Keystone XL – Justice for Who?

On Wednesday 18th January 2012, Barack Obama controversially rejected the permit needed for the go-ahead on Keystone XL, drawing huge praise from environmental groups who had been campaigning for just such an action, and criticisms from TransCanada (an oil company) and the Canadian government.

Keystone XL is a proposed 1,661-mile pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta’s Oil Sands to refineries in Texas. Those who support the pipeline argue that almost 20,000 new jobs will be generated; furthermore the United States would become energy secure. However environmental groups have accused TransCanada of boosting the numbers of jobs that Keystone XL will generate; they say numbers could be as low as 5,000 which is only a quarter of what the oil company has suggested.

The Oil Sands in themselves are hugely damaging to the environment; they produce huge amounts of toxic waste water and pollution which damage the local surroundings. There have been proven health impacts on local people who had no power to stop oil mining in the area, including increases in several serious diseases such as cancer and lupus. The area has a huge rate of deforestation, second only to the Amazon basin. If Keystone XL is passed then production in the area is likely to increase, causing even more damage to the environment and a rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the area.

In terms of justice, Keystone XL certainly looks very bleak. As of 17th October 2011, TransCanada held eminent domain actions against 34 landowners in Texas and 22 in South Dakota, meaning that people will be offered compensation for their land but under law they cannot stop the pipeline from being constructed on their property; compensation does not act as justice for these landowners. Much of the American Congress has disregarded environmental justice in favour of the economic potential Keystone XL could bring. Many activists have been arrested at demonstrations against Keystone XL, culling their right to freedom of speech, and halting their fight for environmental justice; at a demonstration in front of the White House in August 2011, 143 activists were arrested. The impacts of Keystone will also not be just; the oil is likely to spill, water will become polluted, boreal ecosystems will be at further threat, and there will be an even bigger dependence on oil.

TransCanada are still determined to make Keystone XL happen, but the environmental groups will be fighting hard for justice. Bill McKibben, writer, environmentalist and owner of wrote in an email to supporters that Obama had made a ‘brave decision’. He encouraged people to support the cause to stop oil companies from ‘using the atmosphere as an open sewer into which they dump their carbon for free’, and to fight back against the control they have held for too long. In Spring 2011 NASA environmental scientist James Hansen stated that the pipeline would be ‘game over for the planet’, and McKibben left his message to the environmental supporters on the note that they needed to fight back because ‘the world depends on it’. The big question is whether Obama will maintain his support of the environment, or if justice will be quashed in favour of big oil.

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