Obama stands up to Big Oil
It’s heartening to hear that President Obama has stood up to Big Oil by rejecting the permit for the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline sought by Canadian oil firm TransCanada. The reason given was that the project is not in the national interest. The pipeline was planned to carry tar sands oil more than 2,000 miles from Alberta in Canada to the oil refineries and ports in Texas. A huge campaign from indigenous activists, environmentalists, farmers, ranchers and youth climate activists was run against the project, and American citizens submitted more than 250,000 public comments against the proposal.
This is good news. While it is still possible for TransCanada to reapply for the permit to build the pipeline, it must surely be a major blow to the tars sands industry in Canada, which needs to be able to get the oil out of Canada if it is to be economically viable.
But the tar sands industry has to be stopped. Tar sands are one of the most polluting sources of fossil fuel, threatening water supplies and land locally when it is extracted and threatening the climate when it is burned.
We’re linked here in the UK to the tar sands project by the global tentacles of the finance industry and the bailed-out bank RBS in particular. At the time of RBS’s AGM here in Edinburgh last April, the World Development Movement published research showing that, since the public bail-out in 2008, RBS had raised more than £5.6 billion for companies involved in Canadian tar sands projects, £2.2 billion of which was in the previous twelve months alone.
RBS is also a key financial backer of Canadian firm Enbridge, which plans to build the other main tar sands oil pipeline, going west to Vancouver. RBS has raised £163 million in corporate finance for Enbridge, which has been heavily criticised in the past for a number of oil spills from its other pipelines. As well as passing through the ancestral lands of 80 First Nations, the Alberta to Kitimat pipeline will also cross hundreds of freshwater rivers and streams, raising concerns over pollution of rivers and drinking water.
The World Development Movement accompanied First Nations activists to RBS’s AGM last year, as they delivered their message to shareholders.
Jasmine Thomas from the Yinka Dene Alliance said: “A spill will happen - Enbridge has over 60 pipeline spills each year. A single spill could destroy our way of life and our culture, so 80 First Nations in British Columbia have said NO to the pipeline. We’re here to warn RBS shareholders of the legal and environmental risks of financing such controversial tar sands companies, and to ask them to withdraw all corporate financing to Enbridge.”
And Clayton Thomas-Muller from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation said: “The UK's RBS, being a majority publicly-owned bank, should be under the greatest scrutiny for its involvement in financing the Canadian tar sands and the Enbridge Pipeline corporation and its controversial proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline.”
The campaign to stop the Canadian tar sands has grown globally over the last few years; with protests in Europe over the financing of the multinational oil corporations involved, shareholder actions against Big Oil and lobbying to ensure the European Fuel Quality Directive recognises the carbon intensity of tar sands oil and stops it entering the European markets. It has also begun to focus on other countries where there are tar sands deposits. Last year, WDM highlighted the threat to Madagascar from tar sands extraction proposed by French oil company Total. Total, like many of the oil companies involved in the Canadian tar sands, has also received finance from the Royal Bank of Scotland.
This victory by campaigners in North America, to hold up the Keystone XL pipeline, shows the strength of such broad-based opposition to tar sands and should encourage campaigners, wherever we are in the world, to continue working to halt this most destructive of industries.
Liz Murray is head of campaigns and networks at WDM’s Scottish office.