Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Fight: Critical Part of Tackling Dirty Energy and Climate Change

When it comes to fighting climate change, we need to tackle every source of dirty energy while building clear pathways for clean energy to succeed. Today’s energy challenges include a continued global dependence on coal as well as on ever dirtier sources of transportation fuel such as tar sands. In the face of the fossil fuel industry’s interest in business as usual, grappling with climate change requires many people, engaging on many fronts. We can’t fight climate change by nibbling away at the fossil fuel industry – we need to tackle our dependence on coal, oil and gas head on. So when I hear questions about why fighting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a central issue for the environmental community, the answer is easy. The effort to stop the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast for refining and exporting to overseas markets is a critical piece of the fight to stop expansion of dirty fuels. Keystone XL as a driver of tar sands expansion would be a significant contributor to climate change in its own right. And the fight to defeat Keystone XL has sparked an international debate around when and where to draw the line when it comes to dirty sources of energy. We need limits on carbon pollution from power plants. We need to stop building dirty energy infrastructure such as tar sands pipelines. And we need to ramp up our clean energy choices. The efforts by NRDC and our partners to curb expansion of dirty fuels such as tar sands is a critical step towards a healthy climate and clean energy future.

Let’s take a closer look at the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and three simple reasons why it is a critical part of our efforts to curb climate change and build a future with healthier and cleaner energy choices.   

  • We cannot continue to green-light dirty energy projects such as Keystone XL that dig the climate hole deeper. The oil industry intends to triple production of tar sands oil in the coming 15 years, which would supercharge growth of what is already Canada’s fastest growing sector of carbon emissions. The effort to stop the Keystone XL pipeline is part of a larger effort to stop expansion of ever dirtier sources of energy such as tar sands. As an individual project, Keystone XL is of particular importance to the tar sands oil industry. It is a lynchpin for tar sands expansion and the accompanying carbon emissions. You can find NRDC’s analysis of Keystone XL, climate and tar sands expansion here.
  • Tar sands expansion is not inevitable and rail is not a magic bullet to replace tar sands pipelines. Fighting for our health and environment is about tackling difficult challenges such as our continued dependence on fossil fuels. We cannot let ourselves get waylaid by industry attempts to undermine our spirit with false claims of “inevitability.” There is no such thing as “inevitable” destruction of the planet if enough of us work together for a better path. And in the case of tar sands expansion, the good news is that people across North America are saying no to the damage caused by tar sands. Farmers in Nebraska are concerned about the damage to their homes and waters from tar sands pipeline leaks. Chicago has had a wakeup call to the dangers of tar sands refining as pet coke piles up causing black dust to force families indoors. Indigenous communities in British Columbia have said no to tar sands pipelines crossing their rivers and oil tankers in their inner coastal waters. And we are not seeing economically viable alternatives to pipelines when it comes to moving tar sands. Rail, which is much in the news now, is  unlikely to be more than a niche or stopgap option for tar sands due to a number of factors including cost and infrastructure demands. Instead what we are seeing is that investment in future tar sands projects is shrinking as the oil market in North America changes and the market price of this incredibly expensive to extract substance drops below what is profitable for investors. In fact, a Canadian investment corporation recently found that direct tar sands foreign investment had dropped from $27 billion a year ago to $2 billion this year.
  • Keystone XL and tar sands expansion is also about Indigenous rights, health, water and forests. It is well documented that the efforts to stop tar sands expansion is about so much more than protecting our climate. Tar sands expansion flies in the face of First Nations efforts to protect their health, waters, lands and way of life. Tar sands strip-mining and drilling is also a scar on the face of the great Boreal forest, threatening wetlands and freshwater resources with tailings waste and leaking pipelines and drill sites. So although, climate change is a major international reason to stop tar sands expansion, there are numerous equally important reasons to find alternatives to dirty energy that affect people and our natural resources.

To stop the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline go to and to hear additional voices on the need to stop dirty fuels and advance clean energy go to