While We Focus on the Keystone Pipeline, Big Oil is Busy with Other Horrible Pipelines

Written by Ron Johnson

The battle over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline continues to rage as both sides dig into their strategic playbooks for the Hail Mary pass that might tip the contest in their favor. The stakes, of course, are high. The multi-billion dollar project would see hundreds of thousands of barrels of diluted bitumen piped every day from Alberta across the border into the United States and to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

Each side’s arguments are well known by now. Pipeline supporters promise jobs and North American energy security. Environmentalists warn of a climate change time bomb and oil spills, and argue that now is the time to end reliance on fossil fuels altogether and commit to a renewable energy future.

As the Keystone battle continues to grab all the attention, Canadian oil producers are quietly seeking to expand existing pipelines so they can boost exports to the US and other countries.

There is no shortage of new pipeline and pipeline expansion projects in development. The projects are in various stages – from initial concept phase to application process to those close to approval. Combined, the proposed projects would, if completed, dwarf Keystone XL in terms of how much petroleum they would move.

Houston-based Kinder Morgan is seeking to triple the amount of crude oil that currently moves through the 60-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline that runs from Alberta to British Columbia. The $5.4 billion expansion would pump 890,000 barrels per day from the tar sands mines to an expanded Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, BC. (Keystone XL, by comparison, would move 830,000 barrels daily.) Once it reaches the ocean, the crude would have to be placed on oil tankers to get it to markets in the US or Asia. According to The Council of Canadians, approval of the Kinder Morgan project would “add up to 360 oil tankers per year in the Burrard Inlet and the Strait of Georgia.” Last week Kinder Morgan filed preliminary plans for the expansion; a formal application will be filed later this year with Canada’s National Energy Board.

Meanwhile, Calgary-based Enbridge is still trying to push its Northern Gateway pipeline, a twin 1,170-km pipeline from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, BC. On May 31, the provincial government of British Columbia officially stated its opposition to Northern Gateway. But Enbridge has other plans in the works. The company wants to double the capacity of its Line 67 (sometimes called the Alberta Clipper Pipeline), which runs from the Hardisty Terminal in Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. If all goes according to Enbridge’s plan, the expanded line would carry south 800,000 barrels of diluted bitumen per day by 2015.

Like Keystone XL, the project would require US State Department approval in the form of a presidential permit. The Minnesota chapter of the international climate-change group 350.org opposed the project in a submission to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission earlier this spring. “If 67 is expanded, it will increase tar sands development to almost the same impact as Keystone XL,” Kate Jocobson, a lead coordinator for MN350, told the local community newspaper, the Pioneer Press. “If that happens, it will essentially be game over for the climate.”

Line 67 is also being opposed by the group Nizhawendaamin Indaakiminaan (“We Love Our Land”) that is composed of tribal members from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in northwestern Minnesota and other native communities. The group argues that Enbridge has been illegally trespassing on Red Lake land since 1949. Activists with the group have set up a blockade on an Enbridge easement road directly above the pipeline. They are demanding the company “shut down oil pipelines and remove them from Red Lake Tribal lands.”

Enbridge has also applied to both expand (to a total of 300,000 barrels per day) and reverse its Line 9 pipeline, which currently moves oil from Montreal to Sarnia, Ontario. Reversing the pipe’s flow would enable the company to ship diluted bitumen from Alberta to refineries east of Montreal. In addition, a smaller pipeline, the Portland-Montreal, could be a gateway for tar sands crude to make its way to the US. Currently, the pipeline is co-owned by Shell, Suncor and Imperial Oil. The current owners have indicated they are open to selling Line 9 to Enbridge if Canada’s National Energy Board approves the reversal.

There is also preliminary talk of a new west-east pipeline within Canada that would send approximately 800,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen from Alberta to refineries in Quebec and the Canadian East Coast, most likely Irving Oil’s massive Saint John refinery in New Brunswick – the largest in Canada and one of the top 10 biggest oil refineries in North America.

Canadian oil producers are even considering a pipeline to the Arctic Ocean, presumably hoping that the emerging ice-free shipping routes (open thanks to climate change) could be a path to get their crude to market. The province has hired a consulting firm, Canatec Associates International, to study the feasibility of a pipeline to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories. According to Sun News, energy minister Ken Hughes called the $50,000 study a “preliminary scouting expedition.”

All signs point toward continued efforts to expand tar sands extraction in Alberta. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tory government is doing everything it can to lobby US officials to approve new cross-border crude oil shipments. And the provincial government in Alberta continues to provide massive subsidies for further tar sands development. With an estimated 173 billion barrels of recoverable bitumen at stake, the economic incentives for continued growth are immense. According to the International Energy Agency, North American daily oil production is forecast to grow by 3.9 million barrels between 2012 and 2018. “North American oil production will be as transformative to the market over the next five years as was the rise of Chinese demand over the last 15,” the IEA says.

