Last week, the Senate blocked another attempt at passing the Keystone XL pipeline. The vote fell short by only one vote. The House has already approved the measure and one might expect it will pass when the Republican majority takes over in January. The president has signaled his intention to veto the measure when it comes to his desk, but is waiting for a decision from Nebraska’s governor before committing.
The plan has been opposed by most environmental groups because the tar sands oil is extremely dirty and energy-intensive to extract. It requires all the tar to be heated before it can be extracted or made to flow through a pipe. That means enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the lifecycle of extraction, transportation and combustion. Furthermore, the proposed pipeline would be routed right over the massive Ogallala aquifer, a crucial source of water for Midwestern farmers. This elevates the risk of a toxic oil leak to one of potentially devastating consequences. All this is happening at a time when oil is at its lowest price in years because we have so much of it from fracking.
The backup plan is called Energy East, and it’s a $12 billion pipeline that will run nearly 3,000 miles to the eastern shore of New Brunswick — where, according to plans, it will convey some 1.1 million barrels a day, about a third more than Keystone. It’s also expected to emit somewhere between 36 percent and 45 percent more greenhouse gases than Keystone which, as you’ll recall, former NASA climate chief James Hansen called “game over” for the climate. According to the Pembina Institute, that would be equivalent to adding 7 million cars to the roads.
The fact that it’s more than 800 miles longer than Keystone provides even more opportunities for leaks and spills.
An interesting side note to this story is the way that PR firm Edelman, which was reportedly paid $50 million to promote the project, had put forth a plan to organize an artificial grassroots movement — something they’re apparently very good at. It just goes to show that if you have the money to spend, you have a good chance of swaying public opinion. It’s yet another way that the power of money can distort the effective practice of democracy.
Edelman was recently in the news for being conspicuously absent from a group of PR firms that pledged not to work with climate change deniers, having represented both the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the past. The company did a quick reversal, making their own pledge not to represent deniers. The pledge clearly doesn’t apply to polluters. According to the leaked document, Edelman proposed building an artificial grassroots network, a practice called astroturfing, of 35,000 people, many of whom would be the company’s own employees. They also recommended working with “supportive third parties” to pressure opponents by “distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources.”
TransCanada spokesman James Millar said that while they did create a network of allies, they did not recruit third parties.
The document further discloses the fact that most if not all of the major oil companies have, “made key investments in building permanent advocacy assets and programs to support their lobbying, outreach and policy efforts. In launching a program like this, TransCanada will be in good company with a strong road map to follow.”
It’s useful to know what goes on behind the scenes in what we like to think of as the free market of ideas.
Of course, any decision about this pipeline will be out of our hands, though that doesn’t mean we won’t be affected by it. Not only will the resulting emissions affect all of us, but this PR-driven illusion of mass support can also potentially influence the debate in Washington at a crucial juncture in the international discussion over what actions need to be taken.
Image credit: rickz: Flickr Creative Commons