A reluctant endorsement for the Keystone Pipeline

2012-01-22T02:00:00Z A reluctant endorsement for the Keystone PipelineBy CLAY JENKINSON Bismarck Tribune
January 22, 2012 2:00 am  • 

Suggested headline: A reluctant endorsement for the Keystone Pipeline

For four or five months I have been trying to make sense of the Keystone Pipeline controversy. The proposed $7 billion, 1,700-mile pipeline would transport oil from Hardesty, Alberta, to Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. The pipeline would not cross the state of North Dakota, but it would benefit North Dakota by providing an efficient and safe method of transporting oil from the Bakken oil field to distant refineries.

North Dakota currently ranks fourth in U.S. oil production (after Texas, Alaska, and California), and is likely to rank third or even second before long. We are producing more than 500,000 barrels of oil per day. Virtually all of that oil has to go somewhere else to be refined. Getting it out of North Dakota is a serious logistical problem. The Keystone Pipeline would approach the border of North Dakota at Baker, Mont., just over from Marmarth. An access facility at Baker would serve as an on ramp for Bakken oil.

The vast quantities of oil being extracted from beneath the prairie of western North Dakota can find their way to refineries by one of three transportation systems: railroads, highway trucks, or pipelines. No system is entirely immune to industrial accidents (oil spills), but a well-built underground pipeline is without question the safest and most reliable method of transporting oil, and the one that puts the least pressure on the social structure of North Dakota, as well as its existing infrastructure.

The national (and indeed international) controversy about the Keystone Pipeline has little to do with North Dakota. A list of environmental and landowner organizations too impressive to be ignored opposes the Keystone project, as well as somewhere between 50 and 100 members of Congress. The Obama administration has serious doubts about the wisdom of the pipeline and is attempting to slow down the process. The president's decision (last Wednesday) to reject the current pipeline proposal is not the end of the story. Obama made it clear that TransCanada is welcome to return with a revised proposal that, among other things, will be re-routed to protect the sandhills of western Nebraska. If the president is re-elected in 2012, I believe he will reluctantly approve the pipeline - while expressing his serious misgivings at the same time.

The arguments of pipeline opponents move from the specific to the general. The pipeline may threaten wetlands and wildlife habitats along its path. It will transect 70 rivers and streams, including the Yellowstone, the Missouri, the Platte, and the Arkansas. It will cross (or now perhaps skirt) the fabulous and fragile sand hills of Nebraska, and it will cross the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast underground lake underlying eight Great Plains States. The Ogallala supplies 30% of the nation's irrigation water and provides domestic water to more than two million people. A serious oil spill could be catastrophic.

Those are just the siting and spill issues.

Landowners in Nebraska have also complained about the high-handedness of TransCanada, which has allegedly threatened to use eminent domain to secure the pipeline's path if farmers and ranchers do not cooperate in leasing the right of way.

The larger issue has to do with our future relationship to carbon. Pipeline opponents, led by environmental essayist and activist William McKibben, argue that building the Keystone Pipeline endorses and indeed deepens our addiction to the carbon economy at a time when the United States should be doing everything in our power to develop a new energy paradigm that is not so harmful to the health of the Earth. If we are serious about addressing the problem of global climate change, serious about reducing the carbon "footprint" of the industrial nations of the world, we should be concentrating our ingenuity into developing alternative energy sources rather than "rewarding" a particularly dirty carbon source - the Alberta tar sands.

The rap against the tar sands is that they are extremely expensive to exploit and that the oil they release is "dirty fuel," producing two or three times more carbon emissions than conventional oil, plus additional toxins. If we are serious about moving toward a lighter industrial footprint and a greener civilization, opponents say, the Keystone Pipeline is precisely the sort of "energy solution" we should reject. Pipeline opponents argue that even those who are skeptical about global climate change should reject the Keystone project simply because the tar sands are such an expensive, cost-ineffective, and toxic source of oil.

I see the merits of the arguments on both sides of the Keystone issue. I have been reading everything I can get my hands on, talking with everyone I know (ad nauseam), and wrestling with the dilemma we all find ourselves in. There is no clear path to an enlightened future.

Still, on balance I think we should hold our noses and build the thing. Here's why.

