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Russ Blinch


Keystone Is Dead: So Let's Stop Harper from Burying Our Future

Posted: 04/24/2014 12:04 pm

The Keystone pipeline is down for the count. The future is equally bleak for the Northern Gateway project. What do we do now? Let's walk through this because our economic future is at stake.

The Alberta-to-Texas Keystone pipeline promises a gusher of profits for select companies, though to achieve this Nirvana the environment and the Alberta budget need to be further ransacked. For the rest of the country: lots of pain because oil booms inflate currencies, undermining most other industries.

But the Obama administration, citing concerns about the route after a court ruling in Nebraska, has announced another delay of the project. There have been many a setback but this one could be different -- it may well signal the end of the project.

Thanks to dogged work by such groups as 350.org, Keystone has become a symbol of Mount Everest proportions for all that is wrong with North America's energy policies in the battle against global warming. These groups form an important part of the base for President Barack Obama, who has won their grudging support because of the work he's done to slash emissions at the tailpipe and at the smokestack.

As I wrote previously, it was of late beginning to look like Obama would prefer making a decision on the pipeline after the mid-term elections in November with Democrats fighting tooth and nail to hold on to its slim Senate majority.

I covered energy from within the Washington Beltway for five years and I saw many sides of the man who is America's 44th president. For all his contradictions and compromises, Obama does have an agenda and the environment resides somewhere near the top.

So next year, free of electoral pressures, and with an eye to his legacy, it's looking increasingly likely Obama will deep six Keystone. Obama has expended a lot of political capital on the environment, including making some soaring speeches on the need to fight global warming. So it's just not logical that he would suddenly approve Keystone and then stand accused of being the one who ignited Alberta's great big carbon time bomb.

Now let's look at the other project that is designed to help suck more bitumen out of Alberta -- the Northern Gateway pipeline. This one is easy. It's done like the Maple Leafs at playoff time. The folks in Kitimat, British Columbia, one of the of few regions that might actually get a job or two out of the reckless project, have voted overwhelmingly against it in a plebiscite.

It is obvious the project is unpopular in the province and ramming it through would cost Harper dearly in the next election in British Columbia. Harper has 21 seats in B.C. so even a loss of half those seats could cost him his majority, if not more in the next election.

So with the end of these projects, we have a major bunging up of Harper's energy dreams. Sure there are still ways to get Alberta bitumen to market, including by train, which is pricey, and there is still the Energy East pipeline. It's too early to evaluate the chances of that project as it is barely off the drawing boards. All in all, it's going to be hard to keep justifying the breakneck expansion of the Alberta tar sands.

So what is to be done? The hope for a rational North American energy policy is but a pipe dream (pun intended) with the current government in Ottawa. We need a comprehensive policy that puts a realistic price on carbon and a plan to transition to renewable fuels and more green jobs.

If this was left up to Harper you can just imagine the legislation he would ram through Parliament. First off, the bill would have to be "omnibus" in scope and devious in nature. It would be given an Orwellian name, like, "Save the Wild Rose of Alberta Act." Of course the only thing it would save would be the big profits for Big Oil.

Unfortunately rationality will have to be saved for the next government, should they be successful in unseating the Conservatives. Here is a winning strategy: how about clearly telling Canadians all that is wrong with the dead-end ideas of the Harper regime. With the current policies we risk years of stagnant, Japanese style growth, save for a narrow vibrancy in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

It would be refreshing to see Tom Mulcair of the NDP and Justin Trudeau of the Liberals to forge coherent energy policies that lead to a more vibrant and sustainable economy. In short, we need to know they will stop burying our future with dead end pipeline projects.


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  • Drivers of oilsands development are global and any single infrastructure project is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oilsands areas.

  • Cross-border pipeline constraints have a limited impact on crude flows and prices.

  • East-west pipelines to Canada's coasts would be used to export oilsands crude to growing Asian markets.

  • If east-west and cross-border pipelines are at capacity, oilsands crude could reach U.S. and Canadian refineries by rail.

  • Keystone XL would result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the alternative of shipping oil by rail.

  • U.S. jobs supported during construction: 16,100 direct and 26,000 indirect.

  • U.S. jobs once completed: 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.

  • Total estimated property tax from pipeline: US$55.6 million spread across 27 counties and three states.

  • Up Next: Reaction To The Keystone XL Report

  • "This has been a lengthy and thorough review process. The benefits to the United States and to Canada are clear. We await a timely decision on this project." — Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

  • "There is a simple question that needs to be answered: Is this pipeline in America's national interest. From our perspective, from an environmental perspective, we continue to believe that the answer is undoubtedly yes." — TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling.

  • "The final supplemental environmental impact statement is an important step toward approval of a pipeline that will build our economic partnership with our friends in the U.S. and help foster North American energy security and independence." — Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

  • "This State Department report, I think, should cause some optimism. But at the end of the day, it is a decision that rests with the president." — Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

  • "Technically there's no deadline." — State Department spokeswoman Melanie Harf on when Secretary of State John Kerry will make a recommendation to the president.

  • "If President Barack Obama truly wants to be able to tell his kids he did everything he could to combat climate change, then he must reject this pipeline because it is a fuse to one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet." — Mike Hudema, a Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner.

  • "President Obama says he will only approve Keystone XL if it does not significantly worsen carbon pollution. By that standard, Keystone XL is not in the U.S. national interest." — Clare Demerse, federal policy director at the Pembina Institute.

  • "Mr. President, no more stalling, no more excuses. Please pick up that pen you've been talking much about and make this happen. Americans need these jobs." — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky).

  • "Piping the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America would endanger our farms, our communities, our fresh water and our climate. That is absolutely not in our national interest." — Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director, Natural Resources Defence Council.


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