? We have an oil glut. The oil prices are as low as they've ever been. What are we doing?
AUDIENCE: So it looks like somebody wants to make a lot of money.
MADELON FINKEL: Oh, that's always for sure. Robert.
AUDIENCE: I want to take issue with one thing you said.
MADELON FINKEL: Of course, you do.
AUDIENCE: I don't think it's naive to think that we should live in a world without pipelines.
And you know, we talk about pipelines. The worst thing about pipeline compressor stations are the spills. But living next to a compressor stations is probably not as bad as where you work in New York City. And the reason I say that is that no matter what we do, if we still have transportation based on oil and gas, we heat our homes with oil and gas, we're going to be subjected to VOCs. VOCs that you see in New York is worse than the VOCs people see next to processing stations.
So I think we have to really think about, how can we move away from oil and gas to move to renewable?
MADELON FINKEL: Sure. And I have several chapters, which I didn't discuss here, on energy, renewables, non-renewables, how we need to move forward on that, certainly with solar, with wind. I speak of this in the book. Many countries are using wind, windmills and stuff to capture wind energy. I do go into it. And I also compared the safety record of pipelines to other means of transporting oil and natural gas.
Oil tankers-- they're not so wonderful. I actually have a really good-- in the book, you'll see a good graphic of that. Oil tankers are terrible. Rail lines we know explode and do horrible things when they explode. Truck tankers and so forth explode.
Ironically, perhaps, one of the safest means of moving oil and gas is through pipeline, compared to the other options. But I agree. I mean we should definitely move towards more renewables and less dependence on fossil fuels. I mean, I'm 100% in agreement with you on that. There are just no pipelines for solar energy, so I had to talk about pipelines.
AUDIENCE: There are pipelines, and those are the-- that's the electrical grid. And the biggest challenge about building out solar right now, particularly in New York state, with our antiquated laws, is the grid.
MADELON FINKEL: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: If we can upgrade the grid, our laws are set in a way that we won't do it until we change that.
MADELON FINKEL: But we have a whole new legislature. 2018 was like really cool. Please.
AUDIENCE: This is a little bit of a continuation to that. Do you have any opinion on what you think the most likely avenue of renewable energy will be to address, perhaps [INAUDIBLE] be increased battery technology with lithium ion or with better solar energy and efficiency or something like that? Do you have an idea of what you think will be the thing that'll actually transition out? And as a follow-up to that, once that happens, how do you envision that might change the political, the geopolitical tension in the world, for example, in the Middle East, where [INAUDIBLE] dependent on that? I'm sorry. That's a really--
MADELON FINKEL: Well, yeah, no, it's a politically charged question, and I can't presume to be an expert in that particular area. My own personal opinion would be, let's try and focus on some of these renewable energy sources. So if everyone's-- the proponents of all these pipelines are saying we need to be energy dependent, da-da-da, and be less reliant on the Middle East and so forth, well, we can do it with build-up to solar panel. Thank you guys for coming very much. Greatly appreciate it.
But politically, that was never in the cards. Now it is.
AUDIENCE: Excluding political laws or jurisdiction or anything like that, do you have a prediction on what you think the most likely technology might be?
MADELON FINKEL: I'm not going to make a prediction.
AUDIENCE: Or an opinion?
MADELON FINKEL: An opinion, yeah. I'd go for solar. I'd do it that way. One more, yes.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for your talk. I guess I come from a little bit of a different background. You mentioned animals. I'm former veterinary background with conservation medicine, a focus in wildlife medicine. And I'm also-- I just want to say that I'm not naive in the way that I look at the world with how we're interacting with our wildlife in the environment. I completely understand that we are a parasite on this planet.
No matter what we do, no matter how we change, how we act, we will continue to be a parasite on the planet. Maybe we have different ideas about minimizing the impacts that we're having, so I say this, because I know that there's this push to go towards renewable energy and wind and solar power and things like that. But I don't see kind of this understanding that no matter what we do, there will still be repercussions. It would still be negative impacts on what we do. So what are--
MADELON FINKEL: But to what degree? You see? Everything's relative. I go into the pros and cons of all forms of energy in the book. None is 100% wonderful. Some are just more wonderful than others.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. Yeah, I definitely see that for sure, but I'm just wondering that the drivers of kind of these changes are not really the people who have the wildlife and the earth at heart. It's more of the economic impact, or if you're able to convince the leaders that, economically, it's doable or it should be done, then you'll see the shifts of the people who are driving it will still be the people who try to get more of-- the push won't really be towards helping the planet. It's rather self-enrichment.
So just looking at it in the sense that I still see, even in the future, if we change our tactic, we will still be that negative force.
MADELON FINKEL: Well, we may mitigate the disaster that seems to be looming, if we do something, and we need to do something fairly emergent fairly quickly. Yeah. One more.
AUDIENCE: I actually agree. I mean, I respect a lot of what you're saying and what you said. I think there's just a misunderstanding of your question in the room. I think population growth is the biggest problem on the planet, I mean because I've been educating myself for so long about just everything-- global issues, environmental issues, social issues.
And just two, three years ago, on the commons, there was a big papier-mache salmon. And these people brought the salmon onto the commons to educate people what's happening up in Canada, if this mining company opens up, which is the stuff that solar panels use. I forget what it is, but it just blew my mind.
And I was telling someone in Ithaca who works on solar energy, and he didn't want to hear it. It's like it's too depressing. But it's not-- I mean the point is you need to look at the whole picture, because, obviously, the pipeline is not going to go away tomorrow. So we need to work on all of this stuff, whether it's greed, whether it's a new alternative energy, renewable energy, or pipeline energy.
I mean so what I'm trying to say is basically you're right. I feel at 56-- at the age of 56, I really feel we are a parasite, and it was the New York Times that had an article just the other day. I was reading about genetically modified plants of the [INAUDIBLE] and how this author was saying that that's why the bees are dying, whatnot.
But what thing that struck me out of that article is that they used the word that I can't say again, but it's a world that is about humans and nothing else, anthro-- anthroporno-- it was like a word that-- and I can't get it out of my mind, because the person is right, because that's where we're headed like nothing else matters but humans.
So anyway, it's just something [INAUDIBLE], because we're going to have an impact no matter what. And I'm not saying I'm not-- I am against fracking.
MADELON FINKEL: Well, I'm glad that-- well, I kind of figured that in the audience here. But I'm really glad that we generated such interesting discussion, and I really appreciate, as I said in my opening remarks, the opportunity to come here to be with you, not to have snow. And I thank you very much.
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In a November 2019 Chats in the Stacks book talk at Mann Library, Madelon L. Finkel presented her new book, Pipeline Politics: Assessing the Benefits and Harms of Energy Policy (Praeger Press, 2018). She discussed the benefits, limitations, and dangers of transporting crude oil and natural gas by pipeline, and the dangers to human health and the environment posed by spills, leaks, and explosions.
Dr. Finkel is professor of healthcare policy & research and director of the Office of Global Health Education at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is also the author of Cancer Screening in the Developing World: Case Studies and Strategies from the Field (Dartmouth Press, 2017) and editor of The Human and Environmental Impact of Fracking: How Fracturing Shale for Gas Affects Us and Our World (Praeger Press, 2015).