Keep it in the ground: pipeline fight endures

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The Keystone (including proposed XL extension) and DAPL pipeline systems.

The stunning battle against oil and gas pipelines is now front-page news, thanks to the publicity that fierce resistance to them has created. People now know that the “tar sands” oil from Canada is the dirtiest there is, and that hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) oil from the northern Great Plains states is an equally destructive and dangerous process. The hazards climb tenfold when oil has to be transported to markets in North America and other continents by rail and pipeline, violating native lands, and risking damage to underground water supplies for numerous communities.

The Keystone is a pipeline system source of oil from the tar sands of Canada, and is made up of four phases, three of which are complete and intended for U.S. consumption. The fourth phase, known as XL (“export limited”), essentially duplicates the pipe distance of the first three phases, but has the ultimate aim of exporting oil via ports in the U.S. Gulf.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is part of another system being developed by Energy Transfer Partners, fracking oil from fields in North Dakota. The pipeline route eventually ends at ports in Louisiana and Texas for export abroad, but along the way it feeds into storage and pipeline systems mostly intended to serve US consumption. Energy Transfer Partners alone has 14 oil and gas pipeline projects in the design or construction phases, and completed 8 in 2016 alone.

Decimating humans and nature through oil extraction and transportation to market, pipeline companies want zero liability for their hazardous business. Owned by consortiums of oil and gas producers, they use legal corporate structures that limit penalties for damaging people, property and environment. They know what they are doing is destructive and extraordinarily risky, and that is why they protect themselves.

The economics of it. Renewable energy such as solar and wind power has become far less expensive and more productive, stimulating growth. Oil and gas are going in the opposite direction. New extraction technologies are very expensive, which raises prices. But high prices, like blood in the water for the sharks of capitalism, leads to overproduction, which drives down world prices. In the fossil fuel down-turn, renewable energies have been on an upward trend.

So fossil fuel profiteers have to get their costs down in order to compete with renewables, and one of the ways they do that is through distribution. Pipelines involve a high initial cost for construction but once operational are significantly cheaper than rail transport. They claim pipelines are safer than rail, but safety is not the real motivation. If they can overcome resistance, they can get the product to markets cost effectively. And, though human and environmental disasters matter little to them , there is the added benefit of avoiding public fury at oil train explosions.

Having none of it. Native peoples, environmentalists and even farmers and ranchers are coming together to obstruct construction and design approval or actual pipeline operations. The months-long resistance by the Sioux Tribe, and a broad and deep support network (including Freedom Socialist Party water warriors) at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, has been fierce and incredibly brave. Likewise, resistance against the Keystone XL pipeline caused President Obama to delay for years and cancel Keystone XL permits. Make no mistake, though: it was under Obama’s watch when much of the Keystone system was finished and Dakota Access approved, proving once again that the Democrats are not to be trusted.

This is a fight to the finish, though, and despite capitalists’ disinterest in the damage they do, the people and planet say otherwise.

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