Keystone XL —- More Debate Than Harper-Obama Border Declaration

Oil sands pipeline stirs up more debate than Harper-Obama border declaration in U.S. Visits by Canadian prime ministers to the White House rarely generate the kind of American media attention that Ottawa hopes for – too often Canada’s message is lost in the dust kicked up by the crisis of the day confronting the president of the United States. The trend for the most part continued last Friday, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama inked a border declaration that could establish a North American security perimeter. As Harper started talking about the importance of the Canada-U.S. relationship, CNN cut away. Egypt dominated. But one side issue on the Harper-Obama agenda has piqued the interest of political and business media in Washington – the pending U.S. decision on whether to approve Calgary-based TransCanada’s $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline. In its Sunday editions, the Washington Post published an editorial endorsing the oil sands project – putting the pipeline issue front and centre for the nation’s politicians and policymakers on the morning of the Super Bowl. “Say yes to this pipeline,” the headline said. The Post had little good to say about the product that would be transported through the 3,200-kilometre pipeline. It described Alberta’s oil sands as “nasty” and stated its greenhouse-gas intensive extraction process makes it “82 per cent dirtier” to produce than “more traditional oil” the U.S. buys. “The sooner the world stops burning it, the better.” But notwithstanding the heavy carbon footprint left by oil sands production, the editorialists at the Post concluded “that’s not much of a reason to kill the pipeline.” The Post noted that the U.S. already has “plenty” of unused pipeline capacity and Keystone XL itself wouldn’t affect oil sands production until the next decade. In other words, stopping Keystone XL won’t slow the flow of oil sands crude into the American market. The newspaper argued the best way to reduce production of oil sands was to lower American demand, not by forbidding construction of a new pipeline from Canada. As to environmental concerns – particularly the threat that an oil spill could devastate environmentally-sensitive areas along the pipeline’s route – the Post’s editorialists said they can be overcome. “The Obama administration should carefully consider them and adjust the project accordingly, ensuring it’s done responsibly,” the Post said. Harper, for his part, told Obama the U.S. faces a “choice” between meeting the nation’s demand for oil by importing from unstable sources in the Middle East or “from the most secure, most stable and friendliest location it can possibly get that energy, which is Canada.” The Washington Post’s editorial follows a feature story the newspaper published last month on the high-stakes activism and lobbying that has enveloped the Keystone project. The Los Angeles Times dispatched a correspondent to Texas in January to report on opposition to Keystone XL among land owners along the pipeline’s proposed path. U.S. oil industry officials in the U.S. admit they’re surprised with the level of general public attention being paid to the forthcoming decision bythe U.S. State Department on whether to grant TransCanada a permit to build Keystone XL. Cindy Schild, refining issues manager for the American Petroleum Institute, said in an interview she “can’t remember” a pipeline proposal ever generating the kind of scrutiny that has attended TransCanada’s proposal. Some of that attention is direct fallout from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But in large part, environmentalists can take credit for a well-organized, well-funded and persistent advertising and lobbying campaign against the Keystone XL project. On the day of Harper’s meeting with Obama, a coalition of 86 national, state and local environmental groups wrote the U.S. president urging his administration to reject the “dangerous and expensive” pipeline. In their appeal to Obama, the environmentalists appeal to the president’s own values as a reason to reject the pipeline. Since entering the White House, Obama has placed a priority on boosting investments in clean energy to reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels. “We appreciate your words and actions to move America toward a clean energy economy that will provide sustainable jobs and protect Americans from air and water pollution,” said the letter, signed by Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others. “We strongly believe that approval of the permit for Keystone XL would put these priorities in jeopardy.” The Keystone XL project has been on indefinite hold since last July, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency described a draft environmental study of the project as “inadequate” — raising concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and the potential threat to sensitive ecosystems of a spill. The State Department is now weighing whether to conduct a supplemental eco-study providing more detail on Keystone’s emergency response plans, the chemical composition of the oilsands bitumen and potential damage to groundwater from pipeline leaks or spills. ((06 FEB 2011))




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