My first of more than a dozen blog posts on the Alberta oil sands and the Keystone XL pipeline was written in July of 2011. Since then, close to half a dozen of our posts have begun with: “Keystone XL is dead.” I’ve heard of cats with nine lives, but pipelines? I do believe however, that the public announcement on June 9th, 2021, by the pipeline company and the Alberta government (which by the way had recently invested over $1 billion dollars in the pipeline) that states that they are formally pulling the plug on the pipeline – is the final nail in its coffin. A wide and varied group of activists, environmentalists, indigenous leaders, ranchers, parents, grandparents, scientists and more, have spent over 10 years of concerted efforts to block and stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline – never give up has new meaning!!
Here is a quick historical refresher – from my perspective – about why THIS particular pipeline galvanized the small but growing US Climate Movement in the mid 2000’s and really launched the more than a decade long coordinated anti fossil fuel infrastructure battles that continue actively across multiple states and in communities across the country. This particular pipeline has served as a “hot political potato” across many presidential campaigns and terms – there by bringing attention to fossil fuel infrastructure that previously had gone under the radar. President Obama first allowed this particular pipeline to move forward then he “cancelled it” at the end of his second term because of public pressure. President Trump green lighted this particular pipeline in his first days in office and President Biden cancelled the permit that would have allowed it to be built on his first day in office.
Why did this become such a significant symbol and also a partisan fight over the climate crisis? The Keystone XL pipeline which was to traverse the US – beginning in northern Canada at the Canadian Oil Sands and ending in the Gulf of Mexico at oil refineries in Texas and Louisiana, was the first nationally coordinated effort by the US climate movement to stop a major fossil fuel infrastructure project. Its success in bringing people together from all walks and corners of life, served as a launching pad for local actions against fossil fuel infrastructure that continue to this day. Since then, ongoing oil pipeline fights like the current Line 3 fight in Minnesota, the Standing Rock Dakota Access pipeline fight, and the ongoing fight against the Byhalia pipeline have focused a national lens on local actions to fight oil and it’s infrastructure – and often and always the climate justice issues that are glaring and damaging parts of these proposed projects. While some of the oil from these pipelines is to be refined in the US, it is all traded as an international commodity and as such, may or may not even but used as energy within our country – ie the intended export focus of the oil that was to travel through the Keystone XL.
“Serendipity: the phenomenon of finding valuable things not sought for.”
There are many personal stories around the Keystone XL. Mine began in the summer of 2011, in Fort McMurray, Alberta – the northern Alberta city that is the “gateway” to the Canadian oil sands. Visiting the Canadian oil sands was a birthday gift from my brother and his husband; an opportunity to see for myself the beating heart and the major source of Canadian oil. I had grown up in Alberta, and everyone I knew growing up had some connection – even tangentially – to the oil industry. The oil industry provided a solid livelihood to many families and energy for millions the world over. Growing up, the connection between Alberta oil and the climate crisis was not discussed, nor its full extent, even realized; even to this day, the connections are muddied, and the reality of the damage being done by the oil mined and shipped from Alberta is underplayed ore in many circle, outright denied. Back to my story. When I was in Fort McMurray, I received an email from some folks with 350.org, encouraging concerned people across the US to join them in Washington, DC for a “peaceful protest” , and for those who were willing, to take part in a non-violent direct action that could risk arrest. The pipeline was being called the fuse to the biggest carbon BOMB in the world, and there was, at the source. Serendipitous? You tell me?
I decided then and there that I would answer the call and show up in late August in Washington DC to take part in protests that would result in over 1250 arrests over the course of 2 weeks. While I might have thought it possible, I didn’t realize then I would be one of the 60 or so people arrested the third day of the protest actions. At the time, I wondered what I would tell my children, who were then 12 and 13. Did I want my kids to know that I felt so strongly about their future that I was willing to get arrested to protect it? There was only one answer, and that was definitely, YES!
My extended family thinks of me as the “unlikely environmentalist.” I grew up appreciating the outdoors, yet not particularly conscious of my carbon footprint. In fact until a few years ago I have to say I wasn’t really aware of the size of this, let alone what went into calculating it. While my family and I work on treading as lightly as we can on our planet, I know that I could spend all my time on this and not change the systemic systems in place that keep us addicted to fossil fuels. I feel my time is best spent doing what I can to elevate the discussion, understanding and demands from those that can go big to do so! At the time, I hoped that my kids would be proud of me, and that this action would build on my legacy of actions to try to raise awareness to the growing reality of our climate emergency, threatening my children’s future and mine. My hope was to wake up my neighbors, friends, colleagues and total strangers by showing them that a mom of two ‘tweens thinks that these risks are worth whatever it takes. After visiting the oil sands, myself, I realized that stopping production from that end is highly unlikely unless the price of oil plummets or public pressure grows so much that if forces the hands of government to intervene. While it only took 10 years, it seems perseverance pays off!
Here are a few links to posts I wrote at the time of our early protests, both during the two weeks of arrest (including how one prepares for getting arrested) as well as from later that fall, when we returned to DC as a family to join thousands of others and “circle the White House” giving then President Obama a big “hug” and reminding him, parent to parent, how important it was he said no to Keystone. He did do so shortly thereafter; but rather than permanently rejecting it, he effectively “kicked the can down the road.” We continued, and my story with Keystone XL continued over the ensuing years – protests in NYC, in DC, in NJ and in-between. Clearly “it’s complicated” but we need to make it less so. Science tells us and Mother Nature is showing us we must stop burning and mining all fossil fuels now. We can do this, the transition has begun. We must do this. Our children’s future and now depends on saying no to all new pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure and managing our transitions to renewables. We must call for a halt to all new fossil fuel infrastructure – no if’s ands or buts…
Yours in protest and solidarity,