How Keystone XL

uses the lack of media attention for new pipeline

By ANNARITA MARINARO | May 17, 2020

Cover photo by Mike Benna / Unsplash

The building of the KeyStone Xl pipeline, a similar pipeline to the one pictured here, is profiting from the current pandemic.

As COVID-19 tops the global media’s agenda, some companies are making use of this to silently get their plans off the ground. The Keystone XL Pipeline has been one of the most controversial projects in the United States for decades, along with the Dakota Pipeline. The construction is progressing quickly, benefitting from the lack of mass protests due to the current situation.  

Organizations like Fridays For Future urge everyone not to neglect the climate crisis during this COVID crisis. However, while the first wave of infections seems to be slowly subsiding, the discussion about this novel coronavirus just keeps going, overshadowing coverage of other topics. Companies like the Keystone XL pipeline are taking advantage of this shift in the media’s attention to push their questionable projects through. The partially built pipeline pumps crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and is supposed to carry oil to Steele City, Nebraska. It would also connect to an existing pipeline that ends at North America’s biggest refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. 

Scientist James Hansen, former NASA director and head of Columbia’s Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, is often quoted in this regard, as he stated that the pipeline would mean “game over” for the ecosystem. Extracting oil out of oil sands is a highly energy-intensive process that destroys the landscape. The Keystone XL Pipeline and others are an obstacle to the goal of extending renewable resources. Since the pipeline crosses several American states, as well as an aquifer, there is also the concern that leaks would contaminate the water rises, thereby putting citizens’ health and agriculture at risk.

Additionally, these leaks, which are fairly common for pipelines, affect the wetlands of Native Americans. If damaged, the land would take years to recover. The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) recorded a leak in October, 2019 which affected more than 200,000 square meters of wetland. Among climate activists and supporters, Native Americans make up a massive part of the protestors since the pipeline crosses holy land and areas where tribes reside. The pipeline would – along with causing enormous amounts of damage to the environment – dishonor these tribes.

In 2015, then President Barack Obama, vetoed the process of the Keystone XL and the Dakota pipelines, describing this decision to be in national interest. However, current President Donald Trump, who invested in the project himself, reapproved it just several days after being elected. His reasoning for this included: lowering dependence for oil from the Middle East, creating more jobs and lowering energy costs for Americans.

The dampened media attention is not the only factor allowing the construction to move forward at “breathtaking speed”, as the Guardian claims. Since the beginning of construction, a protest was established around the pipeline. Nonviolent demonstrations were being held regularly and camps had been established, allowing activists to live onsite and fight for their rights at any time. They had some success in the past, having slowed the construction down simply by occupying the area. During the pandemic, physical rebellion has been deferred as activists focus on taking legal steps. 

A controversial fact of the matter is that the construction work has been going ahead without subjecting the workers to the mandatory 14-day quarantine as workers from all over America flew in to work on the construction site. Even though the energy company TransCanada promises to uphold health regulations, they have been criticized for arguing that maintaining them is impossible during construction and could increase the spread of the infection among the workers.

Although it is uncertain when protests will be possible again, the future of Keystone XL lies in the hands of this year’s US presidential election.

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