Power of We: The No KXL Pipeline Campaign

An amazing — and under-told — campaign against a massive, polluting oil pipeline is the No KXL Pipeline campaign. It has been an inspirational campaign, because it stopped the construction of this dirty tar-sands pipeline, galvanised tens of thousands of people, and now continues to build strength and support around the USA where other parts of the pipeline are being built.

Tar sands are a source of oil, and because of the high price of oil at the moment, these sands are now profitable to mine and refine. Large oil companies are building pipelines all across the USA and Canada to pump the tar sands to refineries. The Keystone XL pipeline that was successfully blocked would have pumped the sands from Alberta in Canada to the US to be refined.

The Canadian oil and gas company TransCanada hopes to begin building a new oil pipeline that would trek close to 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. If constructed, the pipeline, known as the Keystone XL, will carry one of the world’s dirtiest fuels: tar sands oil. Along its route from Alberta to Texas, this pipeline could devastate ecosystems and pollute water sources, and would jeopardize public health.

Giant oil corporations invested in Canada’s tar sands are counting on the Keystone XL pipeline to make the expansion of oil extraction operations profitable: The pipeline would double imports of dirty tar sands oil into the United States and transport it to refineries on the Gulf Coast and ports for international export.

The problem with tar sands is that it is extraordinarily polluting, and because of its viscous, tarry nature, is very prone to spills. In the US, hundreds of pipelines spill each year — and that’s just normal oil. Spills of tar sands are almost impossible to clean up after a spill.

For example, in July 2012, a tar sands pipeline burst in Marshall, Michigan. Over 60km of the Kalamazoo river was flooded with heavy crude oil.

Oil Spill - Kalamazoo River - Augusta
Oil Spill Kalamazoo River Augusta

The Kalamazoo spill was notable because the clean-up company, Enbridge, was implicated in fraudulent clean up work. Rather than clean up the oil, they buried it. Although Enbridge was forced to re-do its clean up, two years later there are still questions about whether the tar sands spill can ever be fully undone.

The No Keystone Pipeline campaign was a massive campaign in opposition to the US part of the pipeline that would have connected the Canadian pipeline with the United States in Nebraska. It galvanised the environment movement in the US, which was dis-spirited after the failure of the Cap and Trade laws in Congress.

To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Ogallala Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using “state of the art” technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.

For months, the No Keystone Pipeline campaign ran a campaign of civil disobedience in Washington. Over 160 people were arrested and more than 2000 people participated in the protests consisting of sit-ins outside the White House.

What is amazing about these protests, is that they united disparate groups who recognised the danger and threat the pipeline posed.

At a time when the conservative Tea Party extremists were on the march, the No Keystone Pipeline campaign was a remarkable example of grassroots action and coordination. Faith groups, farmers, indigenous groups, unions, Texan property owners and environmentalists joined together to oppose the construction of the pipeline.

The northern part of the campaign — the pipeline’s connection between Canada and Nebraska — was officially blocked by Obama in early 2012.

Let’s be clear: this as a good decision by Obama, which he was pressured into. If the large grassroots campaign hadn’t existed, hadn’t fought, then the pipeline would have gone ahead. The Republican controlled Congress did everything they could to get the pipeline built.

There is a lot of money in play with the Keystone pipeline. One of the reasons it is being built is to increase oil corporations’ profit through raising the price of oil by, ironically, reducing supply and raising the price of crude oil.

Because of this, the campaign now continues in, of all places, Texas, where the pipeline is being built with the support of Republican governor Rick Perry.

National Public Radio ran a story about the KXL pipeline in Texas, which is when the issue really first came on to my radar. I strongly recommend you go over and read the story. Although I was aware that the No Keystone Pipeline campaign was running hard for months and months, this story really brought it to life for me.

To me, this campaign highlights an inspirational example of the “Power of We“.

[box border=”full”]Read the story of the KXL Pipeline at Think Progress or visit Tar Sands Action.[/box]

[box border=”full”]This post is part of Blog Action Day 2012 – The Power of We.[/box]


More on the Power of We from Greenpeace.