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The Supposed Inevitability of Oil


Following a train’s spill of 30,000 gallons of crude in Minnesota, a spokesman for Senator John Hoeven, an advocate of the Keystone XL pipeline, argued that “This is why we need the Keystone XL. Pipelines are both safe and efficient.” Then of course, three days later, the Pegasus pipeline burst, spilling an unknown amount of crude over the town of Mayflower, Arkansas. The EPA has classified the rupture in Mayflower as a “major spill”.

Both spills involved Canadian crude oil, which is what will be surging through the Keystone XL pipeline should popular pressure fail to prevent its construction. The Keystone XL would be able to transport about 9 times as much oil per day as the Pegasus pipeline, with the type of oil–bitumen–contributing dramatically to carbon emissions. Industry propaganda is busily assuring people that they’ve lost either way and had better give up, because Canadian crude will be transported by train if not by pipeline. Though this argument is not entirely false, it is still quite clear that the oil industry wants to use the Keystone XL pipeline. They wouldn’t be pushing for the Keystone if it didn’t allow for more oil to be transported more rapidly and at a higher profit. Elementary truths such as these evade the mainstream discussion, in which the emphasis seems to be on how futile the situation is, and how we had better just step aside and let the smart oil industry technocrats handle everything.

It is true that the investor class has set its eyes on railroad firms, perhaps most notably Warren Buffet, who in 2010 acquired BNSF Railway. But as resource specialist Michael T Klare recently argued, rail “will never prove sufficient to move the millions of barrels in added daily output expected from projects now coming on line.” So to state what should be obvious, what’s being discussed in relation to Keystone is not if oil will be burned, but how much; and that figure is an unknown variable, no matter how much the oil industry would like people to believe otherwise.
As big oil issues reassurances via press conference that everything that can be done is being done in Minnesota and now Arkansas, I find it difficult to take their PR guys in sharp suits very seriously knowing that the oil industry employs other guys in suits, insurance actuaries, who knew pretty well  these spills would occur. Meanwhile, Obama has given no clear indication that he will veto the Keystone XL, though it is well within his power.

As in Shakespeare’s King Lear, the king is insane. We cannot appeal to his better nature because he has none. And the king’s court–the investor class, PR specialists, and so on–are all in his thrall. These are known variables. The unknown variable (and indeed the largest one) is the people, and how long they will continue to tolerate the elite’s glib destruction of their planet.

Ken Klippenstein lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where he co-edits the left issues website, He can be reached

Ken Klippenstein is an American journalist who can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or by email:

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