Keystone Pipe Facing Strong Headwinds In U.S.

Plans for a pipeline to connect Alberta’s oilsands to refineries in Texas continue to raise doubts among some U.S. lawmakers about the need for the multibillion-dollar project. The group of 11 U.S. Senators led by Patrick Leahy of Vermont, in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are also questioning how serious Canada really is about shipping its crude to Asia instead if the U.S. doesn’t want it. At issue is, once again, TransCanada’s proposed extension to its Keystone pipeline system. “As you recently stated, tar sands oil is ‘dirty oil,’” the letter, signed by 10 Democrats and one Independent, says. “Approval of this pipeline will significantly increase our dependence on this oil for decades.” The lawmakers are asking Clinton for a “thorough, transparent analysis of the need for this oil and its impacts on our climate and clean energy goals.” The $7-billion project is expected to ship more than half a million barrels per day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refinery belt once it’s built. The regulatory process to date has left numerous questions unanswered, according to the Senators. For example, they want to know if fuel-efficient technologies and electric vehicles could offset the need for the pipeline. As well, they’re asking whether Clinton’s Department of State has “considered the potential for adverse impacts to the Ogallala Aquifer along the pipeline route.” The aquifer is one of the largest in the world. It stretches underneath several Great Plains States, including Nebraska, which is one of the states Keystone will cut across. In their letter, the Senators point out that oilsands produces are planning to expand production, and “this presumably depends on producers being able to transport and sell the oil.” If, in the event the U.S. doesn’t want it, the oil will be shipped to Asia, then how big is the capacity of the proposed pipelines to export terminals on the Pacific, the Senators are asking Clinton. And how does that compare to the pipeline capacity that’s connecting Canada with the U.S.? It appears to be more of a rhetorical question, since the answers are only a mouse click away on any computer with Internet access. The short answer: the vast bulk of Canada’s oil exports flow south of the border, and practically nil goes to Asia. While it’s true that federal and provincial politicians, as well as industry, are increasingly talking about the need for expanding exports to Asia, that’s still a distant reality, because the infrastructure, safe for Kinder Morgan’s pipeline to the Port of Vancouver, does not exist. And any kind of expansion plans, including Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal, so far exist only on paper. The Senators’ letter is only the latest in a series of criticisms of TransCanada’s Keystone XL project, all of which zero in on the environmental impacts on the oilsands. Oilsands mining requires more energy than conventional extraction methods. It also disturbs a greater surface area. Producers, however, are required to restore the land to its natural state. ((29 OCT 2010))














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