The last tar sands pipeline


By Winona LaDuke

In early June, I traveled to Enbridge’s Shareholder meeting in Calgary, in Alberta Canada. Outside, laid off oil workers screamed, “Build that Pipe” over a bullhorn, and asked people to honk if they supported Canadian oil. Those tar sands workers will likely never have jobs in the industry again – economists, and even the oil fairy government of Alberta, are sobering up to the Boom Bust economy of energy projects. It’s the bust and there is no boom in sight. That’s the problem. It’s really a race to the bottom and to the end ­– that is to be the last tar sands pipeline. For the past four years Canada has been trying to run tar sands pipelines through the US, to the Coast, to anywhere, and it has not gone well. And it’s not going to, and here are the reasons why:

  • Tar sands oil is too expensive. Say you had the most expensive oil in the world and it was landlocked in northern Alberta. Put it this way, Middle eastern conventional oil comes in at $26 a barrel, and there’s about 800 billion barrels out there, that’s according to Rystad Energy, international oil analysts. Tar sands oil comes in at about $83 a barrel, and there’s not much of it. That’s the reality.
  • Big oil doesn’t really care about Alberta’s financial problems. “Alberta governments have suffered from a type of budgetary delusion over the past decade, a phenomenon that drives up spending and sent debt levels soaring,” Newly elected Alberta Premier Jason Kenney wrote in the Calgary Herald. “For decades the choice for Alberta governments seemed simple: the province overspent budgets and trusted that energy revenues would fill the gap.”
  • “Alberta is in a very deep fiscal hole.” Kenney continued, “this… cannot continue. My belief is that we won’t see another boom .This is it, this is the new reality.”
  • Tar sands oil is the dirtiest oil in the world. This stuff is basically asphalt, mixed with a bunch of toxic stuff. The oil needs lots of water and chemicals to bring it out. Nasty stuff really. That reality is leading to divestment – fossil fuels divestment is now at $7 trillion. In the time of climate crisis, even the big insurers are ready to move on.
  • No one wants a tar sands pipeline. Two years ago there were five tar sands pipeline projects proposed – Enbridge had two, Trans Canada had two and Kinder Morgan had one. TransCanada’s failed Energy East Pipeline – the longest proposed pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick was not approved by Canada’s National Energy Board. Neither was Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which they planned to run through pristine watersheds into a set of fjords in northern British Columbia. Both those projects failed in 2017. None of the remaining pipeline projects are doing well. Ill fated Kinder Morgan pipeline – Trans Mountain, is enmeshed in litigation, despite it’s being nationalized by the Trudeau Administration in August, 2018. That was just the day before the Canadian Federal Appeals Court declared all permits null and void.

That leaves two pipelines fighting to be the last tar sands pipeline: Line 3 and Keystone XL (or KXL Pipeline) which is buried in legal challenges. Keystone faces the federal courts in Montana, and Line 3 faces the courts in Minnesota, as well as a delay. Costly stuff. With the new cost overruns announced by Enbridge, analysts believe it will be the most expensive pipeline never built. The last tar sands pipeline was built already. That’s the skinny – it was called the Alberta Clipper.

Canada now has more people employed in renewables than in all fossil fuels. The math does not add up for the tar sands. How broke do we want to be? And, how many people do we want to arrest and injure in Minnesota to address Canada’s lack of a diversified economic plan?