Two things are absolutely certain. First, Canada is going to continue to develop the Alberta Tar Sands whether we approve the pipeline or not, and nothing the United States can do would prevent that development. Second, Alberta's oil is going somewhere. If it doesn't pass through the Keystone Pipeline to refineries in the United States, it is going to flow toward the west coast of Canada, where it will be transported to China. In other words, we cannot "save the planet" by refusing to authorize the pipeline. We just give China a strategic advantage at the beginning of a century in which that rising nation of 1.3 billion consumers is going to be our principal international rival and antagonist. From a geopolitical perspective, that makes no sense. It may turn out to be a colossal mistake.

Furthermore, whether we like to admit it or not, we continue to be hopelessly addicted to oil (and carbon generally), and no viable green alternative is yet in sight. The United States already gets 20 percent of its oil from Canada. That number is likely to rise. In an increasingly dangerous world, where the remaining large deposits of conventional oil seem to lie under unstable or unfriendly regimes (Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria), knowing that Canada has the second or third largest oil reserves in the world should be a source of deep comfort to the people of the United States, even if tar sands oil is not ideal from an environmental point of view. Canada is our best friend in the world. It may be that the Monroe Doctrine is going to become even more important in the 21st century than it was in the 19th. The international consternation over Iran's threat to close the Straits of Hormuz reminds us of just how fragile the West's oil supply continues to be.

Besides, from a purely selfish point of view, the Keystone Pipeline is a godsend to North Dakota at a time when our infrastructure is being overwhelmed by oil production.

(Clay Jenkinson is the Theodore Roosevelt Center scholar at Dickinson State University, as well as Distinguished Scholar of the Humanities at Bismarck State College and director of the Dakota Institute. He can be reached at Jeffysage@aol.com or through his website, Jeffersonhour.org.)

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(19) Comments

  1. Hulse
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    Hulse - January 28, 2012 2:34 pm
    I don't listen to Mr. Jenkison on North Dakota Public radio as much as I once did for the same reason underscored by this column: When not in his Jefferson character, Mr. Jenkinson can be a pompous blowhard.

    Mr. Jenkinson writes: "I have been reading everything I can get my hands on, talking with everyone I know (ad nauseam), and wrestling with the dilemma we all find ourselves in."

    Really? Have you read the September 2011 report from Oil Change International? Here's a tidbit from the report's Overview: "Valero, the top beneficiary of the Keystone XL pipeline, has recently explicitly detailed an export strategy to its investors. The nation’s top refiner has locked in at least 20 percent of the pipeline’s capacity, and, because its refinery in Port Arthur is within a Foreign Trade Zone, the company will accomplish its export strategy tax free."

    In short, the Keystone XL will be an export pipeline.

  2. C Dog
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    C Dog - January 24, 2012 6:05 pm
    Excellent article. Rational, well thought out and demonstrates an understanding that the pipeline is the least evil alternative for those of us who really care about the environment.
  3. ndharleyboy
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    ndharleyboy - January 24, 2012 2:17 pm
    Congrats Clay on your thoughts. While I, along with so many others, am concerned about our environment here and abroad and support many conservation efforts there is also a realization that our living takes a certain amount of energy no matter how it is produced. Why we wouldn’t want to get it from our friendly neighbor to the north rather than from overseas is beyond me. To quote Governor Schweitzer, he doesn’t have to send his National Guard troops to the border with Canada to ensure the oil they supply gets here and to keep them from killing us. Since the tar sands, like them or not, will be produced it only makes sense for us to benefit from them rather than letting another less friendly country take control of yet another energy source.

    If these wild eyed folks are so concerned about energy and carbon emissions they should visit the western part of the state and see the shameful waste of natural gas as almost 30% of the gas is simply burned off because it is too costly to develop more natural gas pipelines vs. the current price of natural gas and development is at a frantic pace. These individuals should be directing their voice and energy to the Industrial Commission that continuously allows exemptions for months, even years. Will those critical individuals be willing to double the cost of heating their house so that the oil companies can recover the wasted gas through additional local pipelines which will at least put those carbon emissions to use rather than just flaring it? I rather doubt it and so they will keep quiet while burning the cheap natural gas that is actually recovered.

