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Overwhelming odds, unexpected alliances and tough losses: how defeating Keystone XL built a bolder, savvier climate movement

By Nick Engelfried - Waging Nonviolence, January 29, 2021

When President Biden rescinded a crucial permit for the Keystone XL pipeline last week, it marked the culmination of one of the longest, highest-profile campaigns in the North American climate movement. The opposition to Keystone XL included large environmental organizations, grassroots climate activist networks, Nebraska farmers, Texas landowners, Indigenous rights groups and tribal governments. Few environmental campaigns have touched so many people over such large swaths of the continent.

The Keystone XL resistance was part of the ongoing opposition to the Canadian tar sands, one of the most carbon-intensive industrial projects on the planet. Yet, it came to symbolize something even bigger. Many activists saw stopping Keystone XL as a measure of success for the climate movement itself.

“Keystone XL isn’t just any project,” said longtime activist Matt Leonard, who coordinated several major protests against the pipeline. “Its defeat is a testament to what movement building and direct action can accomplish.”

A stroke of President Biden’s pen finally killed Keystone XL. But paving the way for this victory were countless battles at the grassroots level, where activists tested new tactics and organizing strategies that built a bolder, savvier climate movement. Some of the groups involved took radically different approaches to politics, leading to unexpected alliances and occasional bitter feuds. And there were losses — other major oil pipelines, including the southern leg of Keystone XL itself, were completed even as the fight over the more famous northern half dragged on.

Yet, resistance to the Keystone XL’s northern leg succeeded against overwhelming odds. While there is always a possibility it could be resurrected someday, chances of that happening anytime soon seem slim. Understanding how this victory happened — and what it means for the climate movement — requires examining how 10-plus years of tar sands resistance played out in far-flung parts of North America.

Webinar: Fighting the Climate Crisis in a Pandemic

The Hydrogen Hype: Gas Industry Fairy Tale or Climate Horror Story?

By Belén Balanyá, Gaëtane Charlier, Frida Kieninger and Elena Gerebizza - Corporate Europe Observatory, December 2020

Industry’s hydrogen hype machine is in full swing. An analysis of over 200 documents obtained through freedom of information rules reveals an intense and concerted lobbying campaign by the gas industry in the EU. The first goal was convincing the EU to embrace hydrogen as the ‘clean’ fuel of the future. Doing so has secured political, financial, and regulatory support for a hydrogen-based economy. The second task was securing support for hydrogen derived from fossil fuels as well as hydrogen made from renewable electricity. Successful lobbying means the gas industry can look forward to a lucrative future, but this spells grave danger for the climate as well as the communities and ecosystems impacted by fossil fuel extractivism.

Pipe Dreams: Why Canada’s proposed pipelines don’t fit in a low carbon world

By Axel Dalman and Andrew Grant - Carbon Tracker - July 2020

Carbon Tracker’s modelling shows no new oil sands are needed in a low carbon world.

Prospective pipeline projects represent a significant expansion of capacity, with taxpayer support. However, new pipelines are surplus to requirements under Paris Agreement demand levels.

Canadian authorities face the challenge of trying to reconcile their natural resources development plans with their positioning on climate. Canada has previously having shown leadership on climate change issues, but its government support for pipelines – which are reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement – risks damaging its credibility.

Key Findings:

Our research has previously shown that no new oil sands projects are needed in a low carbon world. All unsanctioned oil sands projects are uncompetitive under both the International Energy Agency’s 1.7-1.8°C Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) and c.1.6°C Beyond 2 Degrees Scenario (B2DS).

All proposed new pipelines from Western Canada, in particular Keystone XL and Trans Mountain expansion, are surplus to requirements in a Paris-compliant world. Pipeline capacity may have proved a constraint in recent years, but under SDS, all future oil supplies from Western Canada can be accommodated by upgrades and replacements to existing pipelines, local refining and limited rail freight.

Even if discounts for Canadian crude narrow, new oil sands projects remain uneconomic. Western Canadian heavy oil trades at a steep discount to international benchmarks due to quality and transport challenges, averaging $25 below Brent over the last decade. Even if greater pipeline capacity reduces this to $10 in the future, in line with levels seen during previous periods of unconstrained supply, new projects still remain uneconomic under the SDS. Indeed, even if Canadian heavy oil were to trade at parity with Brent, which is extremely unlikely due to its lower quality, there would still be no new oil sands production under the B2DS and just 120,000 bbl/d would enter the market in the SDS – a level which would be covered by existing rail capacity.

Investors in oil sands face depressed cash flows in a low carbon world of falling oil demand and weak pricing, but will be forced to produce or pay the price due to inflexible “take-or-pay” transport fees for excess new pipeline capacity.

