your weekly dollop of KXL, served with hope and a little relish
The area under “development” is the size of England © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace

The oil/tar* sands of Alberta in general and the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines in particular are some of the hottest energy topics in North America right now. They also happen to be obsessions pet peeves of mine. Not having a Twitter account, I in effect spam my own Facebook wall by posting article after article about oil pipelines; in the past 3 weeks alone there’s been 9 posts – and there hasn’t even been any real news on the subject!

It has become one of the few energy topics I feel truly qualified to discuss, which is just one reason why I like yapping about it so much. The other reason is that it is not just about energy – the oil/tar sands, KXL, Northern Gateway and the potential West-East pipeline are so tightly wrapped in Canadian, American and international politics that it’s hard not to salivate. Like bacon-wrapped shrimp.

Last week I had a long overdue review with my line manager, and KXL came up when he asked what really gets me going. My biggest problem professionally right now is finding out what I am passionate about and how to work on those issues. In the framework of my current job, this specifically means how to turn what I am passionate about into a campaign that fits the goals and campaigns of the Climate and Energy unit. I will have to think more about that. I need some time and motivation to actually sit down, brainstorm, and strategise!

Anyway, you’re probably waiting for that KXL dose, huh ;-) Here ya go, and you’re very welcome:

  • Joe Oliver is Canada’s Minister for Natural Resources. He’s a creative and resourceful (pun intended) spin doctor who’s been selling the oil/tar sands first as “ethical” and then as “green”. He’s also really defensive and it shows in his aggressiveness towards naysayers.
  • A bunch of Obama’s top donors wrote him a letter asking him to reject the pipeline. I was pretty excited by this until someone else asked, “Why didn’t they do this before the 2012 election, when they had the most leverage?” Valid point.
  • Everyone’s on Facebook, right? Well, almost everyone. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has a PAC (WHAAAT) called that’s trying to get immigration reform passed in the US. To sort of gain street cred with the Republicans, the PAC is supporting KXL. Not cool! This caused some big supporters to pull out of the PAC.
  • Obama’s decision is dragging on and on – much to my delight. The longer this goes, the more costly it is for TransCanada, the company building the pipeline. At the beginning of this year we thought a decision would be made by June-ish. Then the State Dept report came out, 1 million citizens submitted comments, the EPA slammed the State Dept for putting together a shoddy environmental assessment, and now we might wait until end of 2013 or even until 2014 for an aye or a nay.
  • James Hansen is a climate scientist who used to work for NASA. He is most famous for penning a NYT blog on the topic in which he said that the tar sands are “game over” for the climate. I have a lot of respect for him – he’s gone to jail for his science before – which is why this recent article of his is a tad disappointing. In it, he argues that even if KXL is built, the bitumen might stay in the ground if the US introduces a high and rising carbon tax fee such that it becomes no longer profitable to extract the sticky stuff. Wouldn’t it be better to not build KXL in the first place?
  • The Globe tries to redeem its shitty journalism by publishing a decently investigated story for once: a 6-part series looking at the human face(s) along the proposed KXL route.

Last word: We must, must, must remember that the there is more to the oil/tar sands than carbon emissions. The tailings ponds – humongous lakes of the toxic chemical waste that is a byproduct of the extraction process – are deadly to all life and are destroying the ecosystems they touch. These “ponds” are left in the open air to evaporate, but the toxic heavy metals remain and there’s no good way to treat them.


*Words are important. Proponents of extraction call it the “oil sands”, while opponents call it the “tar sands”. The logic is that oil sounds more pleasant and tar sounds more undesirable. The problem is, neither are fully accurate: the stuff is neither oil nor tar – it’s crude bitumen. I find both oil and tar sands very political and loaded, but will usually go with “oil” in a surprise move. Why? Because I believe that the arguments against the sands are so strong that they can win even without lapsing into rhetoric!


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