Media reports indicate that President Obama’s will announce a decision today to reject TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This would be a source of hope and inspiration for people in Canada, and around the world, who are standing up for a clean energy future and a healthy environment.
In Canada, some people might be scratching their heads wondering how this went from what Prime Minister Harper referred to as a ‘no-brainer’ just four months ago to a no way, and what this means for us, a country that seems to be betting its economic future on the tar sands.
1. It would be a big victory in the fight against climate change. The pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of diluted bitumen each day, each barrel representing approximately 500 kg of carbon pollution. This would mean, roughly, an extra 150 million tonnes of carbon pollution dug up from the tar sands and sent to the U.S. each year, the equivalent of over 26 million more cars on the road. Over the 50 year lifespan of the pipeline, this would amount to nearly 8 billion tonnes.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently flagged concerns that new fossil fuel infrastructure, like Keystone XL, built over the next five years risks making it impossible to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change. "As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the 'lock-in' of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals," according to Fatih Birol, the Chief Economist of the IEA. Keystone XL would have enabled a rapid expansion of tar sands extraction, which is why thousands of people concerned about climate change showed up to oppose the proposed pipeline.
2. The economic arguments of pipeline boosters don't hold water. Over the last six months, TransCanada and the oil industry’s jobs numbers have been shown to be sham. As recently as this week, the American Petroleum Institute was running ads touting 20,000 direct and 120,000 indirect jobs as a result of the pipeline. But, according to Sean Sweeney the director of Cornell University’s Global Labour Institute, “no study has actually claimed or supported those numbers”.
A study by Cornell University put the actual number at no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years, according to TransCanada’s own data supplied to the State. In fact, the American Sustainable Business Council, a coalition of 45 business organizations, urged the President to reject the pipeline. They cited the U.S. Commerce Department’s data that three times more jobs are created in clean energy than fossil fuels per dollar spent as one of the reasons. In Canada, increasing tar sands exports would risk manufacturing jobs in Ontario and Quebec as a result of Dutch disease.
The Keystone XL debate should provide Canadian decision-makers with a cautionary tale when it comes to the jobs and economic impact claims that Enbridge and others are putting forward to support the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
3. The tar sands industry doesn’t even need the pipeline. Both proposed tar sands pipelines--Keystone XL and Northern Gateway--as based on a scenario of a radical expansion of tar sands extraction. If neither of them are built, Canada has enough existing pipeline capacity for current oil production and to handle Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' (CAPP) planned expansion until at least 2020. Why lock ourselves into a more rapid expansion now?
4. You can’t buy your way out of this. The oil industry has spent untold millions of dollars in paid advertising and lobbyists trying to convince the U.S. government to approve Keystone XL , and looks like it didn't work. What would work? Listening to the concerns of climate scientists and people across North America who want a clean energy future. The signals that the industry needs to change should be clear, from Keystone XL to California’s low carbon fuel standard, from the EU Fuel Quality Directive to 15 big U.S. companies shifting away from tar sands.
When you step back from the details, it would be a remarkable turning point in efforts to tackle global warming and secure a clean environment. It can feel daunting to be a climate activist, trying to convince some of the world’s richest companies-- the big 5 oil companies raked in a combined profit of nearly $1 trillion over the last decade-- to change. Keystone XL shows what can happen when people come together to push for that change.
And, it shows the tar sands industry and its supporters that there is no such thing as a no-brainer anymore.