When president Obama halted the Keystone XL pipeline last January, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper revved up an alternative scheme to deliver oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta to the international market: Sell the oil to the Chinese. Within weeks, Harper was traveling to China to personally court Chinese president Hu Jintao and push a new route for the pipeline – one that would establish Canada as a leading petro-state, a kind of North American Saudi Arabia with ice hockey.
There was only one problem with Harper’s grand scheme: Canadians, it turns out, don’t want a new pipeline any more than Americans do.
ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and other oil giants currently produce some 1.6 million barrels of oil a day from the tar sands in northern Alberta. The oil – it’s more of an acidic, corrosive goo – is expensive to extract, dangerous to transport and more damaging to the climate than conventional oil. The problem is, the oil companies want to triple their production over the next 20 years – but existing pipelines will reach full capacity in only three years. And if you can’t move the oil, you can’t sell it. “Alberta is just like Texas,” says Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Canada, “except it’s landlocked.”