While take-or-pay contracts spread the impacts, pipeline investors still face financial risks as upstream production weakens. Uncontracted capacity will probably remain unused by producers, and contracts may cannibalise tariffs from other pipelines. Even take-or-pay commitments are subject to counterparty risk in a falling oil market.

The Canadian government’s stakes in Keystone XL and Trans Mountain could well prove to be a drain on the public purse. Under the SDS, government tax revenues and the value of the assets are unlikely to reach the levels anticipated at the time of sanction.

Canada’s leadership position on climate change may be undermined by its support for projects reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement.

Read the report (Link).

Lighting a spark: How to Blow Up a Pipeline

By Harry Holmes - Bright Green, December 14, 2020

How to Blow up A Pipeline starts with what will be a familiar image for many. It’s the yearly climate negotiations, activists have streamed towards the conference space, pleading with representatives to ratchet up their ambition to tackle the climate crisis. People block city traffic with banners, with activists dancing and playing music in the reclaimed streets. The next day brings a giant public theatre performance, with environmentalists pretending to be animals run over by cars whilst ‘negotiators’ walk around with signs saying ‘blah blah blah.’

Was this a collection of Extinction Rebellion activists performing and blocking traffic? Was it even earlier, in 2015 at the Paris negotiations? Maybe it’s 2009, during the economic crisis and the Copenhagen conference? No, this image comes all the way from COP1, the climate conference that started it all – in the lost world that was 1995.

Speaking straight from his experiences of this first COP, Andreas Malm’s recollection of these early climate protest indicates a wider malaise – a certain sluggishness of environmental strategy. Despite the growth in awareness around the climate crisis and the rapid increase in the number of people organising for environmental justice, there has been limited change in the actions climate groups are willing to take to defend life.

In How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Malm has written a short and gripping manifesto which aims to wrench the climate movement out of its complacency. By convincingly arguing against movements’ dogmatic attachment to milquetoast non-violence, Malm makes clear that as the climate crisis escalates so too must the tactics of those seeking to defend life. Not content simply dispelling the misguided understandings of pacifism environmentalists hold, How to Blow Up a Pipeline gives a balanced assessment of the conditions which make sabotage, vandalism, and other forms of strategic direct action necessary in a warming world. Coming out of the pandemic, with movements regrouping and attempting to navigate the mess that is the 2020s, this book is the shock to the system the world needs.

Winding Down BC's Fossil Fuel Industries: Planning for Climate Justice in a Zero-Carbon Economy

By Marc Lee and Seth Klein - Corporate Mapping Project, March 2020

IMAGINE IT’S 2025 AND BECAUSE OF THE ESCALATING CLIMATE CRISIS, governments in Asia have declared ambitious new climate action plans, including the elimination of metallurgical coal for steel manufacturing within five years, to be replaced by state-of-the-art hydrogen-powered furnaces; and an aggressive transition off of natural gas and toward renewables within a dec-ade. After a short period of time, BC’s fossil fuel exports dry up, workers are laid off and local communities get hit with declines in both public- and private-sector jobs due to falling incomes.

It is this type of scenario that needs to inform planning for BC’s fossil fuel industries (coal, oil and gas). This report’s framework for a managed wind-down aspires to thoughtfully and strategic-ally phase out the extraction and production of fossil fuels in BC, most of which are exported and burned elsewhere.

The BC government’s continued interest in expanding production and export of its fossil fuels suggests little willingness to contemplate a managed wind-down so long as there are external buyers for BC resources. However, there is a risk that market conditions could change abruptly as other jurisdictions implement more aggressive climate policies and importers cut their con-sumption of fossil fuels. Fully phasing out BC’s fossil fuel industries over the next 20 to 30 years may be — for now at least — politically unthinkable. Nonetheless, this report aims to start a necessary conversation in BC. The managed wind-down framework is built on four pillars:

  1. Establish carbon budgets and fossil fuel production limits;
  2. Invest in the domestic transition from fossil fuels and develop a green industrial strategy;
  3. Ensure a just transition for workers and communities;
  4. Reform the royalty regime for fossil fuel extraction.

More than half of BC’s gas production is exported to Alberta for oil sands processing, with additional exports to the United States. Only 9 per cent of production is consumed within BC. Virtually all of the province’s coal is exported, with little domestic consumption. The bulk of production is higher-quality metallurgical coal used in steelmaking as opposed to thermal coal used to generate electricity.

Read the report (PDF).

