Many Americans know about the Keystone XL pipeline designed to connect the vast tar sand oil resources of Alberta, Canada with Texas refineries. Much has been made of the environmental devastation that will follow as the snake-like pipes wind their way through the American countryside destroying whatever ecosystems lie in their path. Beyond local leakage concerns is the reality that opening up ‘unconventional’ oil sources will accelerate global warming since oil from tar sands generates more emissions per unit of energy than traditionally produced oil. What is perhaps less well known, in the US, is the already-in construction alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline that could have similar dire consequences for Eastern Canada and beyond.
The alternative pipeline is known as Line 9, and is designed to move oil between Sarnia, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec with the ultimate goal of sending this ‘black death’ from Western Canada to Portland, Maine, where it can then be distributed globally. As activists, the key to developing a strategy of how to counter this on-going disaster is to understand that fighting against the building of Keystone XL or Line 9 in isolation is simply not enough.
In Toronto, Ontario, activists have been protesting the construction for months, realizing, as their American counterparts have, that these pipelines will be disastrous. The diluted bitumen tar sand oil that will move through the pipeline is the raw form of petroleum which some have referred to as “super-hot sandpaper.” It can lead to more brittle pipelines, and in turn increase the likelihood of spills. These spills threaten entire above ground ecosystems. According to a 2012 National Resources Defense Council report, diluted bitumen contains “benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, n-hexane, toxins, vanadium, nickel, arsenic, and other heavy metals in significantly larger quantities than occur in conventional crude.” All of these substances have the potential for cumulative long term effects for both humans and wildlife. The proposed Line 9 crosses three major rivers leading to Lake Ontario — a major source of drinking water for the city of Toronto and neighboring communities.
Given that Canadian and American activists are dealing with same issues with Keystone and Line 9, we must work not as separate groups operating in parallel, but rather as huge masses of people organizing as one entity with the same goal: Stop the tar sands. Companies like Enbridge, the massive corporation based in Calgary, Alberta that is behind these plans, will not stop just because people stand up in one part of the continent and say, “Not in my backyard.” Enbridge and the oil lobby as a whole have no regard for the effects of their large-scale projects, and thus, they must be attacked as a single entity.
Of course, this kind of unity has been historically difficult in activist circles. Different parts of North America have unique pasts and heritages, and thus, will choose to wage this struggle in disparate ways. Be that as it may, everyone’s fight should be essentially the same, and it seems that tactics have become less important than being clear about the message. We can collectively examine how all energy is produced in our communities by questioning the way in which we interact with the environment. This must not only address our species’ narrow concerns, but the future of all living things.
If the Obama administration denies the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, this could buoy the spirits of anti-tar sands activists, but as American environmentalist Bill McKibben clarifies, “Blocking one pipeline was never going to stop Global Warming.” Nonetheless, the halting of the Tar Sands project as a whole retains the chance to be a real example of people’s collective power.
This article is heavily indebted to stopline9-toronto.ca.