Interview: with Bill McKibben on TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline

Interview with and Bill McKibben
January 5, 2012

Thank you to Bill McKibben of  for the interview.

Background Information

NP: Please tell us a little about yourself and how you began with your organization.

BM: i’m a writer–i wrote the first book about climate change, way back in 1989–and about five years ago began to be more involved in organizing. i started with seven students from middlebury college in 2008 and we’ve become the world’s biggest grassroots climate campaign, active in every country but north korea

NP: Please tell us about your organization and why you feel it so important to stop tar sands oil production.

BM: james hansen, the planet’s premier climatologist, explained earlier this year that the tarsands formation in canada was the second-biggest pool of carbon on earth, and that if it was fully developed it would be ‘game over for the climate.’ that seemed like something to avoid


NP: One argument in favor of the pipeline has been the number of jobs that would be created. There are a number of statistics available that vary greatly. Which does your organization believe is the most accurate and why? Please break down by permanent and temporary jobs, if possible. “Permanent” is defined here as those lasting for the lifetime of the pipeline. Are you aware of any numbers of permanent jobs for Nebraskans?

BM: the pipeline company has scammed people about jobs. they’ve claimed 20,000, or 100,000, or sometimes even more. but even their own numbers actually show about 6000 jobs, each of them lasting two years. that’s it. and the only study not funded by the pipeline company–it comes from cornell university–shows the pipeline killing as many, and perhaps more, jobs than it creates. remember,a pipeline is a way to make sure that you don’t need any permanent workers. every indication is the supply of jobs for nebraskans would be tiny at best

NP: Statistics also vary widely for leaks and accidents. Which do you believe are the most accurate and why?

BM: we know the precursor pipeline, much smaller than keystone xl, leaked a dozen times in the first year. that’s… not so promising. probably a good idea to talk to folks along the kalamazoo and yellowstone rivers to get a sense of what tarsands spills can do

NP: What do you think about TransCanada’s record?

BM: i think the record shows they use their money to warp the political process.

NP: If a pipeline had to be built or was decided to be built, what do you think the best route is?

BM: i think the best route would be the one that crossed no sensitive land or water. good luck with that!

NP: Please reply to these arguments that I have heard made in favor of the  pipeline. If you have any numbers that support how much oil the US will receive and how much will hit the international market or a break down of how much could go to which country, please add them.

-The US needs this oil and this is why we need the pipeline.

BM: most of this oil is apparently destined for export. and in any event, the u.s. is now a net exporter of gasoline.

NP: What did you think of the protest in Washington DC?

BM: i thought it was a classic example of people-powered politics. we don’t have money like the oil comapnies, so we need to use a different currency: our passion, our wits, our bodies

NP: Please respond to these statements:

-The Keystone XL is inevitable and nothing can be done.

BM: if i thought that, i wouldn’t bother to work against it. so far, we’ve made some progress

-Some people claim that the fight is over or the fighting spirit has been diffused with the decision to delay. What would you like to say to them?

BM: we have thousands of people signed up willing to put their bodies on the line if it’s ever approved. i think people are more fired up than ever, and understand better now that we need to take on the whole oil industry

NP: How have you used the Internet and social media to get your message out
and connect with others?

BM: we use the web a lot–in part because it allows us to make some of our own media. transcanada can buy tv ads–we can’t

NP: How effective do you think using Live Stream was for giving people the opportunity to view the protest?

BM: from what i heard, people really enjoyed it. but it couldn’t fully capture perhaps what a gorgeous day it was, or just how happy people were to be there

NP: Please list the different ways that people can connect with your organization to learn more.

BM: our name is our address:

NP: If people share beliefs that you have, how can they help stop the pipeline?

BM: organize, organize, organize!

2 thoughts on “Interview: with Bill McKibben on TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline

  1. Natural Gas and fracturing is not safe for the envrnonmeit. There is a reason they want to keep it away from people and cities because they get sick, the water that comes out of their faucets ignites with flames, and they can’t even bath in their own water. The animals in the area also show signs of extreme sickness.Puerto Rico will not last long if this is allowed. How can we really sacrifice an Island for short term profit?Everyone should watch the documentary Gasland

    • The TransCanada pipeline curnertly ships half a million barrels a day to the US. The Keystone expansion would increase this by another half million. In 2008, the last year statistics are available, Canada was shipping 1.5 billion barrels per day to the US. The comments about dirty oil are laughable. How do these activists know what percentage of the pipeline oil is dirty oil from the tar sands? Furthermore, how do they know how much of this oil is the dirtiest dirty oil, comprising the 20% of total tar sands production that is extracted from open pit mining? Wouldn’t the dirty oil contaminate the clean oil? It seems the American public would be encouraged to cut off Canada’s oil supply all together, lest they be accused of hypocrisy.As an Albertan, I would be happy with keeping all of our oil. It makes more sense to me that we sell a small percentage of it and save the rest for when it is really needed. Our provincial government has not operated in our best interests. They have opened the door for oil and gas exploration without the most beneficial system of pay back to Albertans and by extension all Canadians. Our federal government owns surface land rights, therefore the public is powerless to stop the infiltration of oil and gas development. The industry creates jobs and brings wealth to our government, but all at a cost to the people who live here. Meanwhile, the majority of Alberta oil is getting shipped south of the border. The activists quoted in this article decry the environmental impact of the Keystone pipeline. They should take a look at the province of Alberta. It is a patchwork of pipelines covered by a rash of gas wells. Many oil and gas companies building gas wells in our backyards or crossing them with pipelines are American companies. Production in the Alberta oil sands is now dominated by foreign companies. The American government recently petitioned for a fivefold increase in dirty oil sands production. A study of NAFTA shows that in the event of a national emergency, the American government can usurp Canadians access to our own natural resources. Thus, it can be argued that Americans own the pipeline not Canadians. Secretary of State Clinton understands this which is no doubt why she supports extension of the pipeline to double its capacity. All the activists’ can hope to accomplish is delaying the inevitable. Although, I really do wish them success.

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