Liz Levey, ‘Doah Staff Writer
March 4, 2015
A bill to move forward with construction of the Keystone XL pipeline has been approved by Congress but vetoed by President Barack Obama. The project has pitted Republicans and other supporters, who say it will create much needed jobs, against many Democrats and environmentalists, who warn the pipeline will add to carbon emissions and contribute to global warming.
The Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed 1,179-mile pipe that would run from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska, where it could join an existing pipe. It could carry 830,000 barrels of oil each day. The proposed XL pipeline has the same origin and destination as an operational pipe, also called Keystone – granted presidential permit in 2008 by President George W. Bush – but takes a more direct route. The XL pipeline would allow for an increased supply of oil from Canada.
A section running south from Cushing in Oklahoma to the Gulf opened in January 2014. At the coast, there are additional refineries and ports from which the oil can be exported. The pipeline would be a privately financed project, with the cost of construction shared between TransCanada, an energy company based in Calgary, Alberta, and other oil shippers. U.S.-produced oil, albeit less than Canadian, would also be transported by Keystone XL.
The Canadian National Energy Board approved the Keystone XL pipeline in March 2010. Because the XL pipeline crosses the U.S. and Canada border, the project requires presidential permit prior to construction. It was expected that President Obama would approve the project at that time, but Congress demanded action within 60 days; the U.S. leader turned it down, citing an inadequate environmental assessment.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) weighed in on the project, encouraging President Obama not to approve the pipeline. EPA regulations themselves wouldn’t block construction, but litigators could use the EPA to stop construction, even after it was approved by the president. In February 2015, the newly Republican-led Congress voted to begin construction immediately, but President Obama vetoed the bill, saying it undermined the necessary review process.
One question is, why does the United States and Canada want this project to occur so badly? Canada already sends 550,000 barrels of oil per day to the U.S., via the existing Keystone Pipeline. The oil fields in Alberta are landlocked and as they are further developed, require means of access to international markets. Many of North America’s oil refineries are based in the Gulf Coast, and industry groups on both sides of the border want to benefit.
The Keystone XL pipeline has become a controversial project for a number of reasons. While the U.S. State Department initially said in 2011 Keystone XL would not have significant adverse effects on the environment, that same year the same department determined TransCanada would need to assess alternative routes in Nebraska because the Sandhills region is a fragile ecosystem.
President Obama’s decision to approve or refuse the pipeline is therefore held up as symbolic of America’s energy future. In the here and now, more energy is required to extract oil from the Alberta oil sands than in traditional drilling, and Environment Canada says it has found industry chemicals seeping into groundwater and the Athabasca River. This risk to local communities is one of the reasons many have opposed the project. A group called the Cowboy-Indian Alliance marched on the U.S. Capitol earlier this year, citing destruction of local environments.
Environmentalists adopted Keystone XL because it is easy to organize around, Politico’s Energy Reporter, Elana Schor, told MSNBC. The dangers of pollution may seem abstract to many, and it’s tough to drive people into the streets over EPA carbon rules. “But Keystone, a piece of steel, something you can picture farmers having to deal with it, it’s much more evocative and emotional for environmentalists, and they’ve done a lot of work to elevate it as a symbol.”
On the Republican side, Senate Majority Leader McConnell said Keystone XL is just common sense. “It’s a shovel-ready jobs project that would help thousands of Americans find work,” he said. “It would increase our supply of North American energy, and it would do all that with minimal net climate impact. That’s why the American people support it. That’s why Republicans support it.”
The Republicans control Congress, but their majority is not large enough to overcome a presidential veto. That does not mean the project is dead in the water though. White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, said it was still possible President Obama approves the pipeline once the State Department review is complete.