The State Department has at long last issued its report on the effects that the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline will have on climate change. It concluded “the proposed Project is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas,” and as a result, the pipeline is more likely to be built. This has made the oil lobby happy, and it has annoyed the environmentalists. In fact, the pipeline is rather unimportant unless you live right next to where they want to build it.
Having grown up in Colorado back in the 1970s, I learned ecologically friendly behavior along with spelling and arithmetic. I still turn off the water while I brush my teeth, and my kids can’t believe I don’t throw gum wrappers on the ground. But I have already heard from my green friends that I am a sellout for not wanting to die on the barricades to stop the pipeline. Sorry, guys, but the real issue is the extraction of the tar sands in Alberta, not the pipeline. And if we were going to stop our Albertan neighbors from digging up that oil, we should have done so back around 1967 when Great Canadian Oil Sands started mining operations.
If you think stopping the pipeline will stop the oil from flowing, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. That oil is already on the move. It goes by tanker trucks and by rail. Both put more carbon into the air than a pipeline will. And both are more dangerous. Back in July, several train tanker cars filled with oil derailed and burst into flames killing dozens in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Pipelines are ugly and leak, but I’ve never heard of them killing people in a downtown area.
Moreover, the Albertan government would very much like to sell the province’s oil to America, but they would be willing to send it through a pipeline headed west rather than south and let the Chinese buy it. I have personally interviewed Ken Hughes, the Energy Minister of Alberta, as well as his predecessor, Ron Liepert.
Hughes told me, “The denial of the application for the XL Pipeline extension to be built from Alberta into the U.S. just reinforces our commitment to seek out all opportunities for oil exports. Right now markets like those around the Pacific Rim are hungry for oil. In fact, it’s estimated that China will soon surpass the U.S. in its demand for oil. As Alberta is one of the few jurisdictions around the world who will significantly increase oil production over the next few years, we are best positioned to meet that demand. That is why we are also looking at new routes for our oil like the Enbridge’s Gateway Pipeline Project and Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline, which would route oil through Alberta and BC [British Columbia] into terminals along the West Coast.”
Liepert even said that he could imagine a pipeline running north and putting a terminal along the Arctic coast to take advantage of the fact that global warming has made the Arctic Sea navigable for much of the year. If you know anything about oil spills, you know this is a bad idea because cold temperatures aggravate the situation if there is a spill.
The oil from the tar sands is being burned and will continue to be burned. This boosts and will continue boosting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Halting the XL Pipeline will not have any effect on that except on the minor point of which consumers wind up burning it — the Americans or the Chinese.
As hard as it is to believe, the American political process is irrelevant to the basic question. If you really want to attack the climate change caused by the tar sands development, you need to fight it in the provincial legislature of Alberta, not in the U.S. And you’re about 50 years too late.