The Keystone XL Cancellation — Indigenous Nations Hold the Key to Moving Forward


The Keystone XL Cancellation — Indigenous Nations Hold the Key to Moving Forward

The Indigenous Nations of Canada have mixed views on the impact of the cancellation of Keystone XL by the Biden administration. US President Joe Biden cancelled the project earlier this year through an executive order, fulfilling one of his many campaign climate protection pledges.

Many Indigenous Nations across Canada support this cancellation. While the cause of climate change is debated, whatever its cause, the argument goes that humans only have one delicate ecosphere floating in space to sustain them, one home if you will, and that no amount of risk to the survival of the ecosphere is acceptable, let alone sane.

There are, however, many Indigenous Nations in Western Canada who take a different lens. At the risk of oversimplification, these Indigenous Nations supportive of hydrocarbon development and transportation view Canadian energy as the safest, cleanest, most ethically sourced hydrocarbons in the world. They believe that global demand for these products will not plateau until at about 2030, and that they should participate in the here-and-now wealth creation of the industry, while playing an integral role in the inevitable transition to renewables.

There is also a third category of Indigenous Nations, who would like to support the Canadian energy sector for the reasons cited above, but who can’t in good conscience presently do so owing to the Crown’s unwillingness to properly share the revenue creation from royalties, taxes, and levies charged to those companies who extract and transport hydrocarbons through their territories.

For this third category, the spin off benefits in the way of employment, training, joint ventures, and such is insufficient. In the spirit of economic reconciliation and in recognition of the effective reality that Indigenous Nations are at a minimum co-tenure holders (or co-landlords depending on the analogy you prefer) of the resources located in their territories, they seek a substantive and meaningful sharing of wealth created and taken by the Crown through royalty, taxation, and levies. Until this is achieved, this third category of Indigenous Nations is unable to get behind the promotion of such projects as Keystone XL and others.

Adding complexity to the interface between Indigenous Nations in the west and the oil and gas industry at large are many mixed signals from the political elite. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example, has through his action signaled that he and his government choose which pipelines succeed, and which fail. Mr. Trudeau tirelessly supported Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, which is a curiously difficult position to hold for a self-proclaimed climate activist, but rejected the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.

The practical reality on the ground, as a result, is that the fate of new pipeline construction or the expansion of existing hydrocarbon infrastructure resembles something much more akin to political horse trading than anything science and regulatory based, or grounded in ecological protection. Add to this complexity the other reality that renewable technologies are presently intensely dependent on fossil fuels and processes like open pit mining, and you have a real moral and practical quagmire.

The solution to moving forward with oil and gas development in Canada is best entrusted to the co-management of these resources by Indigenous Nations. Who else, I would ask, is better suited to being stewards of the lands and working to achieve the calculus required to transition to renewables? It is time to bring the Nations in — reconciliation in action.