by Michelle Dong
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy for us to be overwhelmed with news. However, I firmly believe that the Keystone XL Pipeline is an issue that all of us should be concerned about and following. The history of the Keystone XL Pipeline is long, complex, confusing. This article is not meant to serve as a comprehensive guide on the Keystone XL Pipeline.
The Keystone Pipeline project was first proposed in 2005 by the energy infrastructure company TransCanada, now known as TC Energy. The plans for the project’s fourth phase, Keystone XL, emerged in 2008; the goal being to build a major extension to connect Alberta’s tar sands to Texas. The extension brought forth an international movement against its construction in 2009, led by Bill McKibben, environmental activist and author of one of the first books on global warming. In the following years, thousands of protesters marched, were arrested, until eventually, President Obama delayed the project (2011) and eventually vetoed the bill to build Keystone XL (2015).
The major argument for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline is its claim to strengthen the U.S. economy and produce thousands of jobs. Protesters argue against it because of the environmental and economic costs of extracting oil from tar sands. Tar sands oil extraction destroys wildlife habitat, pollutes freshwater and threatens the health of the communities that live near the project, namely the First Nations indigenous people. The process of extracting oil from tar sands is also incredibly inefficient – it results in triple to quadruple the amount of carbon pollution from conventional crude oil extraction. Leaks and spills are also more likely to occur; according to a study conducted by the Cornell Global Labor Institute, between 2007 and 2010, pipelines transporting tar sands oil spilled three times more per mile than the average conventional crude oil pipeline (1). Furthermore, disadvantaged communities, such as the indigenous and those that are low-income or impoverished, are further disproportionately affected by the harmful effects of the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
In mid-March, several states have passed laws that designate pipelines as “critical infrastructure” passed (2) South Dakota was one of those states; in addition, the governor recently pushed for criminal penalties for those who protested against fossil fuels, discouraging the nonviolent civil disobedience critical for action in the past. In late March, the premier of Alberta provided $1.1 billion dollars of funding to TC Energy, allowing the project to continue construction for the rest of the year (3)
You may ask, why now? When the world is predicted to “run out of places to store oil in as little as three months” (4), when Texas, where the Keystone Pipeline ends, is considering decreasing oil production “for the first time in nearly half a century” (5) , when the prices of renewable energy have plunged and become increasingly comparable to that of coal (6) – why now?The main reason, in my opinion, because of the current pandemic we are facing. It is extremely easy for other important news to get lost in the midst of the articles about COVID-19; I personally didn’t know about the fact that the Keystone Pipeline was resuming construction before it was mentioned in a Zoom webinar between Bill McKibben and the executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council in early April. Coronavirus opportunism is allowing governments to pass policies that would otherwise provoke backlash from the public.
So what can we do? We can take action by participating in online campaigns, we can call our senators, we can raise awareness. Below are a few online petitions dedicated to stopping the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline: