Tears, cheers, jeers, and fears as Biden shuts down pipeline
Last updated 2/2/2021 at 1:43pm
WINNIPEG, Man.-On the first day of his U.S. presidency, Joe Biden used an executive order to cancel the permit former president Donald Trump had approved to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have connected Alberta's bitumen to Nebraska and then to the gulf states further south.
The Keystone XL pipeline is an international project years in the making. Without support from the U.S. government, it's effectively halted.
The pipeline is meant to expand critical oil exports for Canada, which has the third-largest oil reserves in the world. The 875-mile pipeline would carry a heavy crude oil mixture from Western Canada to Steele City, Neb., where it would connect with existing pipelines stretching to Gulf Coast refineries.
In 2004, an executive order required the State Department to approve cross-border projects, and in 2008 TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) applied for a permit to transport up to 830,000 barrels of crude per day from Alberta to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The Obama State Department researched environmental concerns and found five separate times that the pipeline would have no material impact on greenhouse gas emissions since crude would still be extracted. In fact, shipping bitumen by rail or tanker would result in 28% to 42% higher CO2 emissions and more leaks. However, in 2015 Obama rejected the permit as a nod to the Paris Climate accords.
President Trump allowed the pipeline plans to move ahead, but legal challenges by anti-fossil fuel groups held up the processes. Now Biden is pulling the permit and rejoining the Paris agreement. Accordngly, TC energy has halted all construction, and has announced plans to lay off about 1,000 construction workers.
Indigenous Canadians weigh in
Indigenous business owners in the oil and gas industry are hoping Biden changes his mind.
Shawn McDonald, president of Resource One Aboriginal Business Association and owner of Black Scorpion Contracting in Alta., says the oil and gas industry is still reeling from the 2014 oil price crash. Now, with the cancellation of Keystone XL, he says it will mean even more job losses with projects cancelled or put on the shelf.
The decision means fewer jobs in the short term for Indigenous people in constructing the pipeline and supplying goods and services for it, said Dale Swampy, president of the National Coalition of Chiefs. He says Biden's move is a major setback for Canadian Indigenous people, as Indigenous participation in oil and gas development has been seen as a partial solution to poverty on the reserves. The move will also cause more long-term employment loss for those who work in exploring oilsands projects in Western Canada.
"Within Alberta, First Nations are pretty closely entrenched with all of the activities occurring with the oil and gas industry. Any change, especially a big change like this, really affects our bands' ability to keep our people employed," Swampy told CBC news.
The demise of the pipeline means Natural Law Energy, which represents five First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, will no longer be able to make an equity investment of up to $1 billion in Keystone XL, a plan announced by builder TC Energy Corp. in November that investment was expected to be extended to American Indigenous groups as well.
Just how extensive is the potential job loss? Estimates vary.
In a report published in December, energy industry labor data firm PetroLMI said nearly 14,000 self-identified Indigenous people were directly employed in Canada's oil and gas industry in 2019. That's seven per cent of total industry employment, compared to three per cent in other industries.
In October, TC Energy awarded contracts to six American union contractors to build the Keystone XL pipeline in three states in 2021. Those contractors were responsible for hiring 7,000 union workers. With more contracts anticipated, the company announced that the total number of American union workers constructing Keystone XL would, in total, be expected to employ more than 11,000 Americans.
Fact-checkers point out that most of those jobs were seasonal construction jobs instead of full-time jobs, but as the Austin American-Statesman noted, "Temporary jobs are still jobs."
Calling for reconsideration
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte joins Canadian Indigenous leaders in calling on Biden to reconsider his decision. Gianforte has announced that not only is the pipeline expected to create thousands of jobs across the U.S., it is also crucial for preserving the livelihood of many people in his state.
"The Keystone XL Pipeline is a lifeline for rural Montana," he told Fox News. "Over $100 million in annual taxes that we were counting on to pay for teachers, to pay for law enforcement, to pay for infrastructure--we need this in rural Montana."
Biden's executive order claimed that it is in the "national interest" to end the pipeline so that other countries can witness America moving away from fossil fuels.
"The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory."
However, according to Governor Gianforte and others-including Obama's administration-the pipeline is already the most "economical and environmentally sensitive" way to transfer crude oil to market. A slew of republican representatives from Western states are also hoping to introduce legislation to reverse the decision, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has joined the cry for Biden's reconsideration. He has announced that he is considering legal options and has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the issue with Biden and impose economic sanctions if the decision is not reversed.
