activism

A further blow to tar sands development as developer cancels Keystone XL

The Alberta tar sands. Photo credit: TastyCakes, Jamitzky subsequently equalized the colour. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, – via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

Following US President Joe Biden’s fatal blow to the controversial and carbon-intensive Keystone XL oil pipeline project when he revoked its US permit, it has  effectively been terminated. The $9 billion oil project had become a symbol of the climate movement in the US and has been one of the longest-running environmental protest sagas, threatening to damage US – Canada relations with the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau not hiding his disappointment of President Biden’s stance on the project.

Throwing in the towel

Keystone XL was originally proposed in 2008 to bring oil from Canada’s Western tar sands to US refiners. It’s owner TC Energy Corp finally threw in the towel after President Joe Biden, in one of his first actions as president, revoked the key permit needed for the US stretch of the 1,200-mile project. During his presidency, Donald Trump had approved a permit for the line in 2017, but it continued to face legal challenges that hampered construction.

Opponents of the line fought it for years, saying it was unnecessary and would hamper the US transition to clean energy. Its demise comes as other North American oil pipelines, including Dakota Access and Enbridge Line 3, face continued opposition from environmental groups.

Landmark moment

Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity celebrated the move: “This is a landmark moment in the fight against the climate crisis. We’re hopeful that the Biden administration will continue to shift this country in the right direction by opposing fossil fuel projects.”

The Keystone XL pipeline was expected to carry 830,000 barrels per day of Alberta tar sands crude to Nebraska, but the project has been delayed for 12 years due to opposition from US landowners, Native American tribes and environmentalists.

Would have been game-over for the climate

Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and climate scientist turned activist James Hansen were some of the high-profile opponents of the project arguing that if Keystone XL were built it would be game l-over for the climate as it will allow the destructive tar sands project to significantly grow in size. 

Tar sands are a mixture of mostly sand, clay, water, and a thick, molasses-like substance called bitumen. Bitumen is made of hydrocarbons—the same molecules in liquid oil—and is used to produce gasoline and other petroleum products. Extracting it is hugely energy-intensive and environmentally damaging. Opponents call it the dirtiest and most climate-polluting way to produce crude oil.

What the death of Keystone XL will mean for the future of the tar sands project is unclear, but at least one opportunity to expand the project has now been ruled out. In addition, as Trudeau continues to talk big on climate action, the pressure will grow on him to also walk the walk; with less than six months to go until COP26 he can expect to face demands there to at least have a plan to phase out tar sands production.

The XL climate saga that never wanted to die seems to finally have done just that; the movement against the destructive tar sands however still seems very much alive, for now.

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