On January 20, 2021, U.S. President Biden’s first day in office, he cancelled the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline by rescinding a Presidential permit required to complete construction at the U.S./Canada border. This cancellation is a victory for people throughout the United States who have organizing against the project, which, if built, would have put vital water sources, ecosystems, Indigenous communities, and farmers in peril. So, it is a victory for the Canadian people too.
However, not everyone celebrated this step forward in the fight for our planet. The Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, called the cancellation, “a gut punch for the Canadian and Alberta economies.” The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, who claims to be a so-called ‘climate leader’, stated that he was “disappointed.” The Premier of Saskatchewan, Scott Moe, appeared on the CBC to express his outrage at the cancellation and argue that KXL was set to transport a “sustainable product” (his way of describing dirty tar-sands oil that has been extracted with natural gas instead of coal).
No matter how many times the likes of Prime Minister Trudeau and Jason Kenney try to convince us that it is true - poor, working, and oppressed people in Canada, the U.S. and around the world do not benefit from resource extraction projects. If we are going to have a future on this planet, then we must expose the empty promises of fossil fuel profiteers. The KXL pipeline cancellation is an opportunity to do just that – uncover the lies that are told in defense of pipelines that destroy the planet and bring outrageous profits to oil and gas executives. This is the way profit driven capitalism works.
What is the KXL pipeline?
The KXL pipeline is an 1,897-kilometre $14.4 billion project first proposed in 2008 by Canada-based TransCanada Corp (now called TC Energy Corp). It was planned to deliver 830,000 barrels of tar sands heavy oil (bitumen) from Alberta to Nebraska daily. From there, the pipeline would connect into other pipeline infrastructure to be sent to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
For 12 years, the fight against KXL continued as the pipeline went through U.S.-Presidential approvals and cancellations, environmental reviews, and court cases. This included large mobilizations of climate activists, Indigenous people, farmers, and ranchers whose livelihoods were under threat. The largest rally against the Keystone XL pipeline happened when 50,000 people gathered in Washington DC in 2013. At the same time, there were hundreds of protests organized in communities that fell in the path of the pipeline from Alberta to Texas. There is no doubt that this consistent widespread campaigning and pressure played a significant role in President Biden’s decision to cancel KXL.
Pipeline Lie #1 - The KXL pipeline will create thousands of “much-needed, well-paying jobs.”
After a short construction boom, pipelines do not require more than a few dozen people to operate. Even the U.S. State department itself analyzed in 2014 that KXL would only create 35 permanent jobs in the U.S. The job calculations presented by TC Energy and the government of Canada are heavily exaggerated. As reported by the Parkland Institute in Alberta, “The 34,000 jobs number includes a supposed calculation of every single direct, indirect, and induced job resulting from the pipeline itself, from increased bitumen production, from increased tanker traffic, and even from the investment of increased profits and dividends. It’s a stretch at best…”
In a 2018 article in the Toronto Star about the TMX pipeline, Werner Antweiler, from the Sauder School of Business explained, “you get this small kick during the construction phase in terms of employment that will, of course, not turn into long-term jobs and high-quality jobs that are essential for the economy.”
On top of this, the energy industry is constantly cutting the “well-paying jobs,” citing falling revenues. For example, Suncor, a major tar sands developer, announced plans in October 2020 to lay off 2,000 people next year. Meanwhile, a merger of two other tar-sands giants, Husky and Cenovus, brought about layoffs of 1,750- 2,150 people that began in January 2021. This is on top of measures taken by the oil, gas, and other extractive industries to increase their profits by turning to automation for jobs such as driving trucks. When profits begin to drop, the first costs to be cut by the mega-corporations are sure to be these promised well-paid jobs.
Pipeline Lie #2 - The KXL pipeline will provide a boost to Canada’s economy:
Claims about pipeline jobs and a booming economy are dangerous assertions meant to convince poor and working people in Canada that prosperity will come by recklessly destroying the planet.
