Tar Sands for the week (Feb 4, 2014).

There are so very many reasons to go “Beyond Keystone” in thinking about resistance to climate change or even just tar sands alone. Several of the “not so famous” pipelines have received mention here or there: Flanagan South, for example, has nearly the same ability to facilitate tar sands growth as does KXL. The Gulf Coast Pipeline, now operational, works in conjunction with the original Keystone pipeline and the southern leg of KXL to take bitumen to the Gulf Coast. The question is no longer if bitumen will flow to the Gulf Coast through Keystone XL, it is only a question of volume.

There are plans in Canada that have received attention in their respective local areas– of major note are projects to reverse or expand existing flows of conventional oil pipelines into re-directed tar sands pipelines. Near the major cities of Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver are plans for such and local opposition to the same. Sadly, these are not new stories.

Yet, even with the fact that industry has already sought  ways around pipeline bottlenecks– through railcars, other pipelines, but even more importantly through entire new supplies such as ‘fracked’ oil in the Bakken field (North Dakota, US). However, there is still much to be said about how the need to expand tar sands supplies from Canada– and the means to transport– is no less an agenda item for the corporate class of North America now than in the last few years.

The means to which conceptual thinkers have moved is remarkable. Peak oil– whether in the perfect storm of climate change or not– creates room for the bizarre, the giant, the heretofore unthinkable. The ideas for large scale bitumen moving that are now given a reasonable hearing would make Joseph Stalin blush in terms of the sheer human arrogance of it all.

Some have been mentioned in more than off the cuff manners, but exist as proposals. Energy-East, for example, wants to fill refineries in Montréal, Québec City and in Saint John, NB. However, this hybrid of new construction with conversion of existing lines is not particularly creative. There are some other concepts being floated that should be given far more scrutiny– and also demonstrate the desperation of an industry that is running out of traditional means to achieve their aims.

The small Colorado company, Omnitrax, has been talking of using their northern Manitoba railway to Churchill to open up Hudson’s Bay to ship tar sands. This may be to ship to Europe, making the need to gut the Fuel Quality Directive in the EU clear– or it may be a simple shipping point for oil that is set to go to any number of eastern locales: Sunoco has the oldest continually operational (twin) refinery in the US in Philadelphia– and it is suitable for tar sands bitumen (Sunoco originally founded both Suncor as well as the Pew Charitable Trusts).

The Churchill route could also drop off bitumen in Saint John, New Brunswick at the other end of the Energy-East corridor proposed by TransCanada, or it could go to several other US locations up and down the eastern coast. There is no reason whatsoever that the refineries in the Gulf of Mexico would not also receive such shipments, either. Refined– or as bitumen yet to be upgraded– through a pitstop in Churchill goes the plan to ship to Europe.

But some have taken this plan even a step further. Now that climate change has made it possible for industry to predict much longer shipping seasons in the north soon, especially with industry’s fishing buddy Harper pushing it as fast as possible, some have called for a pipeline from north of Fort Muck itself straight to Churchill. This idea is not a brand new one, but perhaps it’s new as a serious idea. Engineers turned their noses up at such a concept in the past not only because of the limitations on annual time the area is free of icepacks– but because construction would cut directly across the Canadian Shield. It’s a geological nightmare route– and would require mostly overland, above ground pipes.

How about barges downstream on the Athabasca? This route is actually a revival of the route by which colonialism invaded this region in the last two centuries. It has even been proposed as a route to getting some of the largest equipment and machinery into Fort Muck and outlying areas. The area near Fort Smith through to the now almost ghost town of Fort Fitzgerald would need to be re-dredged; it has been used by the military and many others throughout history. Supply barges still move up and down river on the Deh Cho (Mackenzie) today.

Stephen Harper has been busy pushing forward his northern development plans for industry quietly (though everyone north of 60 has heard it). Alongside the highway punched through the entire Deh Cho Valley is the promise of two other shipment routes– one, the perennially proposed Mackenzie Gas Project, may it rest in peace soon– and the other is heavy barges with transport of the Megaloads from the north– similar in shipments to those that already go through Montana, Idaho, Washington and across important mountain ranges in the south.