    Nothing comes without risk and there will be issues with this pipeline on occasion but that is not a reason to turn our back on what we need. I know you recognize this need as you traverse back and forth in this country and the world with your extensive traveling. I do not live without consuming either. I am amused at those who are so vocal in their opposition to oil, coal, etc who hypocritically drive everywhere they go, heat their houses with the wires and pipelines buried under their ground and visit every scenic vista on their own bucket list. Me thinks that consumes our energy resources too.
  4. rainyday
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    rainyday - January 23, 2012 1:38 pm
    I must commend you for thinking independently in this column, especially on the Keystone pipeline subject. For a writer to say that Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Rooselvelt would be unhappy with your stance, pure rubbish. They were both complex men that would admire your ability to speak your mind.
  5. TedPoppke
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    TedPoppke - January 23, 2012 12:34 pm
    Clay, welcome to the ranks of the morally bankrupt Republicans!
  6. mikewood
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    mikewood - January 23, 2012 12:21 pm
    sorry Ms. Wallwork but your recollection of the events surrounding the Texas City disaster April 16, 1947 are incorrect. The explosion was a result of an explosion due to ammonium nitrate fertilizer and not petrochemicals. Please see this report. http://www.local1259iaff.org/disaster.html
  7. Carol Wallwork
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    Carol Wallwork - January 23, 2012 9:54 am
    First, there's an elephant in the room: The vulnerability of our energy supply. Imagine if Iran closes the Straights of Hormuz were and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt closes the Suez Canal. China outbids all others for Libyan, Nigerian & Brazilian oil and we're left with half our normal oil supply. By the time all the oil tankers on the high seas reached port the grocery stores would be empty, lettuce and meat etc. would rot at their distribution points and people all over the US would be faced with a radically different tomorrow. If this occurs in winter we'd be faced with a catastrophe within days. Donald Rumsfeld, a name reviled on both the right & left, did however once make an astute observation of national security threats: 'There are the things we know--and here's that elephant--and there are things we don't know we don't know.' One of the things we do know is the US economy is dependent on oil imports, much of which comes from countries that detest us. That's a dangerous sword to be living on.
    Secondly, importing oil from countries that have disastrous environmental records is hypocritical. Do we want a unpolluted country or an unpolluted world? Also, is it fair to emerging economies that the worlds' strongest economy gobble up all world market commodities?
    Thirdly, Maudlie if you think the pipeline is controversial, creating petrochemical refining plants in the north would be 10Xs worse. Plus I think Texans are different than North Dakotans.. The oil bidness' grew up down there, when American life was so much different than it is today.
    Lastly, Hobson's Choice & Maudlie: I used to live in Galveston, TX, just across the Bay from Texas City. There's a 50 mile stretch up the Houston Ship Channel that comprises the largest concentration of petrochemical processing plants in the world. It's where, in 1948, the U.S.' worst industrial disaster occurred. An oil tanker was unloading crude and a fiery mistake caused the deaths of nearly 500, many of them school children. But I digress. This maze of industrial form-follows-function tanks, super tanks, multi layers of pipes snaking between them, all connected to venting pipes spewing blue-red flames--for mile upon mile--and at night it's all lit up with twinkling lights, like a Christmas, inspired a visiting English journalist to offer the most apt description of the place I'd ever heard: 'So this is what Dante's Inferno looks like.'
  8. mikewood
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    mikewood - January 23, 2012 9:31 am
    It must be tough living and working with the colour commentary. I remember when they delivered papers and folks who didn’t like an author’s column would write into editorial/opinion sections editor and sometimes he would publish their retort.

    Now everyone can comment on an article and thoughtfulness and consideration has gone out the window. This is a newspaper and not a personal blog or “facebook”. Please show the man the respect you would any professional who is working diligently for your benefit. Especially if you don’t agree with him.
  9. winterpegged
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    winterpegged - January 23, 2012 9:20 am
    I have seen news stories in the last two days about how the pipeline will be resubmitted in a more limited form, running from Baker MT to Texas. This removes the international component, and the US State Department from the the decision. It also helps solve an obvious problem in western ND - how to move the Bakken oil to refineries.

