Dead End – Resistance builds against tar sands

The on-going struggle to stop the Keystone XL pipeline — which if built would carry oil produced from Canadian tar sands in Alberta to refineries in Texas, Oklahoma and Illinois — is the latest attempt to make the process of human-caused climate change concrete and visible so we can try to slow it down. Between August 20 and September 3, 1,252 people sat-in outside the White House and were arrested to pressure President Obama to reject Keystone XL — one of the largest eco civil disobedience actions since the anti-nuclear power movement in the 1980s.

Due to an unusual legal quirk, Obama has personal authority to deny a permit for construction. His State Department found in its final environmental impact statement released August 26 that the project would have “limited adverse environmental impacts” and Obama is expected to approve construction of Keystone XL later this fall, bowing to the power of the fossil fuel industry and their “jobs” propaganda. Activists are keeping up the pressure to get him to change his mind.

No matter how the decision goes on this particular project, organizing against climate change is entering a new phase. After years of education, polite activism and international meetings, the power structure is all talk and no action. Obama and the big oil companies know that it makes no sense to invest $7 billion building long-term oil infrastructure like Keystone XL if they’re serious about limiting emissions, especially when alternative energy projects are starved for funding. The struggle against tar sands exposes the dead end of the corporate / industrial system’s fossil fuel dependence.

Producing tar sand oil is more difficult and expensive than producing conventional oil and generates more carbon dioxide (C02) emissions. More importantly, expanding production of unconventional oil reserves like tar sands dramatically increases the globe’s available oil reserves. The more oil and other fossil fuels are available, the more may ultimately be burned, raising atmospheric CO2 levels and creating greater climate change.

Keystone XL shows that as easy-to-produce oil runs out, the current economic and political system will invest whatever is necessary to find more oil to prop up the status quo oil / fossil fuel dependent system. The market on its own will not lead the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy. Only organized resistance against the power structure can stop climate change.

To be successful, climate change activism has to move beyond its single-issue, reform orientation and understand that it is part of a larger struggle. On one side are corporations and valueless economic systems that promote efficiency for its own sake, divorced from any concern for human happiness or the health of the earth. On the other side are human beings and our love for freedom, pleasure, beauty, and life. At bottom, the struggle to stop climate change is a struggle of values and for meaning.

Unconventional Oil

You are already burning oil produced from tar sands in Canada. In fact, the Keystone XL pipeline is just an expansion of the already existing and operating Keystone pipeline, which already brings 590,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day to the US. Keystone XL would expand imports by 510,000 barrels to 1.1 million barrels per day, which would be 5 percent of US consumption and 9 percent of US imports. Twenty-percent of US oil imports are now from Canada — Canada supplies more US oil than any other country — and about half of Canadian oil production is from tar sands.

To understand why Keystone XL is different from other oil pipelines, you have to understand how radically different oil produced from tar sands is from what most people think of as “oil.”

“Unconventional” oil is the innocent name for oil supplies like tar stands that are not liquid and are therefore not generally counted as part of the world’s oil reserves. There are several times the quantity of unconventional oil reserves as there are conventional oil reserves — perhaps more than 5 trillion barrels vs. 1.3 trillion barrels for conventional oil.

The world burns about 89 million barrels of oil per day or 30 billion barrels of oil per year, so 1.3 trillion barrels of conventional oil will be exhausted in about 45 years. If one includes unconventional oil reserves in the world total, the current oil-dependent system can operate for more than another 100 years.

If industrial society burns all of the conventional oil and then is able to continue its current fossil fuel dependence by burning unconventional oil reserves, as well as the much larger supplies of coal and natural gas, atmospheric concentrations of CO2, as well as other ecological consequences of industrialization, are likely to get much worse.

Unconventional oil supplies are different from traditional oil reserves because they are more difficult and expensive to remove from the ground and turn into usable fuels. Tar sand oil, for example, is virtually solid — a mixture of sand and heavy tar — and therefore cannot simply be pumped from the ground like regular oil.

The first commercial exploitation of tar sands was the Suncor strip mine opened in 1967. Tar sands are dug out of the ground, loaded into huge trucks that can haul 400 tons of material (the largest trucks on earth) and mixed with hot water and chemicals to make the ore liquid enough to be pumped to a treatment plant. There, tar is skimmed off the top of the mixture and chemically treated to make synthetic crude oil. Two tons of sand must be mined to get one barrel of oil (1/8 of a ton). The process uses massive amount of water and energy and produces massive amounts of waste stored in huge lakes.

