Will shale stop the Keystone XL pipeline?

Protests against the Keystone XL pipeline needs to be seen in a broader, economic light, Grealy writes. Canadian tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline will be a mere sideshow, he adds, and future investment in it will have to fight shale oil, a battle that's already been lost.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
Environmental activists opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline project protest outside the White House in Washington. The victory for greens is one by default, Grealy writes, but they would prefer to think it’s all due to marches and fundraising.

First shale gas came for coal. Then it came for nuclear as we’ve seen not only future but existing plants are being taken off line in the US recently. Tomorrow, even the eternal debate about UK nuclear power will be blamed on shale. It sometimes seems that the only thing people know about shale gas is that they hate it.

Nuclear power is something the green movement in the UK were all against so many years ago, but now almost only the Friends of the Earth are left as opponents. Much of the rest of the glowing green movement is more pragmatic.  This new practicality is still absent in the European debate about natural gas, the only technology that actually delivers significantly lower emissions instead of endlessly talking about them.

Meanwhile, shale gas and oil is delivering another victory to the Green movement, not that we’ll get any credit. Shale gas is the Rodney Dangerfield energy source.  

Even before that evil fracking came to pass, the green movement was united, or as united as it was likely to get, over what was often called, and quite rightly in my opinion, extreme energy.  Extreme energy was almost always oil.  he objection was accessing oil in pristine environments and the top two targets have been oil in the Arctic offshore and Canadian Tar Sands. 

I’m convinced the UK Co-op’s campaign against oil shales, as the Canadian Tar Sands are also known led to a confusion with shale gas in their Toxic Fuels campaign. They’re simply too embarrassed to admit it.  But on the oil sands, it’s hard not to side with greens. This is extreme energy in that oil is effectively strip mined from the Athabasca Tar Sands in pristine northern Alberta and only produces synthetic crude by essentially cooking it, using a huge amount of energy, often the oil itself, in the process. Strip mining, lunar landscape and wasteful amounts of energy is reality in the Tar Sands as opposed to the boring reality of shale gas.

The other target has been Arctic oil exploration offshore Alaska, yet another energy controversy puttering along for decades that a) doesn’t actually get produced and b) raises millions for green groups as putting together polar bears and oil equal money.

Producing oil from either method is apart from anything else, extremely expensive.  Whatever you feel about the oil industry or driving cars,  Arctic and Athabasca energy is oil born out of Peak Oil. This is energy for the desperate. The problem is we are no longer desperate. Shale oil is simply cheaper, safer and closer than going to pristine environments. There is no reason to antagonise people, spend a huge amount of money and generally piss people off and risk what little reputational capital the oil industry still has by bothering with it any longer.

This from Alaska shows that these days,  Shell is no particular hurry to resume offshore Alaska anyway:

Royal Dutch Shell’s s two Arctic drilling rigs are being sent to Asia for assessment and repairs, raising fresh questions about whether it will be able to pursue its drilling programme off the north coast of Alaska this summer as planned.

The debate about the Keystone Pipeline also needs to seen in the light of why go looking for expensive trouble. The Tar Sands are too big to shut down, but they aren’t going to get any bigger. There’s plenty of Canadian shale oil waiting in the wings and the US portion of the Keystone is now needed to bring North Dakota oil to market.  

This weekend in Washington there is going to be a demonstration originally targeted against Keystone and the usual suspects will be there. 

The goal of the rally is to demand that President Obama move America forward on climate in 2013 with decisive action to reduce dangerous carbon pollution, phase out carbon-intensive fossil fuels, and lead the way in promoting energy efficiency and clean-energy sources. The first steps he must take are to finalize strong carbon-pollution standards for power plants and reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

 But it’s pointless. The Tar Sands will be a mere sideshow and future investment in it will have to fight shale oil, a battle they already lost.  In short, the demonstrators been given exactly what they wanted, just as they have on lower US CO2 emissions and the slow death of the nuclear industry for those so inclined.  

No nukes, no nasty oil, no CO2.  What’s to hate? Strangely enough, the shale gas industry which made it all possible.  The victory for greens is one by default. They would prefer to think it’s all due to marches and fundraising by wannabe or past hit movie stars.  

An amazing grassroots movement demanding solutions to the climate crisis, gaining momentum from coast to coast in preparation for the Forward on Climate rally on February 17. The Sierra Club and 350.org, along with more than 120 partner organizations, are expecting tens of thousands of Americans to gather in front of the White House the Sunday of President's Day weekend, making Forward on Climate the largest climate-related rally in U.S. history.

Over the past few weeks, I've had the privilege of talking with activists who are organizing carpools, buses, and van rides, participating in phonebanks, building Facebook events, drumming up press coverage, and working around-the-clock to organize their communities for the Washington, D.C., rally.

They have a victory. But it’s not their victory. 

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