Pipeline Hemorrhage: resisting the Keystone XL

by Lesley DangerHaddock

All over the world people have been demonstrating against the Keystone XL pipeline, the massive oil pipeline that would send 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada to Texas. The pipeline would likely spur further development of the Alberta Tar Sands, the largest fossil fuel project in the world that has led to extensive deforestation, water pollution, and violations of indigenous sovereignty, as well as massive contributions to climate change. Keystone XL has been the Keystone issue for many environmental activists.

Matthew and I left on a hitchhiking adventure intending to cover the resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline by following the pipeline the full 1,700 miles. But, as we have talked to activists along the way, we have found that while resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline has brought a lot of needed attention to the detrimental tar sands project, it can also overshadow the equally crucial efforts being made to stop fossil fuel shipment and extraction by local communities.

Before we left we talked to activists in Pittsburg, CA who have been fighting hard against the construction of oil terminals that would receive tar sands shipments by truck and rail, as well as organizers in Richmond, CA who for decades have opposed the Chevron refinery that has been detrimental to the city’s health. As activists in San Francisco locked down the federal building in protest of KXL, the fight against extraction is immediate and personal for local organizers just across the bay.

Our travels thus far have taken us up to Oregon, Washington, and over to Idaho, and organizers there have had similar experiences. In Vancouver, WA we talked to Cager Carbaugh, the president of the ILWU local 4, who has been working with Portland Rising Tide to oppose oil terminals being built in their port. For Cager and the longshoremen, working with volatile oil shipments from the tar sands is a threat to worker safety, and the risk of an oil spill would put their ability to work on the Columbia river at stake.

In Moscow, Idaho, we’ve talked with organizers who have been working upstream of the tar sands fighting shipments of megaloads, massive machinery used for tar sands exploitation, through Idaho. For many local activists, the idea of turning their wild state into an permanent industrial corridor is an outrage. Helen Yost, organizer with Wild Idaho Rising Tide, explicitly told us that the focus on Keystone XL has been a huge barrier, saying that people have been climbing over each other to get arrested protesting the pipeline while ignoring the megaload shipments rolling straight through their towns.

Further, while Keystone XL is absolutely gigantic, there are actually two other pipelines of similar size in the works that, if built, could double tar sands exploitation. The first of these is the $7 billion Line 3 Replacement pipeline project brought to us by Enbridge. Set to open in 2017, this pipeline would ship 740,000 barrels of tar sands per day. The other is the $12 billion Energy East pipeline being constructed by TransCanada. This pipeline is set to open in 2018 and would ship a record-breaking 1.1 billion barrels of tar sands per day.

Keystone XL is tremendously important, but so are the other fossil fuel projects popping up all over North America. With fracking going on in more and more states, the Bakken Shale exploitation in North Dakota, Mountain Top Removal in West Virginia, oil spills happening nearly every week, tar sands exploitation starting in Utah, we can’t afford to focus only on KXL. We have to fight extraction at every level, and look at the work being done in our own communities first.

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