The decision by President Obama in November 2015 to kill the Keystone XL pipeline project was followed a week later by new Prime Minister Trudeau's implementation of a moratorium on oil tanker traffic on British Columbia's coast, effectively killing the Northern Gateway pipeline project. The block on these two pipeline projects has left oil from the Alberta oil landlocked and with limited ways to get oil to markets. Does this mean that the environmental threat of large cross-country, cross-border pipeline projects is over? This paper will provide an overview of the politics of pipelines in North America. What does the present and future of pipelines in Canada and the US mean for the environments they traverse and criss-cross? Even if new projects are halted, what of the threat of more than 250,000 miles of large-diameter transmission lines (and far greater scale of gathering, feeder, and transmission pipelines) that are already in use in North America today?
Imre Szeman is Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies and Sociology at the University of Alberta. He conducts research on and teaches in the areas of energy and environmental studies, literary and cultural theory, and social and political philosophy (esp. 19th and 20th left theory, globalization and nationalism), and Canadian studies. In 2015, Szeman received the J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research (2015), the U of Alberta’s most prestigious research award that recognizes research excellence in humanities, social sciences, law, education and fine arts.
Szeman’s on-going work in what he termed the “energy humanities” resulted in the founding of the Petrocultures Research Group in 2011 (www.petrocultures.com). Made up of more than 40 researchers, Petrocultures takes as its goal a deeper understanding of the cultural and social changes needed to enable a successful transition from fossil fuels to other forms of energy. This work with Petrocultures has resulted in several forthcoming publications, including: Imre Szeman, Jennifer Wenzel and Patricia Yaeger, eds., Fueling Culture: Energy, History, Politics. New York: Fordham University Press, forthcoming 2016; Sheena Wilson, Adam Carlson and Imre Szeman, eds. Petrocultures: Oil, Energy, Culture. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, forthcoming 2016; (3) Imre Szeman. Globalization, Culture, Energy: Selected Essays, 2000-2013. Ed. Huimin Jin. Henan University Press, forthcoming 2016. (Translation of his into Chinese); and Dominic Boyer and Imre Szeman, eds. Energy Humanities: A Reader. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, in preparation. His is currently at work on a book entitled On Empty: The Cultural Politics of Oil, which will appear from Fordham University Press in 2017.