Revisiting Obama’s Rejection of KXL

by Davis Saltonstall

Two weeks ago, President Barrack Obama permanently canceled the development of the Keystone XL pipeline. Although not directly waste-related per-say, his decision will remain a landmark for environmentalists in years to come. And we’re excited about it. Here’s why…

Tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest oils produced in the global economy… by a long shot. In Alberta, Canada tar sands are stripmined in open pits that dramatically change the landscape. Previously well-functioning Boreal forest ecosystem ends up looking like the picture to the left. Once mined, these tar sands must be shipped to a refinery in the southern US; and then, after they’ve been refined into oil, tar sands are consumed (burned) and emit CO2.

Throughout its lifecycle, tar sands oil produces an alarming amount of waste. The mined tailings, the waste-water created in the process of refinement, the CO2 emitted in the process of extraction, the CO2 emitted through consumption… it’s a process that bleeds from start to finish with byproduct that inevitably ends up externalized on society at large. We, the global collective, end up paying for the continued extraction and consumption of tar sands oil in ecosystem destruction, loss of biodiversity, contaminated waterways, and an atmosphere that is wildly out of balance with the pre-industrial carbon cycle.

Considering the renewable energy options that are available today, tar sands extraction seems simply barbaric. It uses so many more resources than standard oil production that it’s only made economically viable by a high price for oil. The price of solar is dropping exponentially and electric cars are becoming increasingly more popular. Although renewable energies are not without their own waste, they externalize less of this waste upon people. If that’s the future we want, one with less waste, why would we extend our dependence on a fuel that is costly and wastes an abundant amount of resources? From a “zero-waste” perspective, the further (and the sooner) that we can move away from destructive methods of energy extraction like tar sands, the better.

Although a pipeline isn’t equivalent to a mine, we’re celebrating Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline because it acknowledged the necessity of reducing American dependence on the wasteful methods of fossil fuel extraction. It was an homage to the thousands of organizers that campaigned for eight years against the pipeline; a line of hope to the frontline communities that stood in front of bulldozers; and a message to the industry that it must consider the will of the people in its future plans. Our lives are resources that should not be wasted, or disposed.