The other end of the tar sands monstrosity. The Keystone Pipeline

Canadian tar sands are not just about turning Alberta’s boreal forest into a wasteland.
Transport of the product has many dangers, ill-effects.


They haul their giant equipment around the world disrupting the roadside environment to dig tar sands in Alberta, turning hundreds of square miles into lifeless pits. Ah, but they produce oil!  They call it Syncrude. Every barrel undermines efforts to develop clean energy because Syncrude’s system is probably the dirtiest energy system on the planet.

They transport the artificial oil from Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma using the Keystone Pipeline. Of course, it won’t surprise anyone to hear it leaks. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shut the pipeline down this month because of leaks in North Dakota and Kansas. Despite continuing problems with the existing pipeline, there is a bigger and badder sibling on the the way — Keystone XL — unless Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blocks it. Worried Republicans want to have the Tar Sands Pipeline Fast-Tracked.  Manitoba is helping Canada block the efforts of its oil province, Alberta, by setting up a two million acre Heart of the Boreal Forest” reserve.

The pipeline’s direct danger is to U.S. agriculture, prairie wetlands, and the drinking water of six states. It crosses the huge Ogallala aquifer and poses a special danger to the Nebraska sandhills.

Politically the Koch Brothers are thought to have a big stake in the Keystone XL, but they have stonewalled congressional inquiry efforts through their proxies. Reports after the 2010 elections indicate these fabulously rich rightwingers now “own” the critical House Energy and Commerce Committee. Koch Bros. Accused of Stonewalling Congress on Their Keystone XL Pipeline Interest. Reuters.

More generally the development of the tar sands shows the pernicious effects of developing more and more marginal sources of fossil fuels. Each barrel of  “oil” produced costs more energy to make — net energy is less than older, now depleted sources. Negative externalities (spillover effects on innocent “bystanders”) are greater than older sources. The spillover effects generate political opposition from those harmed. The industry that wants to continue passing on the costs of its production to the environment and bystanders grows more aggressive and hostile in order to force its way.

Those folks in Idaho and Montana struggling to save their roads, rivers, and communities from the tar sands giant are just part of many people struggling against the worst kind of corporate-right wing-purchased government policy.

Con. Oil Sands: The Costs of Alberta’s “Black Gold”. Worldwatch Institute

Pro. Syncrude Oil Sand Mine, Alberta, Canada. Mining



  1. DB Avatar

    Thanks for posting on this subject, Ralph, and for recognizing the hard work done by the rural people of north Idaho.


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Ralph Maughan