When does a crude oil pipeline somehow come to be labeled as “racist?” For Valero and Plains All-American Pipeline, they’re finding out that such allegations arise when former Vice President Al Gore gets involved in opposing a proposed 49-mile pipeline, 7 miles of which would move oil underneath some residential areas in South Memphis, Tennessee.
The pipeline, a Valero/Plains joint venture called the Byhalia Connection, would move crude oil from a facility in nearby Marshall County, Mississippi to the Valero South Memphis Refinery, which, as its name implies, is located in South Memphis, a city that already has more than 10 similar pipelines serving it. Without including any supporting evidence, Mr. Gore, in a speech delivered to an event in Alonzo Weaver Park in South Memphis on March 13, referred to the pipeline project as a “racist rip-off.”
During the course of the vitriolic speech, Mr. Gore also said that “You know, these pipelines around the country for the last ten years – if you look at the nation as a whole – there have been two accidents every single day on average for the last ten years…It’s a 24-inch pipeline with pressure at 1,500 pounds per square inch. That’s more pressure than it takes a firehose to go up 30 stories to the top of the building. They want to put 17.6 million gallons of oil every day through that pipeline.”
While Mr. Gore whips up fear about pipeline incidents, employing clever manipulation of the numbers, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of reported pipeline incidents are minor in nature, are quickly and fully remediated, and pose no risk to drinking water. What Gore didn’t tell his audience is that, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “…it would require a constant line of 750 tanker trucks per day, loading up and moving out every two minutes, 24-hours a day, seven days a week, to move the volume of even a modest pipeline… The railroad equivalent of [Byhalia Connection] would be 225 28,000-gallon tank cars, or more than 2 trains per day, every day.”
Such a level of truck and/or train traffic would pose a far greater risk to drinking water than this pipeline would.
Gore also talks about the high pressures that would be present within the pipeline, and compares that to the pressures of a fire hose. Well, yes, to be sure, oil pipelines do indeed operate under high pressures. That is why they are constructed of thick, high-grade steel and not polyester and rubber.
Ironically, the pipeline would actually benefit the former vice president, a lifelong Tennessee resident, since the Valero Refinery manufactures jet fuel. The completion of Byhalia would ultimately lower the cost of obtaining the crude oil needed to produce the fuel for the private jets in which Gore flies to climate change conferences and other events across the globe.
At the same time, the efficiency and lower costs created by Byhalia would also help to ease the rising cost of gasoline for local communities. This becomes increasingly important in an economic environment in which the price for a gallon of regular gasoline has already risen by more than 68 cents per gallon since last November’s election, and promises to rise even more over the course of this year, as costly new policies enacted by the Biden administration begin to take effect.
Gore’s charges of “racism” involved in the project stem from rhetoric claiming that the pipeline’s route, which does partially cross through a largely African American area of South Memphis, was chosen hastily and without consideration of other potential routes. But the companies say they spent more than 10,000 man hours in consideration of other routes, working in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other regulators at the local, state and federal levels, concluding that “[t]his route was chosen after carefully reviewing population density, environmental features, local gathering spots and historic cultural sites. It purposefully avoids Nonconnah Creek, T.O. Fuller State Park, area flood control structures and a coal ash remediation site.”
Gore and other activists have focused their “racism” charges on the fact that the new pipeline would cross underneath 67 residential parcels of land in the largely African-American area. What they don’t mention is the fact that just 5 of those 67 parcels are currently occupied by housing, and that the Byhalia joint venture partners have been able to negotiate financial agreements with all 5 homeowners.
In his speech, Gore also went on to mock the $1 million in community investments made by the joint venture thus far as being inadequate without also proposing an alternative level of investment he would deem proper. The adequacy of that amount is certainly a point that could be debated by reasonable, well-meaning people. Whether it amounts to “racism” does not really seem to be a reasonable allegation at all.
What it all points to is the disturbing fact that our country has now moved into a phase in which former national leaders like Mr. Gore will employ charges of “racism” without any real supporting evidence in order to try to stop a key piece of energy infrastructure that would benefit the community in many ways. This is a charge that the oil and gas industry is not accustomed to having to fight, and one that will require some real strategic and empathetic thought to overcome.
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