    I haven't seen anybody pointing out that the Keystone XL pipeline is largely a "target of opportunity". It is phase 4 of the Keystone pipeline system. Phase 1, which does go through North Dakota with its destination in Illinois, actually carries more oil than phase 4 (the XL phase) will carry. Phase 1 was built from 2008 to 2010, and there was very little protest. Why not? What changed in just 2 years?

    I think it was mostly the change in administrations, and the environmental movement thought they could win the fight on phase 4, and they didn't even try on phase 1. Phase 1 happened, and phase 4 will happen, though I expect the MT to TX portion will be done first, and connected to Alberta later.

    Are there problems with the Keystone XL pipeline? Of course, but that is not the question. The real question is how do those problems compare with the problems of the alternatives. I agree with Mr Jenkinson and reluctantly endorse the XL pipeline, particularly the plan to build the Baker MT to Texas segment of the pipeline.
  10. Hobson'sChoice
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    Hobson'sChoice - January 23, 2012 12:41 am
    January 23, 2012

    Yes Halabis time is running out for America’s largest aquifer, the Ogallala but it is not drained dry each year as you so mistakenly claim.

    This aquifer is important to American agriculture so why should we run a dangerous pipeline carrying filthy toxic tar sands crude oil over the top of it only exacerbating or compounding or intensifying the problem if the pipe line develops a major break and spill? That water is melt water from the last continental glacier.

    Explain why we should put a national treasure in such great risk?

    We have a glut of oil now and I see no North Dakotans trying to conserve gasoline as they drive their big SUV’s and Pickups up and down our streets.

    It seems to me you have lost both your conservative “go slow” civic and moral compass or are you just using Alfred E. Neuman’s mentality of, “What me Worry” because your water comes out of the Missouri River? Oh, I forgot the pipeline would cross both the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers too. There is nothing like toxic tar sand crude floating on the surface of Lake Sakakawea, which would really make our day, wouldn’t it!

    Shame on you Clay Jenkinson!

    If, Stephen Harper, the Canadian Conservative Party Prime Minister wants to export his countries tar sands oil let them send it to their west coast as the product is going to Asia anyway.

    The idea of plugging a pipeline into the Keystone XL to carry Bakken Oil is just a pipe dream (pun intended) at the present time.

    Partial sources: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/aquifers-depletion-poses-sweeping-threat/

  11. Hobson'sChoice
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    Hobson'sChoice - January 22, 2012 11:14 pm
    January 22, 2012

    I am increasingly amazed at the conservative criticism leveled at those of us who are critical of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

    The words conservative and conservation have the same Latin root word, which is conservtvus. It seems the conservative party has lost its compass of human vision.

    Perhaps the conservative party in the United States should call themselves the Party of Opportunists?

    Dante Alighieri, who wrote the Divine Comedy, placed Opportunists into a special place in Hell, in his masterpiece the Inferno. The Inferno is part of the Divine Comedy, which is an imaginary journey through Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, it was written between 1308 and Dante’s death in 1321 before the Reformation occurred, but it helped hasten the Reformation and also the Renaissance, especially when the Guttenberg Press was invented around 1440.

    Dante, an intensely religions man, like most conservatives claim to be, wrote the Divine Comedy to show humans that God would reward or punish them according to their behavior on Earth.

    I have always believed everyone should read The Inferno, which is an imaginary journey through Hell.

    It is almost always required reading when a student works toward his/her Undergraduate Degree in college; once you have read it, you will usually think twice before doing something naughty or considered evil; for at least a few days.

    In The Inferno, the Opportunists are neither in Hell nor out of Hell because they took no side and where neither for good nor for evil but only for themselves.

    “Abandon all, hope, you who enter here." The Poets pass through the Gates of Hell, and hear the cries and screams of anguish of the Opportunists who have forgone the good of their intellect.

    This is an important point, to Dante, who believes all people know in their hearts what is right, and thus, to keep sinning, they must intentionally make themselves blind to what their own intellect tells them.

    The Souls of the Opportunists are forever running through a filthy black haze.

    Dante’s guide, the Roman poet Virgil, explains these souls are the Opportunists; those souls in life were neither for good nor evil, but lived without moral choices and thus were only for their own opportunistic self-interests.

    Amongst them are the outcasts who took no sides in the Rebellion of the Angels in the war of Heaven.

