If the Keystone XL pipeline is built, it will start in the tar sands fields of Alberta, Canada and end in Port Arthur, Texas, a city already overrun with oil refineries.
Ted Genoways at On Earth has an excellent report on the health effects the oil and gas refineries have had on Port Arthur residents.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory places Jefferson County among the very worst in the nation for air releases of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, and reproductive disorders. In a state that regularly records in excess of 2,500 toxic emissions events per year, Port Arthur is near the top of the list of offending cities. Data collected by the Texas Cancer Registry indicates that cancer rates among African Americans in Jefferson County are roughly 15 percent higher than they are for the average Texan. Shockingly, the mortality rate from cancer is more than 40 percent higher. And cancer is only part of the story. A study by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that residents of Port Arthur were four times more likely than people just 100 miles upwind to report suffering from heart and respiratory conditions; nervous system and skin disorders; headaches and muscle aches; and ear, nose, and throat ailments.
The reason is simple: this is where many Americans get their oil and gas. Yet despite Port Arthur’s importance to our fuel-dependent way of life, few people have ever heard of it. Of those who have, many know the city as little more than a name that gets repeated in countless articles about the Keystone XL pipeline. Should the final phase of the project be approved, Port Arthur will be the completed pipeline system’s terminus. The city’s refineries stand at the ready to turn 830,000 barrels per day of diluted, chemically treated bitumen into heavy diesel and petroleum coke—a dirtier alternative to coal.
After seeing what our addiction to fossil fuels was doing to the residents of Port Arthur, Genoways began to see the connection elsewhere around the US:
And all I wanted was to turn away, to be gone from there. To go home. But now that I’m back in Nebraska, I can’t stop wondering if I’ll ever really be home from Port Arthur—or if, instead, its gravity is somehow pulling all of us in. From the Gulf of Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, the whole country has been stitched together by pipelines filled with toxic materials extracted from offshore platforms in Prudhoe Bay, from the tar sands of Alberta, from the fracking fields of North Dakota. Drilled, and spilled, and shipped overseas.
The endangered Alaskan coast is Port Arthur now. So is the benzene-laced Kalamazoo River. So is Mayflower, Arkansas, where an ExxonMobil pipeline burst earlier this year and dumped as much as 7,000 barrels of heavy crude onto the lanes and front lawns of a quiet suburban community. The Louisiana shoreline, striated with spilled oil and the dispersant chemicals used to dissolve it, and the river valleys and open plains overlying the Marcellus and Bakken shale formations where fracking rigs have appeared by the thousands: they’re Port Arthur, too. And soon, I fear, the Nebraska Sandhills near my home will be Port Arthur as well.
VIDEO: A major emissions event took place on the 15th of April 2013 in the city of Port Arthur, Texas.