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Gillian McEachern

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An End to Business as Usual for the Oil Sands Industry

Posted: 11/17/11 09:17 AM ET

The announcement that the U.S. government is going to delay a decision on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline shows that business as usual has ended for the tar sands industry. While the oil industry and its allies may react with shock and indignation, this should be anything but a surprise.

Over the last year and a half, several factors have lead to a disintegration of big oil's social licence. There was the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history when BP's Deepwater Horizon well exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean. In the aftermath, concerns about the oversight of the industry and its response to the spill surfaced.

Second, TransCanada's existing Keystone pipeline sprung 14 leaks in the U.S. and 21 leaks in Canada during its first year in operation. This despite claims by the company that it would "meet or exceed world-class safety and environmental standards" and leak an average of 1.4 times a decade. Now, that very same company is seeking permission to build a bigger, more dangerous pipeline?

Third, while the tar sands industry claims that it's well-regulated, evidence to the contrary has mounted. From scientists to the Environmental Commissioner, the absence of clear rules to protect the environment has been laid bare, repeatedly.

And fourth, with 2010 being the hottest year on record and the U.S. breaking 900 heat records
last July alone, the public isn't buying the line that more tar sands oil is good for North America. It's clearer than ever that we can't delay the transition beyond oil to renewable energy. Tar sands expansion takes us in the wrong direction and thousands of Canadian and American citizens are standing up for a clean energy future.

The lesson is that companies seeking to expand the infrastructure for tar sands oil, thus locking us into several decade of dependence, are going to face opposition. Keystone XL is not an isolated case -- refineries wanting to retool to process tar sands like Hyperion have faced public concern and more people have registered to voice their opinions on Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline than any other energy project in Canadian history. As well, other jurisdictions like the European Union are calling Canada out for selling more polluting oil.

Canada can no longer credibly defend tar sands oil abroad while doing nothing at home to clamp down on pollution and transition to clean energy.