State Department Review of Keystone XL Pipeline

Criminal Whitewash, Unacceptable Logic

by Orpheus Reed | February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


On January 31, the U.S. State Department released its final environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. Over the next three months, Secretary of State John Kerry is supposed to determine in consultation with other agencies of the U.S. ruling class whether building this pipeline is "in the national interest." Sometime after that, President Obama is expected to make the final decision on whether this gets built or not.

There has been growing opposition and protest to Keystone XL. There is spreading alarm among millions about the future of life on our planet facing a climate and environmental emergency. At this political moment, the release of the State Department report was buried "at the bottom of the news cycle," on a Friday afternoon right before the Super Bowl.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Alberta, Canada, and from the Bakken shale oil formation in the U.S. to Steele City, Nebraska. From there it would be shipped on for refinement to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The carbon dioxide emissions resulting from extracting, shipping and burning this much tar sands oil would result in the equivalent of putting 37 million more cars on the road or the emissions from 51 coal-fired plants. This at a time when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have topped 400 parts per million for the first time in three million years, long before humans existed on this planet. The extraction of tar sands oil in Alberta is an environmental catastrophe in progress (see sidebar) and Keystone XL would support and extend this unacceptable situation.

The State Department report claims it is not a "decisional document," but it clearly paves the way for approval by Kerry and Obama by claiming that Keystone XL will do little or no environmental harm.

Beyond the specific and terrible environmental damage caused by the pipeline itself, the whole logic behind it is part of a mad race to exacerbate a climate emergency—an impending disaster to earth's living systems, to the ecology and natural balance of the planet on which we all live. Yet this report completely covers over and eliminates this essential reality—in effect, the planet be damned. Instead, the report attempts to frame the basis for how people view the decision on "market reality." It tells us that Keystone XL or not, it's inevitable that tar sands and Bakken oil will be dug up and extracted, so accept it, because that's the reality of how the market works.

Environmental groups—, Credo, Rainforest Action Network and Sierra Club—have called for protests in the wake of the State Department review. Some leading environmental figures are claiming the review contains information Obama could take to reject Keystone XL. For example, Bill McKibben, head of, said, "This report gives President Obama everything he needs in order to block this project. This is the first environmental issue in years to bring Americans into the streets in big numbers, and now they'll be there in ever greater numbers to make sure the President makes the right call." This is a deadly misreading of the whole framework and logic of this report.

The obscene "choices" defined in this report are either build the pipeline or ship oil using even more dangerous forms of transportation. If Keystone XL isn't built, the report says, there is a vast development of rail lines already going on, and rail transport will simply step into the breach as this shit that is destroying life is ripped out of the ground—and it will be shipped anyway. It tells us to accept this, to accept the "inevitability" that this is "how things work and the only way they can work." It is trying to train people to accept, swallow and roll over in the face of the destruction of our world. This we cannot do.

The report doesn't emphasize the real danger from this rail transport that would carry oil if the pipeline isn't built. For instance, trains carrying Bakken shale oil have repeatedly derailed and exploded, in part because of how easily flammable the stuff is. This includes a train derailment and explosion in the small town of Lac-Mégantic Quebec in July 2013, where 47 people were incinerated and the heart of the downtown obliterated.

The State Department report represents the logic of a system where everything must be turned into a commodity to be bought and sold: people's labor and even all of the natural world, ripped out and poured into production in the drive for profit. This is the logic of a system founded in exploitation of labor, and driven by a relentless, competitive battle among all capitalist corporations and countries for control of production, refining, transport and marketing of oil. Control of these fossil fuels is foundational to control of the world economy and central to strategic rivalry among the imperialist countries.

And in fact, one of the great competitive advantages for U.S. imperialism right now is its growing domination of fossil-fuel capability. The U.S. has now become the world's largest producer of oil, and is leading the way in the exploitation of dirtier, more carbon-polluting, harder to extract sources of "unconventional" fossil fuels like tar sands and shale oil.

Make no mistake, the same logic the State Department is trying to get us to buy will be used by those in charge around every other fossil-fuel project to come. And this will likely be mixed with deadly illusions spun out by chief representatives of this system like Obama, that there can be "trade-offs" where Keystone XL is built but other ways of cutting carbon emissions are planned or "explored." The State Department review appears neatly worded to give Obama the opportunity to approve Keystone XL while pretending to be true to his word that he won't approve it unless it's shown that it won't contribute to climate change. Then meaningless plans to "cut emissions in other ways," or to "wring concessions" from Canada, may be trotted out to fool people into accepting Keystone XL. None of these "concessions" will amount to anything compared to the dramatic and immediate changes to stop carbon emissions that are required if we hope to save earth's environment.

The reality is that what is demanded by the actual situation facing earth is that not only must Keystone XL be stopped, but all means of digging up, drilling, fracking for, transporting and burning all forms of fossil fuels—coal, shale oil, natural gas and even conventional oil—must be moved away from and put an end to. And these fuels must be left in the ground while new, sustainable and environmentally safe means are developed and relied on to meet the needs of the world's people.

This requires revolution, nothing less.

Any system that claims we have to accept the destruction of the eco-balances of earth, that covers over the actual danger of accelerating environmental destruction and the actual danger to life, or that claims what is happening is inevitable, is illegitimate. Any system that throws people out of work and then says the only way to employ them is in jobs that will only further destroy earth's ecosystems and our collective future is illegitimate. This system of capitalism, with its destruction of, and lack of respect for nature, its brutal exploitation and oppression of humanity, is completely and entirely illegitimate.

What is required right now is a massive repudiation and protest of the State Department's criminal whitewash. What is urgently needed is the development of truly massive political opposition and determined political resistance to Keystone XL and to all other forms of fossil fuel extraction and transport and to environmental destruction overall. Make no mistake, our future and the future of the natural world we hold so dear and that sustains life hangs in the balance.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.