As the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 12-10 this week in support of the Canadian-based Keystone XL Pipeline that would cut through the country on its way to the Gulf of Mexico, groups in the western province of British Columbia are preparing to fight another pipeline, called the Northern Gateway, from the same tar sands region of Alberta to the BC Pacific coast.
Both pipelines propose to transport the thick and heavy oil-bearing bitumen through pipelines crossing vast expanses to reach ocean ports. The Keystone Pipeline, which would transport 700,000 barrels a day, is set to cut through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma into Texas and the oil-refinery ports along the Gulf of Mexico. The Northern Gateway pipeline will cut west across northern Alberta into British Columbia and across the rugged Rocky Mountains to a new port in the Pacific Ocean off British Columbia. The Canadian government approved the Northern Gateway pipeline on Tuesday in distant Ottawa, but that announcement was met with vocal opposition from aboriginal groups, environmentalists and community advocates.
“Stephen Harper (the Canadian premier) continues to act as if this is 1948,” said Tom Mulcair, the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party. “You can no longer force pipelines from the top down.” Mulcair said having oil tankers filling up and taking off along the BC coast was “madness,” and said the national government’s decision was a “severe threat to social order, social peace.” The proposed pipeline would transport 500,000 barrels a day. With the nation’s other oil pipelines in place, Canada could transport three millions barrels a day from Alberta’s tar sands region. Leaks and breaks in the pipeline, along with the difficulty of cleaning it up, worry environmentalists.
Even Al Monaco, the president of Enbridge (the company set to put in the pipeline), admitted more work needed to be done to garner public support. “The economic benefits are not enough to secure public support,” he said.
The company is already under pressure to meet over 200 conditions placed on it by government regulators.
When it first reviewed the pipeline, the National Energy Board attached a list of 209 conditions, although most are not considered insurmountable. Nonetheless, meeting all those conditions is mandated before government approval is granted. In addition, Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, set five conditions the gas company must meet to get its building permits, including disbursing a portion of the pipeline’s profits to the province. Native tribes must also be appeased before approval is granted, pushing approval of the plan to at least four years away, according to earlier comments by gas company officials.
Meanwhile, native groups have combined with what was formerly the Canadian Auto Workers Union, now called Unifor, and several environmental groups to fight the project. The main objection, said the president of the group, was the oil industry’s inability to demonstrate it could effectively clean up coastal oil spills.
Back in the U.S., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who voted against the Keystone XL pipeline in the committee vote, said extracting and refining “the dirtiest oil imaginable” would spew more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and worsen global warming.
“The scientific community has overwhelmingly concluded that global warming is occurring, that it is caused by human activity and that it is already causing devastating problems in terms of drought, wild fires, flooding and extreme weather disturbances,” Sanders said in a prepared statement. “The scientists tell us that there is a narrow opportunity in the near future to substantially reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and transform our energy systems away from fossil fuels and into renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, geo-thermal and bio-mass. If we do not move in that direction, the habitability of the planet that we leave to our children and grand-children is much in doubt.”
The Keystone XL Pipeline remains under review by the State Department and the White House because it crosses international borders, and is temporarily not being considered by a Congress predisposed to approve the project.
President Obama and the State Department could successfully direct the discussion, and postpone its decision, by first checking to ensure that the U.S. at least requires as stringent an environmental compliance as does Canada on the Northern Gateway pipeline, and revisit the necessity (and economic viability) of the Keystone project in light of the ever-changing energy landscape. That, it would seem, could take at least two or three years — by which time more evidence against the pipeline will surely surface.
Angelo S. Lynn