People power beat Big Oil again this week when Shell announced that it was cancelling its Carmon Creek tar sands project. Shell said the decision to cancel the project (and thus take a US$2 billion hit to its bottom line) “reflects current uncertainties, including the lack of infrastructure to move Canadian crude oil to global commodity markets.”
In other words: the massive public opposition to tar sands pipelines means Shell doesn’t think it would be able to get the oil to market.
Canadians have grown accustomed to seeing pipeline protests on the evening news, but a new report from Oil Change International takes a data-driven approach to show how people power is successfully stepping in where governments are falling short.
In the case of the Alberta tar sands, people power has created circumstances where no new growth will be profitable in the sector—unless oil companies can overcome a growing movement that starts on the front lines with First Nations and impacted communities, and extends across the country, the continent and the world.
Faced with low oil prices and limited pipeline space due to public opposition, the oil industry has cut its growth forecast for the tar sands in half.
But even that lower growth projection will require new pipelines to get more oil out of the western sedimentary basin, which is home to the tar sands and the Bakken oil fields. That won’t be easy. The Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines are politically dead, and the Transmountain (Kinder Morgan) and Energy East pipelines are facing massive opposition.
Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The yellow and orange bands are pipelines that don’t yet exist.
In Canada, the new Liberal government has committed to strengthening the pipeline review process, including the introduction of a climate test that will account for upstream greenhouse gas emissions. This is good news because building new pipelines would enable a massive expansion of tar sands production that is incompatible with a safe global climate.
Any government serious about climate change must confront the scientific reality that there is no room for major new fossil fuel infrastructure that locks in high levels of carbon pollution for decades to come.
Stephen Harper was an unabashed bully on behalf of the oil companies, but now that Canada has a new government, we have an opportunity to turn this around. The oil industry is, however, still very powerful and no matter how well-meaning the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is, oil companies won’t seize the opportunity to turn away from an oil-driven economy and embrace a renewable energy future without relentless pressure from below.
So let’s get back to work.
Keith Stewart is the head of the Greenpeace Canada energy campaign.
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