The Keystone XL pipeline controversy was debated all through the presidential election. It’s still here, but potentially bigger than before.
This weekend, environmental groups and activists will march in Washington to stage a comprehensive protest before the White House, insisting that President Obama reject the Keystone idea once and for all.
The Keystone XL pipeline would run from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the American Gulf Coast. It will be a $7 billion project, and the pipeline will traverse some 1,700 miles.
In January this year, President Obama rejected TransCanada’s (TSX: TRP) application on the grounds that the developer would need to re-route the pipeline so it could avoid risks of contaminating Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer.
Having done so, TransCanada filed a new application in May—and that’s where we’ve been since then.
The first denial was mostly a technicality. The real problem with Keystone isn’t that it might endanger regional aquifers—the pipelines are likely to be just as safe as any currently being built. The real problem here is that tar sands, the source of the Keystone fuel, is one of the ‘dirtiest’ and most polluting fuels on earth, according to the event page for 350.org, the leaders of the protest.
Should the Keystone project become reality, it will be contributing some 900,000 barrels of oil worth of carbon to the atmosphere—each day. It would put a very serious dent into whatever little headway renewables and clean energy sectors have been able to make with regard to fuel emissions regulations. That’s where the environmentalists’ main concerns and oppositions lie.
Those in favor of the Keystone project, of course, claim that tar sands aren’t all that dirty, that the producers are working to minimize per-barrel emissions, and so on.
But more importantly, their position (epitomized by this Bloomberg piece) is that these oil sands are extremely rich in their fuel reserves, and that it’s better that North America benefits from this production than our neighbors in Asia.
Indeed, one powerful point the supporters make is that with efficient production, most of North America could indeed become energy-independent within a few decades.
So there we have the real conflict. Those who point out the clear and obvious ongoing effects of global climate change—the fast-melting Arctic ice, extensive droughts, even Hurricane Sandy—argue that the Keystone project, and the tar sands that it will drink from, is not something we should even be considering.
It isn’t about whether the pipeline might contaminate some local water reservoirs, but rather about how much polluting emissions it will create as an end product.
And in opposition we have those who insist that the exploitation of tar sands is a necessity, and that safety precautions can reduce the effects on the environment; better that North America benefit from these enormous reserves and reduce imports from hostile nations.
Meanwhile, President Obama is stuck with the unenviable task of bringing matters to a head one way or another, as the administration has stated that a decision on the Keystone project should emerge in the first quarter of 2013.
If the Obama administration affirms its denial of the Keystone pipeline, it will be a huge step forward for the environmental groups that currently oppose its development.
On the other hand, if the administration permits the development of the Keystone pipeline, then North America may take a few steps closer to its energy independence.
This weekend's demonstration will start at 3:00 pm on Sunday, November 18th in Washington D.C.'s Freedom Plaza.