In the United States, pressure is building for the President (or the Secretary of State) to deny a permit to Keystone. That demand is at the heart of plans for "the largest climate rally in history" on the Mall in Washington February 17. Sponsored by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the Hip-Hop Caucus, the promoters of the event assert that
"The first step to putting our country on the path to addressing the climate crisis is for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. His legacy as president will rest squarely on his response, resolve, and leadership in solving the climate crisis."
Making much the same argument with much greater detail on February 10 on TomDispatch.com, Hampshire College professor Michael Klare analyzes three possible pipeline routes that would enable Alberta tar sands oil to reach world markets. The first is Keystone, first proposed in 2008, which is still at least two years from being operational. The other two go in opposite directions -- west, where resistance is already high, and east, where a substantial amount of pipeline is already in place. Klare analyzes each alternative in detail, arguing that:
"" the only pipeline now under development that would significantly expand Albertan tar-sands exports is Keystone XL. It is vitally important to the tar-sands producers because it offers the sole short-term - or possibly even long-term - option for the export and sale of the crude output now coming on line at dozens of projects being developed across northern Alberta.
"Without it, these projects will languish and Albertan production will have to be sold at a deep discount - at, that is, a per-barrel price that could fall below production costs, making further investment in tar sands unattractive. In January, Canadian tar-sands oil was already selling for $30-$40 less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the standard U.S. blend."
But Klare does not consider the different route to the Atlantic proposed by Girling, a route that could be entirely within Canada, ending at St. John, New Brunswick.
It's Not About Pipelines, It's About Tar Sands Oil
The shadow play aspects of the public posturing around the Keystone pipeline make it difficult to focus on the underlying reality that matters most: whether exploiting tar sands, not only in Canada, but in the U.S. and other countries, really will mean "game over for the climate," as NASA scientist James Hansen has said. The heart of his argument, as it appeared in the New York Times, was simple:
"GLOBAL warming isn't a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves "regardless of what we do.'
" If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate."
The game, in other words, is not about pipelines, it's about tar sands oil. And even though cancellation of the Keystone pipeline would not be a game-changer, such cancellation would be a powerful symbol that leaves open the possibility of changing the game. And it would be a signal that there is at least some political will to change the game.
The Canadian government under Stephen Harper has been pushing hard for the Keystone pipeline, lobbying the Obama administration and responding to unsympathetic media reports in the U.S. At the same time, Canadian resistance to pipelines in both the east and west has grown increasingly intense, especially among the more than 630 First Nations governments of Canada's native people whose land would be directly affected.
Media Coverage Omits More Than It Says
When Sec. Kerry promises a "fair and transparent" review of Keystone and media from ABC News to the Washington Post to Huffington Post report the story with the same wire service account from AP, there's not a lot of reporting going on. Sec. Kerry's comments are value free and allow for a possible approval, especially in the context of Kerry's "great respect" for the needs of Canada's energy industry.
What AP and those who carried the report left out included Sec. Kerry's significant oil industry holdings which create an obvious conflict of interest, although as someone who was the richest U.S. Senator till recently (net worth about $240 million, compared to Jay Rockefeller's $98 million), his oil holdings may not represent that great a conflict. And Sec. Kerry was "a steadfast proponent of taking action on climate during his tenure as a senator," according to Reuters.
The widely distributed AP report all but dismisses "climate change," using the phrase only in the context of suggesting that the pipeline would be "a source of much-needed jobs," which it's not, and "a step toward North American energy independence," which it's not.