|Site of Alabama pipeline leak, about 15 miles from
where we used to live in Shelby County
The leak, in a line owned by Colonial Pipeline Company, originated in a remote area of Shelby County, a few miles from the suburbs of Helena and Alabaster. An estimated 336,000 gallons of gas have leaked so far, and the line provides approximately 40 percent of the gasoline to the East Coast.
As you can see, this is not just an Alabama problem. But it does help illustrate the hypocrisy beneath the state's supposedly firm Republican roots. Shelby long has been known as Alabama's most conservative county, with Baldwin County (near Mobile and site of likely election theft that cost Democrat Don Siegelman in 2002) perhaps a close No. 2.
Shelby County also was home to my wife, Carol, and me for 25 years -- and we probably hold the distinction of being among the handful of people in the county who twice voted for Barack Obama. We still would live there had I not been arrested and shipped to jail for five months, almost certainly at the directive of GOP political elites, for daring to publish accurate articles about sensitive topics on this blog. The moment I got out of jail we were faced with a foreclosure that surely was driven by considerations other than collecting any debt on our property. That's why we currently live in Springfield, Missouri, although we beseech any progressive God who might be listening to help us get the hell out of here, sooner rather than later.
Bottom line? Shelby County, Alabama, in its current state, is a glorified police state, where concepts like due process and a free press go to die. It also is a place where white suburbanites reflexively vote Republican -- meaning they believe in low taxes, limited government regulation, anti-environmentalism, "rugged individualism," and any number of other fairy tales that gained steam during the Reagan era.
But it seems a pipeline leak is the kind of event that can turn a Shelby County conservative into a tree-hugging liberal. Consider this from a recent al.com article titled "Alabama pipeline leak: What we know so far about the spill, gas shortages and more." The leak is in the William R. Ireland Sr. Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area, and that means Birmingham -- even if it dodges this bullet -- has come close to an environmental and social disaster.
In fact, certain scenarios are so disturbing that some of the folks who live near the leak, don't sound so conservative and self-sufficient all of a sudden:
Despite the assurances of Colonial Pipeline and state and local officials, people living near the site of the spill are concerned about possible impacts to their drinking water, or to wildlife in the Cahaba.
Billy McDanal lives less than 500 yards from the edge of the Wildlife Management Area in the small community of Maylene. He and his son have hunted, hiked and ridden four-wheelers throughout the management area and its surroundings for over a decade.
McDanal says he is nervous leaked gas could enter the water table and end up in his basement, where water often collects when it rains.
"What's got me worried with the gas is that it's going to go ... underneath my house and am I going to get gas coming under my house?" he said.
Yep, the thought of gasoline bubbling up under your house is enough to upset a feller's equilibrium. But the potential for catastrophe goes well beyond Billy McDanal's property. The leak site reportedly is about one mile from a tributary of the Cahaba River. How important is the river, and the surrounding area? From al.com:
The Cahaba River is home to 135 known species of fish, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, as well as 35 snail species, 10 of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Ten species of fish and freshwater mussel in the Cahaba are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
A few miles downstream from the leak location lies the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, which is known nationally as a viewing spot for the Cahaba Lily in the spring. A major drinking water intake for the Birmingham Water Works is upstream.
Colonial has completed construction of a bypass that reportedly will allow the pipeline to resume operations today -- 12 days after the leak was discovered. Does that mean Alabama and other states that rely on the pipeline for gasoline are out of the woods? It probably is too early to say.
But we have learned this: A gas-pipeline leak can be scary enough to make Alabama conservatives sound a lot like liberal environmentalists -- and no one seems to be saying, "Keep the government out of our lives."