Talk the talk, walk the walk
In September 2012, Ken Ilgunas embarked on a trek that would travel the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Walking from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, Ken set out to trespass the entire route of the line, challenging North America’s ‘No Trespassing’ reputation. In fact he encountered nothing but generosity and kindness on his travels, according to his upcoming book on the episode. He anticipated meeting opposition from landowners, but experienced a warm welcome wherever he went. Keeping his views on the KXL project to himself throughout his journey (for the record, he is not a supporter), Ilgunas nevertheless made personal the path of Keystone XL and, in 11 months, made more progress than the project itself in that time.
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Further delays to the proposed pipeline were announced last month: TransCanada Corp. has put back the project start date to 2016 (which tallies up to five years of delay in total).
TransCanada had hoped to have the project completed by mid 2015 but estimates that it will take at least two years to build the pipeline. Even the delayed 2016 start date would require presidential approval early next year.
Meanwhile, TransCanada makes efforts to prepare for the project as best as it can. It has invested over Cdn$ 2 billion in equipment for the KXL and Gulf Coast pipeline legs; some 600 000 t of pipe is currently in storage in Little Rock, Arkansas (maintained at a cost of Cdn$ 1 billion); and valves and pump stations have been kept on order for years. The total cost estimate for the project has now been raised by another Cdn$ 100 million, bringing it to Cdn$ 5.4 billion.
US President Obama has delegated to the State Department to determine whether KXL is in the national interest, and he also continues to stress the importance of the pipeline’s impact on the climate.
Stephen Chu, who was the US Energy Secretary when President Obama first delayed approval on the Keystone XL pipeline, recently addressed a Calgary business audience about the issues that are keeping Keystone at a standstill. He argued that Canada and the US need to find some more common ground over matters of climate change before the project can progress. He stressed that Canadians need to invest in making fossil fuels cleaner and show willingness to co-operate with the environmental aims of the US.
Making similar comments in October, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada Justin Trudeau accused Canada’s federal government of failing to come up with a productive national strategy on greenhouse gases. He argued that “we are further than ever from a sensible policy to reduce carbon pollution and the oilsands have become the poster child for climate change”.
More encouragingly, Alberta Premier Alison Redford reported a shift in discussions during her last visit to Washington DC, noting that some US officials were beginning to see that shipping oilsands crude by rail is more damaging in terms of greenhouse gases than sending it via pipeline.
TransCanada has, in fact, been warning that further KXL delays will mean increased oil transport by rail. Statistically, pipelines are more cost-effective, safer and more environmentally friendly than rail transport.
Mark Twain first coined the concept of ‘eating the frog’, as a way of explaining how best to prioritise important tasks. Popular theory holds that the average person, when tasked with 24 hours in which they must, say, eat a frog would spend 23 and a half hours fretting, agonising, procrastinating and delaying the task, before tucking in with a few minutes or so to go. The most enlightened among us might tackle the frog eating in the first 30 minutes, thereby freeing ourselves to enjoy the next 23 and a half hours in peace (bar the occasional stomach grumble I should imagine). The allegory makes me draw comparisons with the approval process for Keystone XL. It’s time to say “President Obama: eat the frog”.