The railwayindustry has been heavily involved in the transportation of crude oil, however,they haven’t received the same amount of scrutiny from the media.
CN hadexperienced 11 tank derailments in 2005 alone. Enbridge Corporation has beenresponsible for 804 spills. Around 168,645 barrels of crude oil released inwetlands and water tables in Canadian and US soils show how much of threatthese industries pose. Further, corporations aren’t held responsible for thedisaster caused by their spills.
They continue to receive subsidies whiletaxpayers clean up their mess. Thedisaster at Lac Mégantic, Quebec in 2013 exemplifies the danger rail oiltankers present to human lives and the environment. A 74-car freight traincarrying crude oil from the Bakken formation derailed, causing a fire andexplosion of multiple tank cars. Roughly half of the downtown areas was utterlyobliterated from the explosions and over 52 people were confirmed dead. Notonly did the mainstream media provide extensive coverage of the disaster butNGO’s campaigned against tar sands failed to mention this accident as well11.Further, in2015, BNSF oil train cars derailed in North Dakota that resulted in the evacuationof a small town.
Quinault Indian Nation President spoke against the incidentthat resulted in “crashes, followed by explosions, mountains of thick, black,toxic smoke and inevitable spills of poisonous oil that at some point maketheir always way into water systems, streams, rivers or marine waters”. Hestated, “These trains are dangerous, and we are seeing more and more of them onour tracks all the time”. BNSF is also under a lawsuit by the Swinomishcommunity for transporting crude oil across their reservations17. Thestrategic influence of Tides Foundation Given the threat the pipelineextension possesses for Buffett’s business ventures, it’s intriguing thatBuffett has openly supported the Keystone project. He quoted “I don’t believein the Keystone pipeline because of the jobs you’d make building it. You canbuild anything and create jobs. I just believe it’s a useful pipeline”12.Through the NoVo Foundation, an organization exclusively operated by WarrenBuffett and a value of $2.
5 billion, Buffett was able to fund organizationssuch as the Tides Foundation with grants summing up to $26 million11.Resembling a “money launderingenterprise”, Tides allocates money without leaving a trace of transactions tothe public, which is exactly the route Buffett followed. NoVo funded Tideswhich then funded organizations that led the “Stop Keystone XL” campaign. Thesehighly financed movements were displayed by the media as powerful campaignstrying to “save the planet”.
Meanwhile, this distracted the mass public enoughso Buffett’s rail empire could step in to fill the role of oil transportationinstead. It’s critical to note that none of thekey NGOs have shed light on the increasing transportation of crude oil by rail.The campaign has narrowly focused on the Keystone XL pipeline without anyattention on the creeping danger of the railway industry.
Little to no dialoguehas been carried out by the leading NGOs regarding rail disasters and the dangersof increased production of crude oil. By fixating on one part of the problem,the public attention is directed to merely an extension of the pipeline. Themainstream climate movement has inadequately addressed the complete concernregarding the environmental damage caused by oil extraction. Real strategiesand resistance aren’t produced by the leading NGOs and this is actually holdingus back from real change as they’re simply propagating campaigns that strictly benefitcorporations. Not to mention, the same corporations that were responsible forthe destruction of the environment to begin with 14.
Key environmentalNGOs such as 350.org have been silent during the construction of the Keystonepipeline as well as the Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper pipeline, which was approvedin August 2009, a year after the Keystone XL11. The selective focus haseffectively ignored the larger problem at hand including increasing CO2emissions, oil spills, destruction of habitat, contamination of water, severeimpact on Indigenous populations, to name a few. Not accounting that railtransport of crude oil has just as much of a detrimental impact on theenvironment and global health has failed the NGOs in the very message theystand for. This is especially problematic sincegovernments are adapting more neoliberal policies and NGOs are increasinglystepping in to fill the void of advocacy and protection of citizens interests.If NGOs themselves have opened their doors to philanthrocapitalism and their neoliberalagendas, then the dependency of our environment and health is at stakes.
Painting a false narrative that we’re truly fighting climate change if we juststop the Keystone XL pipeline from being built gravely misleads the public on thecurrent state of the environment. It also prevents real change from evenstarting if a truthful dialogue isn’t perpetuated. Noam Chomsky discussed the influenceof media on directing the mass audience. Elite media sources set the framework inwhich everyone operates and their essential motive is to divert people. Gettingthe masses riled about an issue diverts the attention from other issues athand, as seen with the Keystone XL pipeline crises. This diversion is especiallynot surprising considering Warren Buffett owns 63 news papers11.
Wehave simply become spectators rather than participants as the road to realchange is concealed. Mass media has diverted people from discussing the realproblem with the dangers of tar sands and NGOs have played a major role in pushingthe discourse focused on the Keystone XL pipeline. However, it must benoted that the purpose of this analysis is not to downplay the “stop keystone”campaign.
The campaign has played an important role in raising awareness aboutenvironmental issues surrounding the construction and implementation ofpipelines however, as previously stated, the campaign has not addressed thesurrounding issues of the destructive oil industry. NGO’s should discuss theramifications of the railway transportation of crude oil as well and involvethe mass media to raise questions about unaccountable railway accidents aswell. This also includes the other side of the railway transportation dilemmathat NGO’s have successfully also failed to mention, which is thetransportation of diluted bitumen. If the pipeline is built, which is likely underthe Trump Administration1. The usage of pipeline requires thedilution of heavy tar sands crude oil.
This is done by the diluent bitumenwhich needs to be transported into the tar sands. Even though BNSF and CN takea hit by the production of the