More recently, the oil industry has developed special drilling techniques to extract oil from tar sands without digging up the tar sands. While this might seem less environmentally disruptive than a massive strip mine, these processes are energy intensive and produce unique types of pollution.

In one method as known Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), oil workers drill two horizontal wells that can extend for miles, one 5 meters above the other. Drillers pump high temperature steam into the upper well, sometimes for months at a time, to heat the tar sands around the top well. The steam is heated by burning huge amounts of natural gas. As the tar heats up, it flows to the well on the bottom and can be pumped to the surface. Another method called Vapor Extraction Process (VAPEX) injects solvents, not steam, into the upper well to dissolve the tar. In Toe to Heel Air Injection (THAI), oil companies pump air underground and then set the underground tar on fire to heat the tar so it will flow to a horizontal production well.

What all these methods share are greater environmental costs compared to regular oil production. Each unit of energy used to produce tar sand oil creates 6-9 units of energy — well below traditional oil production. The CO2 emitted producing oil from tar sands makes burning a gallon of tar sand oil up to 20 percent dirtier than regular oil, or almost as carbon intensive per unit of energy as coal, which is normally the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. Tar sands production also uses a lot of water — roughly 2 – 4.5 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced.

Dead End

Tar sands oil production is the face of things to come. As the easy to exploit oil begins to run out, oil companies are moving into deeper waters and more inconvenient corners of the world to keep the oil flowing — and investing hundreds of billions of dollars to develop unconventional oil supplies. Keystone XL is a long-term investment in continued oil dependence — money not available to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.

Perhaps one reason why climate activism hasn’t significantly slowed fossil fuel development or redirected investment towards alternatives is because th
e climate problem is too big to comprehend. Keystone XL gives a face to the problem. Tar sands are the worst of the fossil fuels — the most desperate and the least sustainable.

But are tar sands really fundamentally different from other fossil fuels? No. All fossil fuels are unsustainable — dependent on non-renewable, limited resources. Burning any fossil fuel from “clean” natural gas to tar sand oil in your Prius contributes to climate change. Fossil fuels represent simplistic, short-term, means to an end technology. While everyone knows that burning oil isn’t sustainable or good for the planet, we use emotional denial to get through the day — there is no way for any of us to continue our current lifestyles without fossil fuels.

The real issue is not just saying “no thank you” to tar sands oil or fossil fuels in general. The current system focuses on resources, production, power, technology and trade. Human beings and what makes our lives worth living — love, pleasure, freedom, self-expression, engagement with others and the world around us — are frustrating obstacles to efficiency and increasing corporate profits. If we’re lucky and obedient workers, we get to enjoy our “hobbies” on the weekend.

It’s time to challenge the out-of-control economic and political systems that steal our lives and are destroying the earth. While we can’t continue our current lifestyles without fossil fuels, who wants to, anyway? The highly centralized, highly managed, push-button consumer world is not freeing us, making our lives meaningful or making us happy. The system needs oil, but people got along just fine without it for thousands of years. We need to build a world in which human needs come before the needs of the system so we can build a new world without oil.

When an idea is contagious – various spaces festering in anarch & cooperation

When folks gather together and decide to open up a radical bookshop, a bike coop, a warehouse for shows, or an underground art workshop, they’re creating the new world we need right now. These projects are oriented around meeting human needs — and especially our need for joy, meaning, and connection with others — not the just profiting off someone else and piling up more wealth for the boss.

In August, a meeting of 6 existing and 2 emerging anarchist spaces in the Bay Area to discuss resource sharing, joint publicity and events attracted more than 20 participants — evidence of the passion and energy that goes into radical spaces. Stay tuned for opening of the Holdout at 23rd and San Pablo in Oakland soon.

Here are some other new projects we got wind of too late to include in the 2012 organizer, plus some corrections. Check for more updates and corrections at

Libertalia Autonomous Space – Providence, RI

A new Autonomous space with a lending library, free skool, internet access and meeting/event space. They host Icarus Providence and IWW. 280 Broadway, Room 200, Providence, RI 02903, 401-680-6264,,

Dream City Collective – Washington, DC

A worker-owned coop thrift store, book and literature store, silk screen project and events space. 5525 Illinois Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20011

Burning Books – Buffalo, NY

A brand new radical bookstore with movies, speakers and events. Open Wed-Sun 11 to 7. 420 Connecticut St. Buffalo, NY 14213, 716-881-0791,

