Stopping Keystone XL
On Thursday, November 10th, President Obama decided to send the massive Keystone XL pipeline project back to the drawing board. He delayed any decision-making on the project for at least two years, effectively killing it. Most experts agree that the pipeline will never be able to meet the strict zoning, environmental and health requirements that it would need.
This is great news. Despite what some say, the project, at a generous maximum, would have created 20,000 jobs, with the State Department saying it is more like 5-6,000 temporary jobs. And for what? The world’s dirtiest oil, scraped laboriously out of the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and pumped thousands of miles across vital farmland and aquifers of the United States.
All of this seemed sadly inevitable up until the last few months, as rich oil interests used their influence to push the project forward. Indeed, I began to think it a foregone conclusion, judging by President Obama’s less-than-stellar record on the environment. But then something miraculous happened. People from around the country began to wake up, and realize that more dirty oil is not the answer to our problems. Despite it coming from North America, the risks of pumping millions of gallons of crude through above-ground pipes across huge groundwater aquifers was just asking for trouble. And this is not taking into account the massively carbon-intensive practice of extracting bitumen, a semi-solid, molasses-like substance. Worse still, this oil sand extraction would come from Alberta, a wild and gorgeous part of Canada known for snowcapped peaks and clean air. I drove through much of Alberta this summer, and the thought of massive, open-pit surface mining scarring the surfaces of this land is painful.
Just in time, Americans began to wake up and smell the awful reality headed their way. They began forming coalitions, planning marches, and demonstrating outside the White House, to reinforce their message.
Bill McKibben, a prominent environmentalist and author, became the defacto spokesman against the Keystone XL project. His 350.org movement helped to plan gatherings, marches and sit-ins, and just last week, the movement brought more than 10,000 people together, to encircle the White House and pledge their opposition to the pipeline. They circled it three-people-deep, and brought banners with Obama’s own election quotes about ending the tyranny of oil, and healing our planet.
While this is a major victory, the next steps may indeed be the harder ones. They require a forward-looking plan that makes sense on a multitude of levels. Focusing on positive job growth through smart industries like renewables, technology, advanced engineering and design. Realizing that we do live in an oil-based economy, but that the sooner we change that, the better. Reinvigorating our universities to train the next generation of geniuses, thinking big about our energy future, and convincing an ever-skeptical public that protecting the environment is in everyone’s best interest.