Keystone XL Delayed: A Young Person’s Reaction

…in which the author reflects on the first national environmental victory of his generation.

Obama delayed the Keystone XL pipeline after thousands protested

When I became aware of the Keystone XL campaign, I really had no idea where it would lead. On the one hand, I thought, this pipeline is just the type of thing Candidate Obama would have decried; if there were ever a president who would stop the project, it would be he. On the other hand, President Obama has barely talked about clean energy in recent months, not even mentioning climate change in his State of the Union address. Quite the opposite, his Interior Department announced a massive coal mining expansion earlier this year.

Considering the confidence within the industry–TransCanada had already spent millions on pipe, signed contracts with suppliers, and begun seizing land–victory seemed unlikely. Yet this didn’t change the anti-KXL movement, beyond charging it with urgency. The struggle, to me at least, was not something you take part in because you expect to win. It was more, “Years from now, how do I explain why I didn’t speak out against this?”

The answer is that you don’t. You speak, you write, you rally; and you do it with enough savvy to give yourself a decent chance. Then, if you lose, you can say that you fought the good fight.

That’s how I went into this: with the hope that all activism requires but also with the understanding that, too most onlookers, the Keystone XL was a done deal. So imagine my surprise when, in the midst of research for yet another anti-KXL article, I check my email and see that the pipeline has been delayed until 2013, and that this delay could prove fatal.

For me and many other young people, this success was especially meaningful. It was one of the first, if not the first national environmental victory of our lifetime. We had watched the wheels of dirty politics turn–and we’d seen them grind to a halt. To be part of something like that is nothing short of inspirational. I’ve realized that Tim DeChristopher was right when he said we “have more than enough power” to win these battles.

I’ve also realized that, where individual concern falls short, collective action is powerful. Changing your lightbulbs won’t stop an oil pipeline. For that matter, selling your car, swearing off airplanes, and moving into an off-the-grid earthship won’t either. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t address the root causes of our problems on a big enough scale. Change is created by passionate, focused, collective movements. And that is what we now have.

We should come away from the Keystone XL victory encouraged, but we don’t have much time to congratulate ourselves. More challenges are already on the horizon. The gas industry is pushing for 20,000 fracking wells in the Delaware River watershed, a water source for millions. A vote will take place on November 21–and the White House could play a decisive role. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate for 2012 is almost sure to come out swinging against clean air, water, and energy.

But now we’re prepared. We’re organized and energized. As a movement, we know we can make a difference.


Image: Josh Lopez/Tar Sands Action


HUGE: Keystone XL Delayed

In an important (and honestly surprising) victory for the grassroots, President Obama has delayed a decision on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

From Tar Sands Action:

…the president sent the pipeline back to the State Department for a thorough re-review, which most analysts are saying will effectively kill the project. The president explicitly noted climate change, along with the pipeline route, as one of the factors that a new review would need to assess….

And he has made clear that the environmental assessment won’t be carried out by cronies of the pipeline company–that it will be an expert and independent assessment.

Note that Obama didn’t reject the pipeline outright, as activists have been demanding. Instead, he effectively put off the decision until after the elections, thus avoiding a political conundrum. While we didn’t get a strong statement against the Keystone XL, we did get a vindication of the anti-KXL movement.

Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone. One month ago, a secret poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal found that “virtually all” expected easy approval of the pipeline by year’s end. As late as last week the CBC reported that TransCanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted.

And here is a statement from the White House, via the HuffPost:

“Because this permit decision could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment, and because a number of concerns have been raised through a public process, we should take the time to ensure that all questions are properly addressed and all the potential impacts are properly understood,” Obama said. “The final decision should be guided by an open, transparent process that is informed by the best available science and the voices of the American people.”

This all seems obvious to those of us who were aware of–and even helped expose–the depth of corruption in the review process. But make no mistake: Without the groundswell of opposition, Obama and the State Department would have quietly signed off on the project.

Now, the pipeline is delayed, perhaps permanently. Even if it resurfaces in 2013, we will have fresh verbal ammunition in the form of a (supposedly) independent impact study, as well as ample time to strengthen and reorganize our movement.

