Without touching on the environmental impacts of the simple existence of the tar sands, there are two further reasons to oppose the KeystoneXL (and other) pipelines. One has to do with the speed of throughput of the pipeline which supports the more rapid development of the tar sands. The second is the cost of piping the tar-sands bitumen instead of refined oil or gas, resulting in the export of jobs from Canada.
Proposing an alternative to pipelines that would allow for the implementation of policy and regulations to reduce the growth of tar sands, prioritise Canadian markets and support Canadian employment needs to be found and promoted.
One answer might be to promote oil transport by train instead of pipelines. Trains generally have as good or better safety and environmental record than pipelines, can be upgraded and regulated more easily, require more workers to run (rather correlated to safety), and the economics of trains versus pipelines mean that refined oil or gas would be prioritized for transport over unrefined bitumen.
What this means is that if the Canadian government and political parties are serious about finding a stable long-term for the tar sands, slow-down or completely level-off growth of the development, refining the bitumen in Canada with a focus on the Canadian market and care about the protecting the environment from oil spills then setting trains as the standard for oil movement would be an option.
A recent article in Reuterslooks at the cost of moving the tar sand bitumen by train and says that it is not the preferred option for Capital because the reasons outlined above. (There is also a nice graphic on the rail shipments of Canadian heavy crude: link.reuters.com/xyn47t)
For the Left, analysis suggests positives in advocating rail transport of oil alongside the opposition to pipelines and tar sands development. Rail transport is already available and the general public may be in favour of this as a substitute to pipelines – especially if it can be linked to local development, safer transport and public regulation. The economics of rail would also allow better regulation of production.
I cannot help but also point out that the other position to be promoted is nationalisation of this sector entirely. Without public control and directed interest in the development (and transport) of these extracting industries there is little actual ability to move to a more sustainable energy-generating economy.