So you think– like myself– that the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline is going to ultimately fail to be constructed? Well, the Canadian establishment has a backup there, too– and it is not through the two twin plans from Kinder-Morgan, either.

It may have been Bakken oil from fracking that exploded in Lac Megantic, but the proposals for new routes of railcards filled with oil has not seemed too extreme to the industry regardless. The latest plans call for the construction of a new railway through northern Alberta, across BC and into Yukon territory, and into the US in Alaska to ultimately go to at least one major hub in Valdez. In fact, some of the groups talking about this are calling for 1.5 million barrels of tar sands goo a day to ship this route.

The extremely large Trans Alaskan Pipeline System, along with the already existing oil-tanker port in Valdez (what could happen?) would signify two ways to ship oil from tar sands south. It also has the option of sending bitumen via tanker across the ocean, just as Gateway would. Dedicated for China or California is of little difference.

Do any of these plans sound insane? Of course they do.

The tar sands Gigaproject already set the bar to a new level of cynicism for people who work for big energy corporations. But some of these new plans are just a logical outgrowth of the ones that already exist– remember, in every single one of these proposals are serious analysts trying to make them happen. These are not the mental creations of Mary Shelley. Frankenstein’s monster was created on the banks of the Athabasca River, forty miles north of Fort Muck. These are the children of the monster.

Why mention that? For two reasons: We cannot talk about why the inevitable results of the industry as completely outside of the realm of rational, acceptability and more– and not pin the development of the Gigaproject with being the root cause. And once that is established– what is the construct that allows this industry to dominate politics, economics and life and death itself?

The one major flaw in so many of the messages put out in opposition to tar sands is that oil and gas companies are renegades; that while Coca-Cola is a “good corporation” that can be forgiven when it exterminates workers and destroys potable water supplies so long as they remove CFC’s from fridges in time for major press conferences alongside Greenpeace, oil is “bad”.

Some posit that calling on the overthrow of all oil and gas companies and for the complete reconstruction of the energy grid is to dream, to demand the impossible (thank you, Ché)– but really, the thought that the large corporations that have participated in coup after coup and have become the very base of power under imperialism– that they only need to see a decent government pass a good bill and they will behave? We truly believe that the necessary social peace can be brought about where the Halliburton, Suncor, Imperial, Sunoco, Shell, TOTAL– all of these executives are going to not only stop, but do so voluntarily and in a timeframe sufficient to allow the planet to avoid the worst ravages of the positive feedback effect?

That, my friends, is the true lie. We can not look at them as out of control in a system of otherwise natural order. The profit, earth-into-property system is by it’s very nature out of control and is toxic to even those who wish to fight it. We must take down the system, and those organizations who tell us otherwise are not our friends. In point of fact, they are the last line of defense of capitalist insanity: The people who convince you to accept the unacceptable.

There is an old Serbian (Monarchy era, WWI) slogan:  “If you have nothing you would die for… you have nothing to live for.” Obviously, used to motivate people to fight in the pointless war of imperialist interests in 1914-18, I have a different reason for holding it up in this moment than it was intended.

I believe it is better to invert it in current times. “If there is nothing left to live for, will you wish you had risked death to protect life itself?” Perhaps someday, wandering near a dusty pile of sulphur, the detritus of this venal, self-involved societies entrails all around, we may think: “I could have done something when it mattered…”

“But I opted to work with industry instead, seeking common solutions.”


One thought on “Tar Sands for the week (Feb 4, 2014).

  1. My partner says promote Iran to sell it’s oil on the world market. It has very cheap oil. Far easier to ship it over here than extracting bitumen and natural gas. Not the answer to climate change or environmental degradation, but Harper’s plan is to get in, sell it fast and get out. It would at least slow him down.

    I choose a revolution.

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