TOAD Bicycle Cooperative – Kalamazoo, MI

A bike coop and infoshop in a basement space with a tool library, information on building and maintaining bicycles, free internet, and bikes that are for sale or for folks to build. TOAD stands for Teach, Organize, Assemble, Disseminate Information. They have 200 members / volunteers! 817 Hoffman Ct. Kalamazoo, MI 49007 269-779-2888

The Furnace – Albany, NY

A collective space with shows, art installations, workshops and events. They host Food Not Bombs and a silkscreen lab. 84 Grand Street Albany NY 12202

Phoenix Rising / Bad Egg Books – Tulsa, OK

An anarchist bookstore in the basement of a cafe/deli/grocery with a community garden and a free store. 306 S. Phoenix Ave. Tulsa, OK 74127 918-582-5344, phoenixrisinggrocery.,

Troy Bike Rescue – Troy, NY

A volunteer-run community bike space with DIY bike repair nights and bike education. Open Mon & Wed evenings and for events. 3280 6th Ave. North Troy, NY 12180

Sanctuary for Independent Media – Troy, NY

A community media production facility in an historic former church that hosts screenings, production and performance facilities, trainings in media production and a meeting space for artists, activists and independent media makers. 3361 6th Ave. North Troy, NY 12180

Maryland Food Collective – College Park, MD

A not-for-profit food co-operative located on the University of Maryland campus in College Park right outside Washington DC that’s been going for 30 years. Drop-in volunteers can get food credit at the store if you’re traveling through the area and need some eats. B0203 Adele H. Stamp Student Union, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742 301-314-8089

Berkeley Student Food Cooperative – Berkeley, CA

A new food coop on the UC Berkeley campus. 2440 Bancroft Way, #102 Berkeley, CA 94704 510-845-1985

Austin Yellow Bike Project Shop – Austin, TX

A community bike shop with tools and volunteers who help people fix bikes. They’re at a 3/4 acre site with a community garden. They also distribute free yellow bikes in public locations, but that part of their mission has become secondary (and it sounds like many of the yellow bikes disappeared . . .) 1216 Webberville Road, Austin, TX, 78721

The Front Stoop – Lincoln, NE

A new independent community bookstore. 860 S 27th Street Lincoln, NE 68510 (402) 474-6630

Brave New Books – Austin, TX

A bookstore focused on suppressed information – they appear to be Ron Paul supporters and/or libertarians. A reader wrote in to suggest we list them – let us know what you think. 1904 Guadalupe, Austin, TX, 78705 512-480-2503

Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance (MIRA) – Jackson, MS

Not a space – they are a non-profit that a reader suggested we list. 612 N. State St. Jackson, MS 39202

Commonweal Collection – Bradford, UK

A volunteer-based lending library with books and films focused on peace and disarmament, environmentalism and the green movement, non-violent philosophy and practice, human rights, development and regional issues, anti-racism, identity issues, social and economic alternatives, etc. c/o J.B. Priestley Library
University of Bradford, 
West Yorkshire 
BD7 1DP Tele: 01274 233404

Corrections to 2012 Slingshot Organizer

Oops – we didn’t hear back from a variety of spaces when we were updating the radical contact list, so they got left out of the 2012 organizer and/or we got their info wrong. We should have listed the following places:

• Las Vegas Zine Library, 520 Fremont St (inside of Emergency Arts!) 702 773 6484; mail: Po Box 72071, Las Vegas, NV 89170,

• We left Blast-O-MatArt Gallery in Denver out of the list by mistake – they are at Blast-o-mat Art Gallery 2935 W. 7th Ave. Denver, CO 80204

• We left City Heights Free Skool off the list: 4246 Wightman St. San Diego, CA 92105.

• We printed the wrong address for Papercut Zine Library – they are now at 1299 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA 02139.

• The First Avenue coop in San Diego has a new name and address: The Mad House, 3579 Madison Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116.

• We listed the wrong address for Big Idea books because they moved. They are now at 4812 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15224. Same phone #.

• We printed the wrong postal code for the Edmonton Small Press Association in Alberta, Canada – the correct one is T6E 4E3.

• We listed the wrong address for Barricade Infoshop in Melbourne, Australia – they are really at 670 High St Thornbury, 3071 Melbourne Australia. The PO Box we published no longer exists, either. Their email address is and website is

• We left out a listing for The Freedom Shop anarchist infoshop at 162 Riddiford St, Newtown, Wellington, New Zealand.