The conversation around fossil fuels in North America has become centered on pipelines, or what I like to call tar straws. Public outcry against Justin Trudeau for approving the Trans Mountain and Line 3 pipelines was strong, but yielded little results. South of the border, protests against the North Dakota Access pipeline have been inspiring shows of intersectional solidarity, but ultimately it seems that the courts have failed the protestors. Citizens who are attempting to wean their nations off of fossil fuels seem to be taking L’s at every turn. This is because a debate about pipelines is shaky ground for environmentalists and gives solid footing to oil companies.
Justin Trudeau has been adamant in justifying pipelines, saying that “they fit in with the carbon reduction framework” that he established with provinces in 2016. He isn’t lying when he states this, the amount of fossil fuels that it takes to run trains and trucks to transport oil is far less than it takes to pump oil throw a bitumen tube. Oil is going to be transported regardless of whether pipelines are approved by governments, it just becomes a question of how it is going to be transported. By centering the discussion on pipelines, governments and companies can shrug off criticism by pointing out that pipelines are the “greenest” method of transporting oil.
Of course anti-pipeline activists are not as concerned with the greenhouse gas emissions associated with pipelines as they are with the potential for these fossil faucets to rupture. Environmentalists know that the focus on greenhouse gas emissions is serves to obscure other environmental impacts of fossil fuels which include water contamination. However governments and oil companies also contest this, stating that rail and truck transportation methods of oil are 4.5 times more likely to result in accident that their pipeline partners in crime.
This then leads to the next point to push back on, which is that pipeline spills are catastrophic to the environment, and cause damage on a grander scale than than accidents associated with rail and trucks. Consider the Saskatchewan spill late January of 2017 which saw 200 thousand litres of oil spilled into a First Nations community, or the one in December 2016 which caused 176 thousand gallons to spill into a creek 150 miles from the North Dakota Access pipeline protests. These are environmental catastrophes that resonate with anti pipeline activists.
Once again, think tanks like the Fraser Institute, contest this by pointing out that 73% of pipeline spills are less than one cubic meter in size. To be clear, the Fraser Institute has its own bias and leans right in its analysis. This is to say that the debate on pipelines is not cut and dry, and is not an easy victory for environmentalists in fighting fossil fuel addiction in North America.
The same cannot be said for actual oil extraction. Tailing ponds were voted best new addition to the third ring of hell from 1967. Tailing ponds are where all the waste associated with tar sand oil extraction go to retire. I would rather live in a bathtub filled to the brim with squids than spend one hour in a tailing pond, which is chock filled with vital nutrients like cyanide. These cesspools, which are sometimes referred to as “culm dumps”, leak into the soil and turn everything they touch to ash.
Meanwhile the actual mining associated with tar sands results in literal gaping holes in the planet and is the actual largest industrial project in the history of humanity. Boreal forests are clear cut, and members of First Nations communities in close proximity to tar sands suffer from wildly disproportionate rates of cancer.
Finally we arrive at the rate of greenhouse gas emissions associated with tar sands, which are 3 times that of regular oil production. The debate around the actual extraction of oil is much more skewed to the favor of environmentalists than it is to oil companies and governments, which is why it as mystifying as murderous mermen that the discussion is centered on pipelines.
Indigenous people should have the right to avoid ticking pipe bombs placed on their property, and we should fight against this. What is curious is how the debate around fossil fuels has shifted to a realm that does not give environmentalists the best footing to stand on when compared to the actual practice of oil extraction. Here are a few hypotheses for this:
- Get off my lawn!
In Western countries, we have an unhealthy obsession with private property, which makes pipeline’s an easy sell to the public who would be nonplussed by giant metal dick being ran through their backyard. This sentiment is something that settlers can relate to because it appeals to their sensibilities.
For the media, this is also a much more sellable narrative to the broader public, because it gives a window into the property owning indigenous person. Viewers get to bare witness to the indigenous struggle for autonomy from an overbearing government in cahoots with the clandestine oil companies. A narrative around pipelines is a story centered on freedom and liberty, which appeal to both Americans and Canadians alike.
- All Jobs Matter
The maintenance for pipelines is low. Computers do most of the work by monitoring flow rates and possible ruptures. This means that after the pipeline is built, most of the labour associated with the project no longer exists. What this amounts to is a lack of long term job loss when pipeline projects are halted.
Communities like Fort McMurray do not establish themselves around pipeline projects the way that they do around areas of oil extraction. When fossil fuel extraction is campaigned against, there is a human cost in the communities that lose their livelihoods, which results in social erosion. This social erosion in coal mining towns is part of what Donald Trump was able to tap into for his electoral victory.
Because of this uncomfortable reality, that real people depend on oil extraction, it behooves environmentalists to rally against pipelines instead of fossil fuel extraction in general.
- Grand Cabal of Evil Strikes Again
We would be talking about the real environmental devastation associated with open pit tar sand mining if it wasn’t for you meddling billionaires with your pockets filled with politicians and the mainstream media. There’s no real evidence to support this outside of the fact that 90% the U.S. mainstream media is owned by 6 large corporations. There’s no real evidence to support this outside of the revolving door between politicians and corporate lobby’s. There’s no real evidence to support this outside of corporations having more wealth than god. There is literally no evidence to support this outside the media, oil companies, and politicians failing to provide any proof that they didn’t hold a secret meeting on October 3rd 2014 in the parking lot basement of Trump Spire to discuss switching the discussion from oil extraction to oil pipelines.