The Council of Canadians responds to the rerouting of the Keystone XL pipeline. Maude Barlow, National Chairperson, and Andrea Harden-Donahue, Energy and Climate Justice Campaigner, answered the questions in this interview.
Q: In the recent developments regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, what role do you think the lobbyists have played in getting the pipeline rerouted quickly after the initial assessment was challenged by the officials in Nebraska among others on both sides of the border? Did the pressure and competition for Canada’s oil from China have anything to do with this quick rerouting decision by TransCanada?
A: ANDREA HARDEN-DONAHUE The ‘quick’ rerouting by TransCanada has likely been a plan B in the works for a while. Opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline continues. President Obama explicitly noted climate change, along with the pipeline route, as one of the factors that a new review would need to assess. This responds to a key concern raised, that the Keystone XL is the fuse to the largest carbon bomb in the world that will unleash further unsustainable expansion in the tar sands.
Q: The fact that extracting oil is still predominant, what does this mean for alternative energy? How will we ever wean ourselves off oil if it is constantly being sought and used? Do you see an intense struggle right now with old and new energy paradigms?
A: ANDREA HARDEN-DONAHUE There is an intense struggle right now over old versus new energy paradigms. The Keystone XL fight is a major flashpoint for this struggle. Greater reliance on unconventional sources of energy such as the tar sands which require more energy and generate more emissions to produce, is the cutting edge of a shift in the wrong direction. Keystone XL, and other export pipelines, will literally weld into place further unsustainable expansion in the tar sands. It is time to draw a line in the sand, to stop this expansion and shift to the solutions that we know exist. These include reduced energy demand and more efficient energy use, renewable energy, public transportation and sustainable agriculture.
Q: Do you have any solid evidence that there is ground water contamination with the aquifers in Alberta? What will it mean to the contamination of air, land and water if for the next 40 – 50 years oilsands production increases?
A: MAUDE BARLOW There is ample evidence that current tar sands operations are having serious environmental and social impacts, let alone the threat of what the planned three-fold expansion in production will bring about. On water, research led by renowned water expert Dr. David Schindler has confirmed that tar sands development is contaminating Athabasca River water by both airborne and waterborne pathway. This includes seven “priority pollutant” at levels that surpass government guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. One independent report found that eleven million litres are leaking from tailings points every day. When it comes to climate change, tar sands are already the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Environment Canada predicts these emissions will triple by 2020. At a time when countries need to focus on reducing emissions while meeting their citizen’s needs, this expansion is totally unsustainable and unacceptable.
Q: Considering its length and propensity to leak and spill oil, is the rest of this pipeline being built still a recipe for ecological disaster even though it will be rerouted from the Nebraska Sandhills? Plus, what will it mean to the intense water usage that will be required and increased in Northern Alberta? Currently, the oil industry along with a university is developing a technology that will use less water to extract oil from the oilsands. Have you heard anything about this new technology?
A: MAUDE BARLOW Opposition to Keystone XL is diverse, ranging from ranchers and farmers concerned about the potential impacts of spills on their land and water, to Indigenous peoples impacted by tar sands operations and the proposed pipeline to grandparents wanting their grandchildren to have a livable climate. While it certainly is an important step in the right direction, the struggle will continue. Opposition to Keystone XL will not die with a plan to reroute the pipeline. This does not address the greenhouse gas emissions associated with further unsustainable expansion in the tar sands. It does not address the current and future levels of water needed that are already overburdening the Athabasca watershed. It does not address violations of First Nations rights.
The Council of Canadians launched an exciting new multimedia education project in September 2011 called System Change not Climate Change. The website is now live, those viewers interested can check it out at www.systemchange.ca. The energy section of the Council of Canadians can be accessed here: www.canadians.org/energy.