The Keystone XL Distraction: Industry Has Built 11,600 Miles of Oil Pipeline With Little Public Resistance

Read time: 3 mins

Every good magician knows that the key to success is misdirecting the audience. You have to draw everyone’s attention away from your ultimate goal in order to perform the trick. Politics is no different, and one of the greatest misdirections in recent memory has been pulled off by the fossil fuel industry.

While most of the environmental movement was (rightfully) focusing attention on stopping the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline from crossing over one of the most vital aquifers in the U.S., the dirty energy industry was quietly building a network of smaller pipelines all over North America.

In recent months, more than 11,600 miles of oil pipelines have been laid in states all over America. Some of these pipelines are located just a few miles away from proposed stretches of the Keystone XL.

The Huffington Post explains the industry’s misdirection technique:

The pipeline build-out provides a little noticed counterpoint to the fierce political battle being waged over the 1,179-mile TransCanada project, which is still in limbo seven years after it was proposed. During the long wait for Keystone, the petroleum industry has pushed relentlessly everywhere else to get oil to market more efficiently, and its adversaries have been unable to stop other major pipelines…

Environmental groups have fought Keystone by citing the risk of leaks and the climate-change consequences of fossil fuels. They hope to make cleaner energy options more appealing. Their success has inspired local protest groups to challenge more projects…But those efforts, while slowing a few pipelines, have not stopped any because the regulatory path is smoother when a pipeline does not cross an international border, as Keystone would.

Indeed, states like Minnesota, North Dakota, Texas and other Midwest locales are seeing a boom in the pipeline business, as thousands of gallons of crude oil are pushed through these underground tunnels every hour.

And as Huffington points out, these pipelines are not subjected to the same rigorous approval process as the Keystone XL pipeline, making it easier for them to fly under the radar and get approved at a much faster pace.

This is not to say that the Keystone XL fight wasn’t worth it or that it was a distraction. To the contrary, the activists and politicians who were willing to stand up to the industry and their allies achieved a remarkable feat by preventing further construction of the project.

It was the dirty energy industry that capitalized on the outrage, forcing the Keystone activists to use up limited amounts of time, finances, and personnel to focus on the big project while the smaller ones were being built at an astounding rate.

And with these smaller pipelines, the process of stopping the project or of having the pipeline moved to a safer location is hard work. Those opposed to the project will have to prove that the pipeline does not serve the public’s best interest or that it poses a “clear environmental threat.”

Sadly, these items are not as easy to prove as you would think. It becomes the word of the industry (and the political money that it spends each year) versus that of pipeline opponents. The system is rigged in favor of the oil industry.

But the rigged system does not mean that all hope is lost.

A cadre of groups, activists, and grassroots movements helped to derail the Keystone XL, and that same coalition can work together to help stop these smaller pipelines in their tracks.

As long as the movement stays cohesive and energized, people can achieve the same level of success as they did with the Keystone XL Pipeline to stop other fossil fuel infrastructure projects that threaten to lock in dangerous climate change. 

Get DeSmog News and Alerts