The Keystone XL victory–go ahead and call it that–is proof of the power that a collective political effort has. We can make a dramatic difference when we channel our convictions into sustained, nonviolent action.

And we’ll need plenty more of that in the days ahead. We can expect oil apologists and their allies in Washington to continue distorting the facts about Keystone XL jobs and energy independence. The difference: Now we have to confidence to stand up and keep moving forward.

Keystone XL Jobs Figures are Rife With Misleading Math and Conflicts of Interest

Activists protest Keystone XL pipeline at White House

Industry and government estimates of Keystone XL jobs are unreliable, according to independent study.

Have you heard that the Keystone XL pipeline would create 20,000 jobs? If so, you might have read it in a news article and assumed that it came from trustworthy, independent research. But the truth is a bit more complicated.

I’ve already mentioned that TransCanada’s job figures are inflated–but now we have even more evidence. The media has cooperatively echoed TransCanada’s estimates: 13,000 direct construction jobs and 7,000 manufacturing jobs. But the TransCanada chief executive himself, Russ Girling, admitted to the Washington Post that the first number was misleading:

Girling said Friday that the 13,000 figure was “one person, one year,” meaning that if the construction jobs lasted two years, the number of people employed in each of the two years would be 6,500. That brings the company’s number closer to the State Department’s; State says the project would create 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs, a figure that was calculated by its contractor Cardno Entrix.

Cardno Entrix also handled the Keystone XL environmental review. Why is this important? Because Cardno Entrix lists TransCanada as a “major client.” It turns out that TransCanada handpicked the firm for the State Department. Then, by pure coincidence, the “State” research sounded just like an advertisement for the pipeline: thousands of Keystone XL jobs and “limited adverse environmental impacts.” (See the NYT story for details.)

Made in Canada

Now what about the 7,000 manufacturing jobs? To answer, that, we’ll return to the WashPo article:

As for the 7,000 indirect supply chain jobs, the $1.9 billion already spent by TransCanada would reduce the number of jobs that would be created in the future. The Brixton Group, a firm working with opponents of the project, has argued that many of the indirect supply jobs would be outside the United States because about $1.7 billion worth of steel will be purchased from a Russian-owned mill in Canada.

TransCanada, of course, insists that most of the pipeline would be made in Arkansas. On the other hand, DeSmogBlog notes,

TransCanada has already signed contracts for nearly 50 percent of the steel pipe for the project. A Russian company, Evraz, will manufacture roughly 40 percent in Canadian mills, and an Indian company, Welspun, is likely to produce the rest.

An independent analysis

You might be wondering if there are any Keystone XL jobs reports not funded by TransCanada. As a matter of fact, Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute has just what you’re looking for. Here are some key points from the study:

  • The construction of KXL will create far fewer jobs in the US than its proponents have claimed and may actually destroy more jobs than it generates. 
  • The industry’s US job claims, and even the State Department’s analysis, are linked to a $7 billion KXL project budget. However, the budget for KXL that will have a bearing on US jobs figures is dramatically lower—only around $3 to $4 billion.
  • The claim that KXL will create 7,000 manufacturing jobs in the US is unsubstantiated. There is strong evidence to suggest that a large portion of the primary material input for KXL—steel pipe—will not even be produced in the US
  • The industry’s job projections fail to consider the large number of jobs that could be lost by construction of KXL. This includes jobs lost due to consumers in the Midwest paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel. These additional costs ($2 to $4 billion) will suppress other spending and cost jobs.
If you also consider that the Keystone XL would do almost nothing to decrease oil imports from the Middle East (see here and here), you can build a solid case for rejecting the project without even mentioning environmental impacts. Add tar sands, a dash of spilled oil in a water supply, and an extra large helping of climate change, and you’ve got one nasty concoction.
That’s why, on Sunday, thousands of activists encircled the White House to make the point: Keystone XL is not in the national interest.
Mr. Obama, are you listening?

Infographic: Keystone XL ‘Built to Spill’

TransCanada claims their pipelines are the safest in the continent… So what about the 12 spills along the Keystone I line in its first year of operation? Since commencing operation in June of 2010, the Keystone I pipeline has suffered more spills than any other 1st year pipeline in U.S. history.

