The Pitfalls of “Public Consultation” — State Dept. Says Keystone XL is Not So Bad

Every environmentalist and socially concerned academic knows all too well how subjective and politically charged “official” reports like Environmental Assessment Reports can be.  For example, the huge controversy and public resistance to building the privately owned and operated Glacier Walkway attraction inside Jasper National Park postponed its construction just long enough for the Parks Department (in partnership with company Brewster Travel) to have their viewpoints written down in an official document: the Environmental Assessment Report that said protesters concerns were unfounded, the giant overhanging Glacier Walkway attraction would have ‘no significant environmental impact’.  Right.


More evidence of the deceivingly “transparent” process of agencies paying to produce official reports is the U.S. State Deptartment’s draft environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline.  According to the New York Times, the report, released last Friday, “makes no recommendation about whether the project should be built but presents no conclusive environmental reason it should not be.”  In fact, given the pressure on Obama to approve the pipeline from the Big Oil industry leaders, the Canadian government, most Republicans and some Democrats in Congress, and local officials and union leaders who are convinced the pipeline is necessary to create jobs, the report’s conclusion that the impacts on climate change could be mitigated could give Obama some political cover if he decides to approve the pipeline.

From the Times:

The new impact statement says that extracting, shipping, refining and burning oil from the tar sands produces more climate-altering greenhouse gases than most conventional oil, but less than many of the project’s critics claim. The State Department study says that tar sands oil produces 5 percent to 19 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than other crude, depending on what oil was compared and who performed the calculations.

It predicts that Canada and its oil industry partners will probably continue to develop the oil sands even if the Keystone XL pipeline is not built. It states that building or not building the pipeline will have no significant impact on demand for heavy crude in the United States.

And it says that alternate means of transporting the oil — rail, truck, barge — also have significant environmental and economic impacts, including higher cost, noise, traffic, air pollution and the possibility of spills. It does not say that one method is better for the environment than the other, but says that a spill is more likely for rail transport but the volume of oil spilled from a pipeline probably would be greater.


Of course, there is a great deal of outrage and opposition to this draft as well as to the Keystone proposal in general.  The issue has been conflated with the issue of climate change and environmental sustainability in general; a ‘no’ on construction would signal that Obama is serious about fighting climate change and developing a clean energy future, while a ‘yes’ on construction would devastate environmentally concerned citizens reaching far beyond the pipeline issue.

keystone_obama_no.jpg.492x0_q85_crop-smartThis environmental assessment draft does not equal a decision on construction, and it will face a 45 day period of public comments and criticisms before being finalized and published.  The State Department will also likely produce a document outlining how the pipeline is in the country’s “national interest”, so politically engaged citizens everywhere can expect another disappointing slew of pro-business, pro-Big Oil propaganda neatly packaged in an authoritative, official print document.  It is absolutely necessary that activists, academics and everyone who wants to live in a socially just and environmentally sound global future not only sees through these documents to the convoluted politics behind them– but also that they work to re-educate public opinion to understand the dangers of building this pipeline.  The general public needs to know the dangers of climate change itself, the social injustices involved when governments cater to oil companies over their constituents, the delusion that the pipeline represents the only plausible way to ‘create jobs’, and the absurdity of basing ‘energy security’ on a non-renewable and dirty resource like oil from the tar sands.  keystone_job_killer

As well, people need to fully appreciate that reports are not only material documents but are also inescapably cultural and political, and in this case they are being produced by people and agencies that have a lot invested in throwing sand in our eyes.  Big stakes lead to big choreographed ways of putting a nice spin on socio-environmental devastation.  Activists and concerned citizens will need to keep our voices high enough not to be drowned out by the State Department’s “official” noise, and keep putting pressure on Obama to not reneg on his promise to act on climate change.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments on “The Pitfalls of “Public Consultation” — State Dept. Says Keystone XL is Not So Bad”

  1. Steven McCabe March 5, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    ‘Sand in our eyes’ indeed.

  2. jpgreenword March 7, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    Those numbers (“5 percent to 19 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than other crude”) don’t sound that bad. But, consider two things. First, those are probably the industry’s numbers. Scientists have come to different conclusions. Second, those are “life cycle” emissions, in other words, how much carbon is emitted from extraction, transport, refinement, and final combustion. If you only look at average greenhouse gas emissions for tar sands extraction and upgrading, those “are estimated to be 3.2 to 4.5 times as intensive per barrel as for conventional crude oil produced in Canada or the United States.”

    • utopiandreaming March 8, 2013 at 12:07 am #

      Yes, precisely. Thank you for this comment. The extraction alone is far more carbon-intensive, and *then* you actually burn it (which emits more greenhouse gas than burning crude). This also says nothing of the toxic wells of water that are left dotting the landscape around extraction pits.. these poison any wildlife that come into contact with them. There is absolutely nothing environmentally sound about this project.

      • jpgreenword March 8, 2013 at 1:27 am #

        I remember, a couple of years ago, hearing our prime minister using the phrase “the sustainable development of the oil sands”. I was actually livid! I wrote to government officials but never got a reply (not that I am surprised).

        I can understand a politician voting to reduce corporate tax rates, or voting to block the regulation of the banking system. I understand the power of lobbyists. But to support the Alberta Tar Sands, especially at a time when WE KNOW that our climate is nearing a tipping point, is bordering on psychotic.

      • utopiandreaming March 8, 2013 at 1:30 am #

        Couldn’t agree more. What good will corporate lobbies be when there’s no nation to run?

      • jpgreenword March 8, 2013 at 1:38 am #

        That made me laugh. Is that odd?

      • utopiandreaming March 8, 2013 at 1:44 am #

        It is pretty hilarious/laughable in a devastatingly ironic kind of way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: