Friday News Roundup: Of Fuel and Frogs


TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline -- the world's largest -- has dominated the news this past week. Last Friday, the State Department issued a final Environmental Impact Statement for the pipeline -- which would run oil from the Alberta tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries -- that concluded the project would not significantly impact the environment. Environmentalists strongly disagree, and many, including a number of high-profile celebrities, have taken to the Capitol's sidewalks (and jail cells) to protest the project and the president's plodding reluctance to oppose it.

These protesters fear the pipeline will leak and contaminate precious water sources, like the Yellowstone River and the Ogallala Aquifer, and disapprove of the tar sands project for its huge environmental impact, as Cally Carswell outlined in her 2010 High Country News story, Crude Combat.

Some enviros have drawn a political line in the sand, vowing to withdraw their support for Obama in 2012 if he approves the pipeline. Others doubt this will happen in 2012, but it may depend on who ends up as Obama's opponent.

Meanwhile, a number of industry and commercial groups, including the American Trucking Associations (ATA) are saluting the EIS' conclusions and hailing the Keystone XL project as a boon for jobs in an increasingly jobless country. And a World Herald News Service story reports that the pipeline's proposed route through Nebraska's Sand Hills and over the Ogallala Aquifer is the cheapest, shortest, and environmentally safest option. Nebraska state senator Ken Haar is unconvinced and worries about the environmental risks the pipeline would pose to Nebraska's water resources. He is pushing for an alternative route that would move the pipeline east, away from the Ogallala Aquifer, and along the corridor of the existing Keystone pipeline. The EIS suggests that route would increase the project's cost by an additional $1.6 billion.

The final go-ahead for the $7 billion project will come from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, former State Department Coordinator for International Energy Affairs, David L. Goldwyn, predicts will give it a big thumbs up, pending a public comment and review period.

On a less contentious note, and moving from fossil fuel to fatal fungus, scientists at Oregon State University have discovered a possible biocontrol for the chytrid fungus that is decimating amphibian populations around the world and that has been particularly troublesome for Colorado's endangered boreal toads. Colorado scientists have been following the mountain-dwelling amphibians to see if the fungus is spreading, as Jennifer Frazer outlines in her recent HCN story, "Toads on High." OSU researchers believe that Daphnia magna, a type of freshwater zooplankton, can help fight chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease caused by the aquatic fungal pathogen, by feasting on the fungi's free-swimming spores.

Efforts to control the fungus have, as yet, been unsuccessful, but the OSU scientists think Daphnia magna could be key in conquering the chytrid fungus.

 Marian Lyman Kirst is an intern at High Country News

Keystone XL map courtesy of the U.S. Department of State

Boreal toad image courtesy of the Colorado Department of Transportation