Environmentalists say that would be a disaster. According to Greenpeace, “Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from tar sands production are three to four times higher than those caused by the production of conventional oil, which makes the tar sands the largest contributor to the growth in Canada’s GHG emissions and one of the world’s largest sources of GHGs.”

As both tar sand proponents and opponents know, that oil will stay in the ground unless there’s a way to get it to market. Until now, most attention has focused on Keystone XL. No matter the ultimate fate of Keystone, it will be just one small battle in a war that is opening up along multiple fronts from coast to coast to coast.

This post was originally published by the Earth Island Journal.



Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Brian M.
Past Member 4 years ago

Excellent article. I would like to also point out that tar sands are also being shipped through the US via rail. While we fight the Keystone XL and other pipelines, we also need to be mounting efforts to block shipment of tar sands by train. Tar sands are the dirtiest, most toxic form of fossil fuels that our species has ever used. If we are to have any chance against climate change, then we must move away from dirty energy and move towards clean, renewable energy.

Mark Donners
Mark Donner4 years ago

john h. "works for a big oil company" that already tells you where his interests lie. His employers would not only never invest in alternative energies, they would deliberately sabotage any attempt to find an alternative to oil, but they spend millions to have their employees point their oily fingers at the public..the public which the greedy criminal oil companies are working overtime to betray.

Dale O.

Big oil is always ready with something else, there is never any end to their greed.

Aaron Bouchard
Aaron Bouchard4 years ago

Thank you

Harsha Vardhana R
Harsha Vardhana4 years ago

The war between good and bad is eternal! We just have a choice which side we would like to align with!!!

Myriam Derome
Myriam Derome4 years ago

Thanks for keeping us posted, at least.

Activist Inspireharmony

In a remote corner of the West of Ireland sits Broadhaven Bay. It is the perfect picture postcard, where the high cliffs of Erris Head and the Stags of Broadhaven stand sentry at the mouth of the bay against the mighty Atlantic, as if protecting the delicate golden sands of Glengad Beach and the tiny village of Rossport, which nestles behind the dunes. However, this peaceful tranquility belies the turmoil that lies beneath, and the unique nature of the coastline which has sustained generations of farmers and fishermen, has also delivered to Shell Oil the perfect landfall for the Corrib Gas Pipeline. In the most dramatic clash of cultures in modern Ireland, the rights of farmers over their fields, and of fishermen to their fishing grounds, has come in direct conflict with one of the world's most powerful oil companies. When the citizens look to their state to protect their rights, they find that the state has put Shell’s right to lay a pipeline over their own. The Pipe is a story of a community tragically divided, and how they deal with a pipe that could bring economic prosperity or destruction of a way of life shared for generations.

Dave Ewoldt
Dave Ewoldt4 years ago

Hi Michael H., I believe it would be more accurate to say that stories are what are toxic to the planet--and to justice, democracy, etc. But this also means that we can choose a new set of stories. We can focus on those aspects of both being human and an integral aspect of a living world where the prime activity of living organisms is the tendency to self-organize mutually supportive relationships and networks.

We have built a system based on suffering and scarcity which tends to magnify those selected attributes and those that logically emerge from them such as greed, selfishness, and individualism. Compounding this is the belief that we can survive in the overshoot range of planetary carrying capacity.

But, it is perfectly within our power to implement an alternative to the dominant paradigm. There is a framework available to us to do so. And considering the dire urgency of our rapidly converging crises, sooner will work better than later. The challenge as I see it is to get a critical mass aware that there is an alternative and it will improve quality of life.

Dave Ewoldt
Dave Ewoldt4 years ago

John H., as far as what people are doing to get off oil... well, the character limit on Care2 responses won't allow a complete list, but here's a small sample.

Redesigning the urban environment to be people friendly instead of completely car-centered. See Richard Register's "Ecocities" or the work of the New Urbanists for examples. It's time to be honest about the fact that suburbia is a way of living that has no future.

Switching from a paradigm of infinite economic growth to a way ordering economic relationships that work within ecological carrying capacity boundaries. See steady-state, ecological, and participatory economics for details. These can all be shown to improve quality of life, which is fundamentally different from standard of living.

Decentralized energy generation from clean, renewable sources. This one gets more difficult for people to wrap their heads around, but there's nothing about it that is technologically unfeasible.

The most difficult to build the political will for, however, is moving beyond the infinite growth paradigm. The hard physical reality is that burning fossil fuels alters the biosphere in ways inhospitable to life. We could start building stuff to last, to be easily repairable, and make planned obsolescence into a crime against humanity. We could also remember how to share. None of this, however, further consolidates wealth and power into the hands of a small, self-selected elite. But is that really something we want to foster an