In addition to a nasty spill record, the proposed Keystone XL will cross one of the largest aquifers in the world – the Ogallala – which supplies drinking water to millions and provides 30% of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation.

That’s Emma Pullman on DeSmogBlog, taking on TransCanada and its proposed Keystone XL pipeline. We’ve already covered the myths and facts about Keystone XL, but this infrographic, produced by Heather Libby of TckTckTck and DeSmogBlogs’s Pullman summarizes the situation visually.

The pipeline is just a signature short of approval–Obama has only to declare the project in the “national interest,” and he has less than ninety days to do so. In the last few weeks, opposition to Keystone XL has been heating up, with over 1,200 protestors arrested in Washington. And hundreds have already signed up for a follow-up event in October. The message is clear: oil spills in aquifers and accelerated climate change are not in the national interest.

Keystone XL Pipeline: Facts and Myths

(Updated 9-04-11.)

Political debates in the U.S. are often plagued by disinformation, and the TransCanada oil pipeline controversy is no exception. So here’s my humble effort to dispel a few misconceptions.

Myth: There is little to no chance of an oil spill. In fact, a University of Nebraska study found that the pipeline could have nine times as many spills as TransCanada estimated. The pipeline will carry diluted bitumen from the tar sands, and it’s possible that “DilBit” poses a greater risk of corrosion and spills that conventional oil (see the NYT article for details).

Myth: A Keystone XL oil spill would be harmless. The study mentioned above also said that a rupture could take ten times as long to shut down and spill six times as much crude oil as TransCanada predicted. Specifically, the XL could leak up to 7.9 million gallons in the Nebraska Sandhills, home of the world’s largest underground reservoir, the Ogallala Aquifer. The Ogallala supplies drinking water to millions of people in eight states and provides over a quarter of U.S. agricultural water.

Myth: Oil spills are the worst problem the pipeline would cause. The Keystone XL would allow more oil to be pumped from Canada, which opens the way to expanding the tar sands. In case you haven’t heard, Alberta’s tar sands are the most destructive project on earth, covering a Florida-sized area that was once Boreal forest. The extraction process uses massive amounts of water and natural gas, and leaves toxic tailing ponds that are visible from space.

Even more importantly, the carbon footprint of tar sands production is three times that of old-fashioned oil. That’s why twenty top climate researchers wrote a letter to President Obama saying tar sands oil “does not make sense to exploit.” James Hansen, an eminent scientist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, has gone a step further:

Exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts….Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over.

Myth: The Keystone XL would lower gas prices. The Energy Department says the pipeline would have a minimal effect on national gas prices, and may even lead to an increase in oil and gas prices in the Midwest.

Myth: The Keystone XL would enhance our energy security. Nobody thinks it’s a great idea to rely on Saudi Arabia and Venezuela for our oil supply. That’s why the oil industry and its cheerleaders are spinning the KXL as an energy security issue. But, according to a report commissioned by TransCanada itself, building the pipeline would not reduce oil imports from “unfriendly” countries.

How is that? The Keystone XL is an export pipeline. As Oil Change International reported,

The Port Arthur, Texas, refiners at the end of its route are focused on expanding exports to Europe, and Latin America. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks.

If we want to achieve energy independence, we should start by promoting renewable fuels in the U.S., not by playing middleman in the Canadian oil market.

Myth: We need the Keystone XL because it would create jobs. Yes, building a 2,000-mile-long pipeline would create jobs. So would a high-speed railway, a wind farm, or a solar array. In fact, green industries account for more jobs than do oil and gas production. And don’t forget that TransCanada’s job estimates were greatly exaggerated. A Cornell University report found the pipeline would create far fewer jobs than TransCanada claims, according to the company’s own data. Most of these jobs would not be local and many would not even be American. Furthermore, the number permanent American jobs could be as low as 50, based on TransCanada’s figures of operating costs.

Still, some would argue that relatively few jobs are better than no jobs, and that temporary employment is better than none. Job creation is certainly a priority, but oil pipelines aren’t the only way to do it. Focusing on short-term benefits, however much-needed, while ignoring the long-term environmental and social impact is a risky strategy, to say the least.

Image: Tar Sands Action/Flickr