After President Obama put at least a temporary kibosh on the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this year, Republican Congressmen tried to portray him as increasingly isolated on the issue because they had gained some Democratic support. Well, hold on, cowboy! Turns out that this portrayal is not quite a true fact. The Canadian people don’t want new, sludge-filled pipelines, either—at least, not cutting through their land!
Stymied by the fact that the dirty, gritty tar sands oil is trapped in the landlocked province of Alberta, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, is looking for alternative routes to get the stuff to one coast or the other. He’s actually taking the drastic measure of considering how to move it across Canada instead of the United States. Audacious! However, he declares he’ll never again be held hostage to U.S. politics. (Excuse me? Canadian dirty oil. Canadian companies. Canadian profits. Why was he ever embroiled in U.S. politics in the first place?)
Harper is considering three different routes, using some combination of existing pipelines, plus building some new ones. Two routes would run west across Canada to Vancouver, on the Pacific Coast, and one would run east to the Atlantic Coast. But he’s not taking into consideration the objections of Canadian citizens. First of all, Vancouver’s mayor is opposed because of the possible effect on tourism. The other main concern stems from the same issue that stopped the pipeline in the U.S. It would cut across agricultural aquifers and pose a danger of poisoning the water upon which farming depends.
The pipelines would carry a dirty sludge called bitumin that is prone to causing leaks in pipelines. It has to be extracted from the tar sands in the first place by creating excessively high carbon dioxide emissions, and then has to be thinned with chemicals for transport to faraway refineries. In 2010, a spill of diluted bitumen in Battle Creek, Michigan closed down the Kalamazoo River. Two years later, parts of the river remain closed in spite of a cleanup effort that cost over $720 million.
Harper’s government is taking extreme measures to block opposition to the pipelines. Public hearings have been pushed forward so that groups don’t have time to organize and mount a challenge on the basis of environmental impact; limits have been placed on public comments; the government is threatening to revoke the charitable status of environmental groups; environmentalists have been added to a list of potential terrorists. But one obstacle might be beyond the ability of the government to control—indigenous groups have to be consulted before a pipeline can be built across their land, and that means negotiating with 50 different tribes.
Oh, and one other slight obstacle. The eastern route is supposed to travel through Canada as far as Vermont, and then through Vermont and on to Maine. The ultimate goal is to end at Maine’s Casco Bay. Another funny thing, though. Those Mainers seem quite attached to their fishing and tourism industries. Vermonters and Mainers are joining forces—ready for a fight, if need be, to stop the project.
That pesky U.S. and its politics! Will Canada never learn?
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