People power beat Big Oil again this week when Shell announced that they were cancelling their Carmon Creek tar sands project.  Shell said the decision to cancel the project (and thus take a $2 billion hit to their bottom line) “reflects current uncertainties, including the lack of infrastructure to move Canadian crude oil to global commodity markets.”

In other words: the massive public opposition to tar sands pipelines means Shell doesn’t think they’d be able to get the oil to market. 

Photo: April 2015 Act on Climate march brings 25,000 out into the streets of Quebec City. ©Greenpeace / Robert vanWaarden

Canadians have grown accustomed to seeing pipeline protests on the evening news, but a new report from Oil Change International takes a data-driven approach to show how people power this successfully stepping in where governments are falling short. In the case of the Alberta tar sands, people power has created circumstances where no new growth will be profitable in the sector unless they can overcome growing a movement that starts on the front lines with First Nations and impacted communities, and extends across the country, the continent, and the world.  

Photo:  2012 Defend our Coast rally at the British Columbia legislature to protest tar sands pipelines, tankers, and the threats they pose to the west coast. ©Greenpeace/ Keri Coles

Faced with low oil prices and limited pipeline space due to public opposition, the oil industry has cut their growth forecast for the tar sands in half.

Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

But even that lower growth projection will require new pipelines to get more oil out of the western sedimentary basin, which is home to the tar sands and the Bakken oil fields. That won’t be easy. The Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines are politically dead, and the Transmountain (Kinder Morgan) and Energy East pipelines are facing massive opposition. 

Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The yellow and orange bands are pipelines that don’t yet exist.

In Canada, the new Liberal government has committed to strengthening the pipeline review process, including the introduction of a climate test that will account for upstream greenhouse gas emissions. This is good news because building new pipelines would enable a massive expansion of tar sands production that is incompatible with a safe global climate. Any government serious about climate change must confront the scientific reality that there is no room for major new fossil fuel infrastructure that locks in high levels of carbon pollution for decades to come.

Stephen Harper was an unabashed bully on behalf of the oil companies, but now that we have a new government we have an opportunity to turn this around. The oil industry is, however, still very powerful and no matter how well-meaning the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is, they won’t seize the opportunity to turn away from an oil-driven economy and embrace a renewable energy future without relentless pressure from below.

So let’s get back to work.

Photo: Greenpeace protesters chained to the Kinder Morgan oil terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia as part of a 2013 protest against the proposed Transmountain tar sands pipeline.  ©Greenpeace