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shifting hopelessly towards hope— the keystone xl pipeline


come 2014, there will be 2,000 miles of tubing snaking in and out of communities and habitats from alberta, canada coiling over rivers, aquifers, 6 u.s. states and spilling into the refineries of the gulf of mexico.

the name of this project— the keystone xl pipeline— will be the carrier of tar sands oil.

the transport of this hot sticky morning breath of corporate oil, hotter, stickier and altogether more foul than conventional oil, will result in more spills, guaranteed. since 1986 in the u.s., there have been an average of 76,000 barrels of conventional and crude oil spills per year equating to 200 barrels spilled a day. this statistic is, however, only based on “significant” events defined by if someone was hospitalized, killed or if the damage was greater than $50,000 (how they calculate the irremediable imbalance these spills cause to the ecosystem is unclear). across the border, there have been over 29,000 pipeline spills gushing out volumes of crude oil in alberta from 1975 to 2013. that’s an average of 2 crude oil spills a day– spills that are impossible to clean up because this particular oil, bitumen, sinks.

now, we’re getting ready to increase the inevitability of spills by double because come 2014, obama and co. will have the final word on the passage of the keystone xl pipeline. if passed there will be 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil coming through the u.s. per day. some may be utterly hopeful about the kxl’s approval because this could mean energy independence from “foreign” (read: terrorist, muslim-laden or scary communist) oil. others may be relieved because this could mean cheaper gas at the pump. let me preemptively break some hearts by saying that as much as proponents of kxl propagate that this would happen, absolutely none of this will… none. in actuality, we have long term contracts with these “foreign” countries like saudi arabia, mexico and venezuela; the same countries that this nation wags its freedom-tatted fingers at. also, for you lucky midwesterners, your fill up will cost you 20 cents more per gallon after the keystone xl.

whatever oil that is able to weave its way to the gulf coast of mexico will be refined to become a consumable commodity for the masses, the masses elsewhere. unlike the propaganda touted by corporate oil, tar sands oil isn’t for u.s. or canadian consumption, it’s for global export, mainly to china. what’s left for domestic consumption is pretty considerable though: for the poor communities and communities of color near the refineries, they will benefit from consuming higher rates of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide.

“industry created cancer and mother earth was the first to get it. when they talk about economic development, they are talking about ecological destruction. when they talk about jobs, money and prosperity, they are talking about slavery and no freedom.”

[peter duranger- dene nation]

and to be even more of a debbie-downer, because that’s what you’re called when you’re stating facts and calling out oppression, the jobs that this industry will create, which has been one of the biggest selling points to the u.s. public, will be temporary, mostly low-wage, not local and very noxious. if we went the route that’s, you know, healthier and more sustainable, for every 2 jobs that heavy crude oil creates, 15 long term jobs could have been created in industries like solar or wind.

“the northern gateway [an enbridge pipeline], goes from edmonton to vancouver and the land it goes through are mountains and coastal forests. if, for example in b.c. [british columbia], the main industries being tourism, fishing and logging, if there was a spill there then all these industries would be compromised… and for what? 200 jobs.”

[a 17 year old resident and soon to be graduate from amisk, alberta, canada]

but here’s the jaw-dropping, eye-bulging, my-face-can’t-contort-any-further kicker— tar sands oil will come through the states with or without the approval of the keystone xl pipeline. they are currently constructing more railways to transfer tar sands oil to the u.s. refineries via train.

“four trains of pipeline go through amisk to hardisty per day. if the keystone xl isn’t approved, it won’t be a big deal because they’re building a train station to export any way.”

[a farmer and father from amisk, alberta canada]

regardless of our lobbying, petitions and permit-protests, tar sands oil will continue to come through the u.s. yes, if approved, the kxl will increase its shipment to match the projected growth given to investors but even if rejected, our lives and the lives of other sentient beings will continue to suffer because tar sands oil is already being shipped, already being refined and already being exported.

when i first came to discover this particular piece of information, it felt like pounds of dead flesh tarred in bitumen came falling full force on my body crushing my hopes of us collectively stopping our own destruction. this nasty shit is already here, i asked my sinking heart. what’s the point of our demonstrations, our uproar against them approving the kxl if they’re already sending tar sands oil our way?

but hopelessness led to clearsightedness snapping into focus. because to realize (again and again and endlessly) that i matter so little to these capitalist powers shifted me and can shift us. to realize that our well being matters so little can shift us from individuals buying priuses to individuals helping organize masses. to realize that our death matters so little can shift us from pleading for our lives to forcefully taking our lives back. to realize how thoroughly we have been disempowered can be our empowerment.

[photography by aneeta mitha/ iji photography]

Thanks to the support of readers like you, photographer and writer aneeta mitha traveled for nine days to Alberta, Canada to join the indigenous-led Tar Sands Healing Walk, Buddhist-led Compassionate Earth Walk, and other organizing to stop tar sands extraction and the Keystone XL Pipeline. she is a brown queer of desi settler diaspora living in oakland where she develops intimacy with her world through meditation, photography and political organizing.

You can see more of aneeta’s stories from Alberta here.

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Comments (3)

  • Jeff

    Thanks, aneeta, for the travels, research, and images that enlighten us about KXL.

    I believe I saw you at the August Summer Heat demonstration in Richmond California that drew so much criticism here – would love to hear your thoughts on this type of action in fighting climate change. How can we do better next time?

  • david

    Not into the pipeline, seems like a lot of effort for moderate production.

    But oil and gas jobs are good for local communities, in fact about the only parts of the country where unemployment is low is due to gas and oil production.
    They are not low pay jobs, don’t require collage degrees or even HS diploma, and
    grow communities.

    Wind power is limited by surface land and areas that have sufficient velocity to create power and is less consistent, also highly inefficient biased on the physics of transmission. Personally I think it destroys the beauty on the desert and plains but one could debate that point.

    Don’t know as much about solar but the technology seems limited at least in conversion issues. Also seem like it would be good in the south west, but not so effective in a place like Seattle/Detroit. Even with that it must be expensive because I don’t see a lot of solar stations or panels on houses in the south west except in Cali

    The world and the country, demands energy, everything demands it. All modern conveniences, medical, pharm, building, transportation, food production, are dependent on relatively cheep and accessible energy.

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