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Presbyterian environmentalists react to recent South Dakota oil leak

More than 200,000 gallons leak from Keystone Pipeline

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Pipes used in the construction of the Keystone pipeline in 2009. (Photo by shannonpatrick17 via Wikimedia Commons)

LOUISVILLE — Cleanup continues in South Dakota after an oil leak in the Keystone Pipeline earlier this month spilled more than 210,000 gallons of oil approximately three miles southeast of Amherst. The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources says it is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in the state.

“We know the leak is incredibly dangerous and impacts peoples’ health and environment, but they are not uncommon. It happens on a fairly regular basis and is the reason a lot of Presbyterians and Americans have been concerned about oil pipelines,” said Rebecca Barnes, coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, which includes the church’s Environmental Ministry. “Our consumption of fossil fuels, oil and gas is huge in this country. We depend on lights, electricity, cellphones, computers and cars and our demand for energy continues to go up.”

Barnes says Presbyterians have a huge moral mandate to understand that the way society consumes energy is creating these situations, challenging the church on how to fully respond to emergencies when they happen.

“I think we are at a crossroads over how social and environmental justice work alongside our own lifestyles and what we expect in terms of our daily energy consumption as people,” she said. “We could be investing a lot of resources in renewable energies and things that don’t cause public health crises or environmental contamination.”

The Keystone pipeline extends more than 2,600 miles from Canada to Texas. Company officials say the damaged section affects the line running from Hardesty to Cushing, Oklahoma and to Wood River, Illinois.

“We stand in solidarity with the communities affected by the leak, and who suffer the consequences of the fossil fuel industry’s negligence,” said the Rev. Abby Mohaupt, moderator of Fossil Free PC(USA). “As Presbyterians, as Christians, as humans, we need to speak up and act in solidarity with vulnerable communities.”

“When does this cause us to shift direction and put resources elsewhere in terms of energy development? Who are the people who live downstream from any leak? That’s always the question,” says Barnes. “They tend to be poor, whether urban or rural, and/or communities of color. Those impacted do not tend to be rich or city dwellers.”

Environmentalists have argued that the pipeline would cut across the world’s largest underground fresh water deposits. Native American groups say it would cut through sovereign lands.

Barnes says people need to be remindful that there are always side effects to delivery systems we choose, and should always be looking at how to minimize damage to people’s health and the environment.

“We have a strong energy policy in the church that says we should be working for long-term, sustainable solutions,” said Barnes. “We need to stand with brothers and sisters when they face contamination like this and ask for companies to be responsible when spills like these happen.”

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The Presbyterian Hunger Program is made possible by gifts to the One Great Hour of Sharing


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