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Pipeline ethics: profit is god

By: 
John Bell

November 23, 2011

The movement on both sides of the Canada/US border to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline can measure its strength by the massive, multi-million dollar corporate ad campaign designed to sell the public on the project.

The pipeline would run from Alberta’s Tar Sands to Texas refineries through some of the most environmentally sensitive regions of the US, particularly the Ogallala Aquifer, fresh water source for most of the western states.

A powerful grass-roots coalition of First Nations, environmentalists and western ranchers and farmers in the US staged the largest demonstration of peaceful civil disobedience in decades to expose the dangers of the project. Several thousands of activists were arrested sitting-in at the White House.

In Canada, several hundred people were arrested on Parliament Hill, at a demonstration designed not only in solidarity with the pipeline activists in the US, but also to raise the demand to shut down the Tar Sands entirely.

They also oppose the Gateway pipeline. Energy giant Enbridge, along with Chinese financial backers, proposes to build the Gateway pipe through unceded First Nations territories to new deepwater ports in BC. The route covers fragile mountain and river ecosystems. And the super-tankers carrying the oil abroad would have to traverse some of the riskiest coastal waters in the world–an accident that would dwarf the Exxon Valdez disaster would be a constant threat.

Unethical oil

If we have activism and numbers on our side, those pushing the Keystone XL and Tar Sands development have bags of money, political connections and outright lies.

In Canada, a highly promoted blogger named Alykhan Velshi is the chief tout of “ethical oil.” Velshi was parliamentary aide to Jason Kenney and a key insider with the Harper government. He is alleged to have illegally used his influence to bar British parliamentarian and anti-war activist George Galloway from entering Canada, and is now, along with Kenney, subject of a lawsuit from Galloway.

His slavish devotion to the Tar Sands, and all things Tory, has landed Velshi a new job. He has been appointed to the board of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. The TAF has been pushing the city to reduce its oil dependence, and is one of the legacies of Jack Layton’s tenure at City Hall.

Bogus environmental assessment

In the US, a key lobbyist for the pipeline project is Paul Elliot, former press secretary for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton is on record supporting the Keystone project and a State Department “environmental assessment” has given the thumbs up to the pipe.

That assessment is worthless. The State Department allowed TransCanada, lead corporation in the Keystone project, to choose the agency to perform the assessment. TransCanada picked Houston-based Cardno Entrix. The New York Times has revealed that Cardno Entrix lists TransCanada as describes the pipeline company as a “major client” in its marketing materials.

Now Clinton is working furiously to sweep this gross conflict of interest back under the rug.

She isn’t the only liar on the corporate side. Koch Industries (leading funders of the Tea Party movement), told Congress that their companies were not involved in the pipeline in any way. They lied. Their subsidiary, First Hills Resources Canada, is a major backer of the Canadian portion of the pipe.

The corporate campaign rests on two main pillars: the Tar Sands and associated pipelines will create jobs, and the Canadian sourced oil is more “ethical” than oil coming from oppressive countries like Saudi Arabia.

The promise of jobs is feeble. Capital intensive industries like oil production and pipelines produce fewer jobs than other sectors. The province of Alberta’s own statistics show that oil extraction ranks dead last in job creation out of 58 industrial sectors.

For each million dollars invested, three person-years of employment are created in Tar Sands extraction and pipelines. The same amount invested in transit and ground passenger transportation produces about 25 person-years; in healthcare and social assistance about 20 person-years; in education about 18 person-years; in construction about 11 person-years.

In short, any other economic endeavour under the sun would produce more jobs, and greener jobs, than the oil industry.

The “ethical oil” argument is equally farcical. Are we to rely on slimy characters like Velshi and Elliot for ethical judgments of any kind?

Pitting Canadian Tar Sands oil (which requires massive amounts of energy to extract and process, and produces an equally massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions) against oil from Saudi Arabia or Nigeria is pure rhetoric. It ignores the fact that the oil extraction in oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia is controlled by corporations based in the US, Britain or France.

There is plenty of investment from Saudi Arabia and China (another favourite “ethical oil” bogeyman) in the Tar Sands and in the pipeline projects. Saudi Arabian money is heavily invested in the Texas-based refineries at the end of the Keystone pipe.

It is likely that Obama will okay the Keystone project. That will not be the end of the story. Opposition to the Tar Sands has been mobilized and will continue to grow despite the millions spent on misleading corporate advertisements.

The only ones who stand to gain from the Tar Sands and the pipelines are a handful of massive corporations. They put their profits ahead of our welfare and our world. There’s nothing ethical about that

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