Commentary | Beyond climate change

Unaddressed issues of the Keystone XL debate

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a proposed project to transport synthetic crude oil from the Albertan oil sands to the Gulf Coast and Texas. In a speech on climate change and energy policy in June, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the topic of the pipeline. He stated, “Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and environmental activists like Bill McKibben have criticized the controversial project for lacking accountability in addressing climate change. Yet the president and pipeline opposition groups alike weigh climate change foremost when debating the project, but disregard some of the social impacts of the project and the Albertan oil industry. After considering both the social and local environmental impact of the pipeline project, the clear answer to whether to support the pipeline is ‘no.’

Politicians and activists should consider the localized issues stemming from the pipeline and oil industry. According to the Labor Network for Sustainability, “Tar sands extraction is already devastating native lands in Alberta,” and recent pipelines have spilled large quantities of oil within U.S. borders. Herman E. Daly, an ecological economist at the University of Maryland, states in his paper “The Perils of Free Trade” that there are always hidden social and environmental costs to large free trade projects.

These very risks have already come to light. TransCanada, a company involved in the pipeline project, has threatened to utilize eminent domain (taking private property for state use)  to force landowners into acquiescing the installation of oil pipes on their land and has already sued some landowners. If the pipeline debate were framed with the threat to property rights in mind, that might be one way of inducing politicians and voters to oppose the project.

Governments should look to transportation methods other than pipelines. CBC reports that oil producers and refineries are currently transitioning to shipping their oil by rail. Phil Skolnick, head of North American energy research at Canaccord Genuity said in an interview with CBC News, “There is huge trade between Canada and the U.S. in oil and the economics of rail are more compelling than pipe.”

To address the global issues with oil, the government needs a new perspective. Assuming global warming is the main complaint against the pipeline, Canada and the U.S. could just ‘pay off’ the pipeline’s carbon emissions. In fact, the Hill reports that Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently proposed collaborative steps with the U.S. to curb carbon emissions – if that would garner approval for the pipeline. Is that what the internationally community wants – the greenwashing of a destructive pipeline by instituting other ‘eco-friendly’ policies? If the world wants to protect its communal rights to unadulterated land, it needs to make hard decisions and give the hard answer of ‘NO!’


Dillon Stanger is a U3 Bioresource Management student. Get in touch at dillon.stanger@mail.mcgill.ca.


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