Keystone XL uncertainty and the environmental movement’s proficiency at saying no

It’s astonishing that the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline remains unresolved.

First, it shows how for activists determined to block a project it’s only necessary to make one jurisdiction say no. This is akin to the argument in computer security that the structure of vulnerabilities favours attackers over defenders; defenders need to protect every possible vector, while attackers just need one way in.

Second, this validates pipeline delay as a strategy. Using all available legal and political means to delay a project raises investor concern and probably the cost of financing. Since the point of blocking pipelines is blocking upstream bitumen sands development, creating uncertainty about any part of production, transport, and sales may help us avoid building inappropriate high carbon infrastructure.

Third, this supports George Hoberg’s concern (also raised by David Mackay) that the environmental movement has become highly capable at blocking projects but often lacks and skills and inclination to say yes to climate safe forms of energy.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

8 thoughts on “Keystone XL uncertainty and the environmental movement’s proficiency at saying no”

  1. Tribes opposing Keystone XL promise to stop it in its tracks
    August 8, Lincoln, Nebraska

    – The Intertribal Coalition of Nebraska and the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma met today in Lincoln, NE to take a stand against the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline by signing the ​ Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion ​ . ​ After the signing today, over 150 Tribes in the US and Canada, including the Nations all along the KXL route in Alberta, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and now Nebraska, will have ​ committed to standing together to stop Keystone XL and the other three tar sands pipelines: Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion through British Columbia and TransCanada’s Energy East. “Along with our Indigenous allies all along the KXL route like the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) and all over Turtle Island (North America), we recognize the grave dangers in allowing this ‘Black Snake’ to enter our homelands”, said Chairman Larry Wright Jr. of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. “As the State of Nebraska stands poised to make a potentially life-altering decision about permitting this poisonous bitumen to be inflicted on its population, we stand poised to protect all life now and in the future.”

  2. “Hunting for a climate campaign they could win, American activists settled on the Keystone XL pipeline project, which had already been attracting opposition from ranchers and other landowners in its path in Nebraska. The choice was not arbitrary; Keystone XL made an attractive target. It was a single issue, a stand-alone project that could be approved or cancelled by executive authority of the president alone. It could be protested and blocked in a manner familiar to environmental groups that had built their reputations saving stands of old-growth forest from chain saws and pods of whales from harpoons. It was self-contained and tidy, readily reduced to a declarative hashtag — #NoKXL — on social media. And the oil to be carried by the pipe came from an industrial project few had heard of that was readymade for placards and billboards, a mammoth open-pit mine site that looked like someone had built Avatar‘s mining operations on the Mordor stage set from The Lord of the Rings. There was even an Indigenous population, a real-life Na’avi, ready to host visiting celebrities.”

    Turner, Chris. The Patch: The People, Pipelines and Politics of the Oil Sands. Simon & Schuster, 2017. p. 213

  3. Dear Friends,

    State authorities in Nebraska just approved a final permit for the Keystone XL pipeline – but along a different route than the original one. It’s not the permit TransCanada wanted. We’re still determining exactly what this re-route means, but we know one thing for sure: this fight is definitely not over.

    If politicians like Trump and Trudeau keep bulldozing ahead with pipelines like Keystone XL and Kinder Morgan, it’s up to us to rise up and stop tar sands expansion at the source.

    Sign our petition calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to give the largest open pit tar sands mine ever proposed – Teck Frontier – a proper review that considers climate change and Indigenous rights.

    The Teck Frontier mine is a massive tar sands expansion project. If built, it would be an open pit mine nearly three times the size of Vancouver, and would fill massive export pipelines like Kinder Morgan – and, most likely, Keystone XL.

    Hearing this news today was tough. But I have hope. TransCanada has argued that any route other than the one they applied for is unworkable. By pushing Keystone XL onto a new route, the commission all but guaranteed more delays for this pipeline. And every day we delay this project, we’re keeping 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil in the ground.

    Let’s not forget that our movement stopped the Keystone XL pipeline for years – and, as you read this, communities in the US are pledging to keep stopping KXL and resisting Trump’s fossil fuel agenda.

    In Canada, the best way to fight Keystone XL is by targeting the source of the destruction. Demand that Prime Minister Trudeau give the Teck Frontier project a real review.

    We know that we can stop projects like Teck Frontier in their tracks by making sure they receive an honest review that fully considers their detrimental impact on climate change and Indigenous rights. That’s exactly how we won the fight against the Energy East tar sands pipeline.

    Hold Prime Minister Trudeau to his promises to honour Canada’s international climate commitments and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It’s time for him to measure all new fossil fuel projects against these standards. Let’s stand up in resistance to the Teck Frontier Project.

    Thank you for helping get us to this point – it’s no small feat.

    With resolve,

    Bill McKibben

  4. In the meantime, the delays have sapped investor confidence: capital raised by Western Canada’s oil sector in 2018 was below $1 billion by November, compared to $13.5 billion in 2016, according to Jackie Forrest, senior director of ARC Energy Research Institute. And warnings are being sent to the highest levels of government: “Market access is critical to an investment in a Canadian energy company, and if that continues to be under threat, global investors will seek opportunities elsewhere and Canadian companies will be further impaired,” wrote Darren Peers, analyst with the $1.7-trillion global investment fund Capital Group, in an October letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

  5. States led by Texas, Montana sue Biden in bid to revive Keystone XL pipeline

    Attorneys general from 21 states on Wednesday sued the administration of President Joe Biden over his decision to revoke a key permit for the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.

    The lawsuit states that Biden does not have the unilateral authority to change energy policy that the U.S. Congress has set, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement late on Wednesday.

    Biden revoked a permit for the pipeline which would transport 830,000 barrels a day of carbon-intensive heavy crude from Canada’s Alberta to Nebraska. It was part of a flurry of executive orders aimed at curbing climate change.

    The head of the U.S. Senate energy committee, Joe Manchin, urged Biden last month to reverse his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the project provides union jobs and is safer than transporting the oil via trucks and trains.

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