TransCanada and Big Oil are upping their pipeline game with or without Keystone XL. That was the news out of Alberta last week.

TransCanada is reportedly offering up more pipeline capacity in the original Keystone pipeline, the one that opened in 2010 (and leaked a dozen times in its first year of operation). While the pipes have gotten no bigger, the company says it has exploited new technologies that allow it to add 10,000-15,000 additional barrels a day to the pipeline’s 590,000 daily barrels capacity.

“This is essentially some operating efficiencies that we have been able to find through technological advancements to allow us to contract out more volume,” TransCanada spokesperson Mark Cooper told Reuters news service.

Even with its expanded capacity, the original Keystone can’t match the 830,000 barrel-per-day projected capacity for the Keystone Xl project. And it’s nowhere near Enbridge’s 1.2 million bpd expansion of the Line 61 pipeline, which the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature just rammed down the throats of local lawmakers who wanted stricter insurance requirements to protect taxpayers in the event of a spill. (Remember that Enbridge is the company responsible for the $1.2 billion Kalamazoo River spill, the largest pipeline spill in U.S. history.)


The Canadian tar sands industry is showing no signs of letting up, despite the country’s promise to be a better global citizen on matters of climate change. The Harper government pledged, along with other industrial nations, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. How it can do that while expanding tar sands production and export will require some clever alchemy, since tar sands produce 20 percent more carbon than traditional petroleum in similar uses.

Of course, it’s possible the government doesn’t intend to keep its promise. It already acknowledged that its earlier promise to cut its emissions by 17 percent by 2020 is laughably far from coming to fruition.

Despite promises from the progressive New Democratic Party leadership in Alberta– where the NDP shockingly ousted the Conservative Party from the governing role it held for 43 years in a May election– to revamp environmental standards in the tar fields, they may face a pitched battle against an oil industry that likely viewed the provincial government as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Pipeline expansion in the U.S. and Canada, coming as it does despite the will of popular local leadership, demonstrates how lofty goals and promises of cleaning up our energy act are of dubious reliability. How can we say that we as a society are going to wean ourselves from our destructive addiction to fossil fuels, which we acknowledge is doing irreparable harm that compounds daily, when we continue to invest in the infrastructure that feeds our addiction?

Big Oil is not looking to build and expand pipelines for a short-term project. The $8 billion TransCanada is willing to spend on KXL will not be recouped, with a healthy profit, by 2030. Pipelines are a long-term investment in a dying industry, an investment in maintaining the status quo and wringing every available penny from it.

When pipeline supporerts and cynics mock the anti-KXL movement for acting as though stopping one pipeline will turn the tide on global warming, they miss the point.

Stopping Keystone XL is the first step, not the last. Preventing one new pipeline is preventing 100 years of Big Oil expansion. Winning the KXL fight provides momentum to stop other pipelines, like Line 61, and decommissioning older pipelines that impose a substantial risk of spills to our land and water.

Our leaders can make lofty promises on greenhouse gases, knowing that they won’t have to stand to account when they’re not reached. But we can hold them accountable now, demanding that they lay the foundation to meet those goals by creating the infrastructure for cleaner, greener energy, rather than continued investment in poisonous technology.