    Heaven and Hell have denied them access. They took no sides, therefore they are vanquished to an eternal darkness of filth.

    As they sinned so they are punished.

    They are neither in Hell nor out of it. Eternally unclassified, they race round and round forever pursuing a wavering dirty filthy banner or flag that represents nothing, because they were for nothing. The banner or flag runs forever before them through the dirty air; and as they chase it, they are pursued by swarms of wasps and hornets, who sting them and produce a constant flow of blood and putrid matter which trickles down the bodies of the sinners and is feasted upon by the loathsome worms and maggots who coat the ground.

    They pursue eternally an elusive, ever-shifting banner or flag. As their sin was darkness, so they move in darkness.

    As their own guilty conscience pursued them, so are they pursued by swarms of wasps and hornets. And as their actions were a moral filth, so they run eternally through the filth of worms and maggots, which they themselves must feed upon.

    I have always wondered? If the Inferno is the creation of the mind of a mortal man, like Dante, what must the real Hell be like and remember the Opportunists are not in Hell proper?

    Forever or eternity is an awfully long period of time.

    Postscript: I mentioned the great Roman poet Virgil guides Dante through hell. Virgil is himself in Hell; he resides in a place called Limbo. Limbo is a place in Dante’s Hell that is reserved for un-baptized babies and virtuous pagans. Because Vigil was born and lived before Christ was born, he was unable to learn of Christ’s teachings, so he lives in Limbo.

    Limbo is much like the Earth and those who are confined to Limbo, only have the torment of on especially clear nights, of being able see a faint glow in the night sky; a very long way off. Just looking at it makes them feel good all over.

    It is Heaven and they will never get to it but they still have hope and each other.

    Source: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri which is available at any public library, or purchased at any good bookstore or available for purchase on-line for about $10.00. Many churches have it in their private libraries. It is also available in just the Inferno or Purgatorio or Paradiso usually in paperback.
  12. Halatbis
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    Halatbis - January 22, 2012 5:11 pm
    Mason and Maudlae: guess you have not been reading the newspapers or the many, many news articles on the XL. This pipeline has been in review for 3 years going of 4 years. The U.S. State Department has already approved it for siting. Then the "concerned" peole got into the act; like the greenies (are you a greenie?) who surrounded the White House and scared Pres. Obama with the loss of votes.
    This is about votes, isn't it?

    As to the precious water in the Ogalalla Aquifer: The Nebraska farmers pump it dry every year with their irrigation.
    There is a good reason the XL makes sense: it is our future energy security. Like it or not, oil is still the life blood of world industry and quality of life.
  13. Halatbis
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    Halatbis - January 22, 2012 5:01 pm
    Hobson speaks of "oops" mentality. Talking about yourself again Hobson????
  14. Maudlae
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    Maudlae - January 22, 2012 1:58 pm
    Let's think outside the box. Why are we so set on transporting the oil to a refinery way down south? Why are the Canadiens or North Dakotana and other states not building refineries in our states? We've all heard about value added to all our products. Why not do the same thing with oil? Why are we wanting to hand all the value to the Texans who would surely seek tax breaks for business from us, North Dakotans? Most of us have all fallen into the mindset that oil can only be refined in Texas.
  15. Mason
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    Mason - January 22, 2012 12:28 pm
    I believe your column reflects your values more than anything else. In terms of Nebraska's effort to speak out --- maybe there are folks down there more willing to speak out, stand against the grain. Maybe they are not as beholden to oil and gas as North Dakota. Maybe there are more leaders willing to rally around the Nebraska sandhills, than there are for the prairies,lakes and badlands of North Dakota. Maybe they want to control their future rather than just play catch-up.

    The claim that the pipeline will be our salvation, a "Godsend to North Dakota" (your words) has not been given any scrutiny. It deserves a lot. Senator Hoeven recently got on the bandwagon that we need the Keystone XL to reduce truck traffic. Last fall he volunteered the original Keystone pipeline route (under who's authority I wonder) for the Keystone XL pipeline.

    The reasons previously used to support the Keystone XL Pipeline should not be ignored. Last September, the Industrial Commission had this to say in favor of the pipeline "The intensity of petroleum development in western North Dakota and eastern Montana (U.S. Williston Basin) is expected to continue to increase, with crude oil production from the region potentially reaching 800,000 BOPD or more in the next five to seven years. A properly sized and economic transportation system is essential for future expansion and development in the U.S. Williston Basin."