While the Montana governor is requesting reconsideration, Some tribal leaders in neighboring South Dakota are cheering Biden's decision, for fears the pipeline would pose a danger to tribal lands and people, though the pipeline is not scheduled to go through South Dakota reservations, but would run near the borders of the Cheyenne River, Rosebud, and Pine Ridge reservations.
In 2018 several tribes sued the Bureau of Land Management for issuing the permit for the pipeline at the border because they said granting the right-of-way violated the United States' treaty to protect tribal lands and natural resources. Critics feared oil spills and that the pipeline would increase the extraction of oil sands, which may be one of the most greenhouse-gas intensive energies.
Biden's move is also welcome news to some activists in Canada's North, who have fought against the project for years.
Even though an 11-volume State Department report on the Keystone XL pipeline found in 2014 that it would not significantly contribute to carbon pollution, critics say the project threatens Alberta's rivers and forests. And the Keystone project has become a symbol for the political debate over fossil fuels.
Bill Erasmus a former Dene National Chief applauds Biden's decision. He told CBC News, "Our people have been concerned about pipelines being built south of us for a long time." Erasmus feels oil development has negative impacts all the way in the northernmost of the country and says that from an economic perspective, the jobs are short-term and aren't worth potentially damaging the environment. He is also concerned about water contamination from the tailings ponds.
North West Territories climate activist Daniel T'seleie told CBC News he thinks one of the reasons Biden has killed the pipeline is because "if they moved ahead with the Keystone XL, they would get another Standing Rock."
"I think that is largely due to the actions of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people on the southern side of the border who have really been fighting against this pipeline . . . and have been making it very clear that this pipeline is not going to get built without their consent," T'sleie said to CBC News. He noted that he thinks Canada's federal climate policy doesn't "accept the reality that we need to transition off of fossil fuels."
While others agree with T'sleie that this is an indication that people feel the world needs to move away from fossil fuels, still others point out that to do so takes time-and that oil is needed while changes are being made.
"I can't understand how the pipeline industry has become the villains. The American public doesn't understand that by not building this pipeline, it's not going to keep the oil from getting to the market. It's already coming," Neal Crabtree, a welding foreman who began working on pipeline construction as an apprentice in 1997 told Fox News. The 46-year-old union welder from Arkansas was among the first to be laid off following the order, as he and his team were in Nebraska working on a pump station for Keystone XL.
Crabtree feels Biden's ambitious plans to phase out natural gas, petroleum, and coal are unrealistic.
"You can't just flip a switch and go from fossil fuels to renewable energy," he told Fox news. "This is not a time to be making political statements. We need to be finding ways to put more Americans back to work, not the other way around."
Others defend the processes of gleaning and transferring the oil . . . and pointing out that those in the oil field care about the environment and constantly work on ways to use oil without harming the earth
"In revoking this permit, the Biden Administration has chosen to listen to the voices of fringe activists instead of union members and the American consumer," Mark McManus, the general president of the AFL-CIO-affiliated union, said in a statement. "Let me be very clear: When built with union labor by the men and women of the United Association, pipelines like Keystone XL remain the safest and most efficient modes of energy transportation in the world."
Judy Desjarlais, owner of Top Notch Oilfield Contracting based in British Columbia, says Biden's decision is a "kick in the teeth" for Canada and Indigenous people. Pipeline contracts for earth-clearing help her employees at Top Notch Oilfield Contracting feed their families, says the member of the Blueberry River First Nation in northeastern B.C.
As far as producing oil being an irresponsible way to treat the earth, she told Chris Stewart of APTN National News, "If the U.S. side would like to come and see how we do our pipelines, and take care of our lands at the same time . . . I'd welcome them to come take a look at exactly how we take care of the land, as an Indigenous person and business owner."
Though Natural Law Energy, which represents five First Nations in Alberta, has cancelled their investment plans for the moment, they expect their relationship with TC Energy to continue on other projects, including renewable energy. "We don't know how many terms Biden is going to be in for, it might be for one or two," executive director Brian Mountain told CBC. "TC Energy has been around since (the 1950s) and, more importantly, our First Nations people have been around since time immemorial. This is just another point on the timeline in our economic recovery."