The Pipeline Divide

By Gerard Di Trolio - Rank and File, May 23, 2019

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s volte-face on liquified natural gas (LNG) projects in British Columbia is a welcome development. The policy reversal seems to stem from the recent victory of the Green Party in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election on May 6 which saw the NDP lose a seat they previously held. Whatever the precise reason, the Federal NDP now has responded to the policy weakness they had with which that the Greens were able to outflank them from the left.

However, the protests at the Unist’ot’en Camp by members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline should not be overlooked when it comes to bringing wider attention to the problems of LNG projects.

Singh’s new opposition to LNG is not without controversy from some of the NDP’s ostensible allies. B.C. unions whose members will work on the LNG pipeline are now going public with their displeasure with this policy change.

Leaders of Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 1611 and International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Canada, the unions that will be working on the project believe Singh is putting putting the jobs of their members at risk and that the Coastal GasLink Pipeline that will run from Dawson Creek to Kitimat has the “social licence” to go ahead.

But this is not the way for labour. The better approach is a  just transition, which seeks to build a green and sustainable economy where workers in carbon-intensive industries are not left behind, and which restructures the economy to also meet other social justice goals. If unions don’t step up and articulate a program for a green transition that is also a just transition then workers and everyone else who aren’t among the elite are going to be battered by climate change and by whatever responses that capital comes up with – like ignoring worker interests – once they realize they can’t ignore a warming planet any more.

Dakota Access Pipeline: Statement by Border Agricultural Workers

By Border Agricultural Workers - La Via Campesina, September 7, 2016

STATEMENT IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE STANDING ROCK SIOUX TRIBE AND THEIR STRUGGLE TO PROTECT THEIR WATER, THEIR NATURAL RESOURCES AND THEIR TERRITORIES

ON BEHALF of the Border Agricultural Workers of the US-México region, we express our solidarity with your struggle to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline to protect your sacred natural resources and your territories. Two of our leaders, Rosemary Martínez and Joseph Martínez will be with you to not only participate in your historic struggle but also to learn how to best support your movement.

AS MIGRANT agricultural workers, we know fist hand the destruction caused by greediness and hunger for more and more profits by corporate capital, to our Mother Earth and all the sacred elements of life.

Commercial and industrial agricultural not only exploit us in the fields, buy also inflict a severe damage to nature. For this reason,we identify with your just cause.

OUR MESSAGE to the Government is clear: Instead of being accomplices of the Dakota Access Pipeline that is a threat to the Sacred Land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Federal Government should stop the Dakota Access Pipeline and ensure that the sovereignty of the Sioux is respected.

WE ALSO make a call to all the social movements and the people of good will to join a firm and resolute solidarity with your struggle to protect the water, the natural resources and your Sacred Land.

WHEN OUR two leaders return to El Paso, they will inform us of your movement and then we will be ready to plan further and more effective actions in solidarity with your inspiring struggle.

Resisting the Resolution: Call to action in support of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and against the Dakota Access Pipeline

By staff - La Via Campesina, February 10, 2017

The epicenter of the struggle to defend our Mother Earth, Water and Nature is currently Standing Rock.

The North American Region of La Via Campesina sends its most sincere solidarity to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the water defenders in their heroic struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and in defense of Mother Nature and their sacred land. 

We demand that the federal government respect the territorial sovereignty of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.  

Finally, we call upon all of our members and allies of the North American Region of La Via Campesina to mobilize, firmly and widely, to stop the repression and violence by the police and the state against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who are protecting their water for all of us, as well as their ancestral land, and their sovereignty.

Why has the Dakota Access Pipeline become a divisive issue for U.S. Labour?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 7, 2016

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota are continuing, according to Democracy Now on October 7.  On October 5, three U.S. federal judges heard arguments  over whether to stop the construction, but they are not expected to make a ruling for three or four months.  Meanwhile, Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability released a new post , Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor,  which asks “Why has this become a divisive issue within labor, and can it have a silver lining for a troubled labor movement?”  The article discusses the AFL-CIO’s  statement  in support of the pipeline, and points to the growing influence of the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ within the AFL-CIO through their campaign of “stealth disaffiliation”.  It also cites an “ unprecedented decision” by the Labor Coalition for Community Action,  an official constituency group of the AFL-CIO , to issue their own statement in support of the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in direct opposition to the main AFL-CIO position. The Climate Justice Alliance, an environmental justice group of 40 organizations, has also written to the AFL-CIO in an attempt to begin discussions.  Brecher’s article concludes that the allies and activist members of the AFL-CIO are exerting increasing pressure, and asks “Isn’t it time?” for a dialogue which will shift direction and build a new fossil-free infrastructure which  will also create jobs in the U.S.    For unions interested in supporting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a sample resolution for local unions is available from the Climate Workers website.

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