    When Governor, Hoeven and the MT Governor previously insited that the XL pipeline contain an on-ramp for oil from North Dakota and Montana. This is what the MT Governor has said about the on-ramp "The Bakken Marketlink would encourage more drilling in Montana and North Dakota by increasing potential profit margins for companies."

    So really, who and what is to be believed? This johnny-come-lately it will reduce truck traffic? The trucks bringing the fracking sand will increase. The trucks bringing the fracking water and fracking chemicals will increase. The vehicles moving oil workers will increase. The trucks hauling oil may or may not increase, depending upon the scenario used for analysis.

    Senator Hoeven is, one of the most determined and dedicated proponents in government of unfettered, unlimited, the-more-the-better, the-faster-the-better, oil development. He left the Governor's Office just before or just as the chaos in northwestern North Dakota began to unfold.

    I believe your "Godsend" claim ignores what is really going on in North Dakota. The boom is rapidly growing and spreading. Just look at the information that is available on oil and gas leasing in the State. This makes it immediately apparent that the down-side of the boom has just begun. Some parts of the State have already experienced significant adverse effect. Expect these to expand as the footprint of the industry expands.

    There is some talk about slowing the boom down. To date the call has largely has come from landowners, thinkers at the local level, and local government officials. The real powerhouses that could address this on a larger scale, such as the governor, industrial commission, etc. are hanging back, sitting in the weeds, while the boom continues to explosively unfold.

    Certainly the Governor and others are working to address impacts, more money for roads etc., etc. But this is all after the fact. And it never seems to be enough. A road is repaired; it fails again. A pothole is filled; five more appear in it's place. Fifty miles of road are repaired in County X. Months, a year, two years later 50 more miles of road in County X need repair, along with Counties Y, Z and A, B, C. And what about the social and environmental ills that go far beyond roads?

    A reluctant supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline? Which route, or are you saying route doesn't matter? Are you saying that our current ills, outweigh the future prospective ills of Nebraskans, or the additional ills that will be brought upon North Dakotans when the Keystone XL Pipeline and Bakken Link are constructed (assuming you believe the Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Governor, and Senator Hoeven).

    I'm sitting on the fence on this. Clearly I think a larger discussion is need, one tied to larger issues. And clearly you haven't convinced me to support the pipeline. I do have to thank you for getting me to think more about this issue more than I ever have or likely would had. In this regards, keep up the good work.

  16. Wild Bunch
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    Wild Bunch - January 22, 2012 11:57 am



  17. Schlick
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    Schlick - January 22, 2012 10:46 am
    Thanks for your objective, common sense commentary. You are likely to be skewered by many of your former supporters which only proves their animosity towards anyone with the courage to think for themselves. Independent thought is not encouraged. The left requires that you always follow the party line or risk being accused of conspiring with the evil Bismarck Tribune whose goal must be to assist in the destruction of the environment and the economic and political viability of our country.
  18. Hobson'sChoice
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    Hobson'sChoice - January 22, 2012 10:15 am
    Shame on you Clay Jenkinson, you have abandoned all the principles you once claim to have had.

    I have always considered you a strong environmentalist; you are not.

    You have written of the beauty of our state and other nearby states, what a fiction.

    I am sure Tom Jefferson and Ted Roosevelt are looking from afar and just shaking their heads.

    I watched you, briefly last evening, play the part of Ted Roosevelt on Community Access Television, what a fraud. If someone, in the audience, has known about this sham and whispered it to me I would have walked out of the auditorium.

    You are just a paid houseboy of the Tribune.

    If the Canadians want to export their dirty tar sands oil to Asia or refine in into a cleaner product, let them do it on their own land.

    When there is a break in the pipeline and there will be; what will you write then? Oops, I am sorry I made a mistake? Oops, please forgive me, like serial adulterer Newt Gingrich is doing?

    I, for one, am tired of the oops mentality we see today in our society.
  19. Something Smells
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    Something Smells - January 22, 2012 10:14 am
    Congratulations, Clay. Excellent job and good use of common sense. Be prepared to be crucified by the far left.
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