For example, Alberta's government stated that KXL would, “generate $30 billion in tax and royalty revenues for current and future generations of Albertans.” But working people in Alberta know all too well how much these estimates are tied to a lot of risk and uncertainty. One and a half years after oil prices crashed in 2014, 40,000 workers in Alberta had lost their jobs, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. This crash devastated thousands of families, who were left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry continued to turn out enormous profits. Poor, working, and oppressed people in Canada need more than this reckless capitalist boom-and-bust economy.
As well, when Kenney was crying foul about the KXL cancellation, someone should have asked him about his government’s reckless spending of taxpayer money during the pandemic. In the Spring of 2020, Alberta's government invested $1.5 billion in KXL and guaranteed $6 billion in loans. At that time, people in Alberta needed PPE and economic support for their everyday needs, not another handout for a pipeline project.
It is also important to mention that the estimated economic “boost” from KXL is based on the pipeline being operational for decades. However, we know that the planet cannot support decades worth of dirty tar-sands extraction and consumption. If the world is going to stay below 2 degrees temperature increase, there is only so much oil that can be consumed. In response to Premier Moe’s claim that KXL, “provides jobs for years into the future," we must ask - what good is a job on a planet with poison food, water, and air?
Pipeline Lie #3 - Canada builds the “cleanest” pipelines:
There is definitely something suspicious when someone tries to spin tar sands oil as a “clean” product. Extracting oil out of the tar sands takes massive amounts of water, chemicals, and power supplied by either natural gas or coal.
At the same time, any spin-doctor claiming that the tar sands oil mines are “clean” completely disregards the fact that the heavy crude transported in the pipeline would eventually be burned and emitted into the atmosphere. Given that there is only one planet, it seems foolish that some continue to argue that supplying more fossil fuels to be burned is an environmentally conscious action just because the 830,000 barrels a day of oil will not be burned in Canada.
As the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2018, humanity has until 2030 to drastically cut emissions or face catastrophic and likely irreversible consequences. It must be repeated over and over: Canada and the United States have the highest GHG emissions per capita in the world. Any projects that increase this already unacceptable footprint are too much for the planet to bear.
Our fight in defense of mother earth continues
In his first few weeks in office, President Biden also made further declarations about changing the U.S. policy in response to the climate crisis. Through Executive Orders, he has committed the United States to return to the Paris Climate Agreements and put a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in U.S. National parks (although this does not impact existing projects). However, these adjustments mark a return to the Obama-era status quo for the environment, not a fundamental shift. For example, the massive environmental degradation brought on by the U.S. military and war is never even mentioned, even though the U.S. military is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. This is not the time to bring our guard down. The struggle in defense of mother earth must continue.
TMX pipeline is Next!
Without the KXL pipeline to count on to squeeze out the last bit of tar-sands mega-profits, there is now more pressure on Canada's government to push through with the disastrous Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) project. Across North America, the Dakota Access Pipeline, Line 3 and Line 5 are slated to proceed. The KXL pipeline project could also come back again, just as it did after it was cancelled the first time by President Obama.
In the United States, the movement against the Line 3 pipeline, which is also planned to carry tar-sands bitumen from Alberta to Wisconsin, has been growing over the last year. In B.C., construction for the TMX pipeline is starting to ramp up. Trees are being cleared in the municipalities surrounding Vancouver, and a drill has been moved close by, set to core a 2.6km hole through Burnaby Mountain. With this, actions and organizing against TMX are also growing.
Every united struggle we wage in defense of mother earth is an important opportunity to expand and broaden the climate justice movement. We must not only expose the lies of the government of Canada and the United States and their capitalist billionaire backers in the oil and gas industry. We must collectively act in a united front to demand that people's needs are put before that of pipelines and profits. To do this, we have no other option than to build a sustained and consistent united movement for climate justice and Indigenous rights.
Follow Alison on Twitter: @alisoncolette
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