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Congress Battles for Keystone XL

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted September 17, 2013

If you’re a supporter of Keystone XL, you’re certainly not alone in your frustration over President Obama’s incessant delay of the project.

Next week will be the five year anniversary of the XL project’s application submission. The president said he would make a decision by this summer, but then he followed with a delay of the decision until 2014. And now there is word he may put the project on an indefinite hold that would last beyond his administration!

pipelineKeystone XL supporters are pulling their hair out over the indecision surrounding the pipeline, but Congress may plan to back the president into a corner and get the project approved without the Executive Branch.

There is bipartisan support in both the House and Senate for approving Keystone XL. Senator Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana and Senator John Hoeven (R) of North Dakota are a handful of senators calling for a bipartisan resolution that would call on Obama to approve Keystone XL for the sake of national interest.

In previous articles, I wrote about the need for the U.S. to get away from Middle Eastern oil as a result of the Syrian crisis and other recent forms of chaos that have stricken the region. Now, it seems Congress could use Syria as a rallying cry to urge the nation to steer clear of Saudi oil, build the necessary infrastructure, and foster stronger ties with Canada.

After all, the U.S. and Canada are the only two nations in the world with commercial shale production, and it would make sense for both countries to form stronger energy bonds through projects like Keystone XL.

XL Details

Keystone XL is a 1,179 mile pipeline extension that would connect Alberta’s western tar sands to an existing pipeline beginning in Steele City, Nebraska, which extends to Gulf Coast refineries.

Critics contend that the pipeline would only benefit Canada, but North Dakota drillers from the Bakken may also be able to use the pipeline, and it would help refineries that chose to remain retrofitted to handle heavy oil.

It would even give American producers wider access to refineries throughout the Midwest and the Gulf Coast.

The project owner is TransCanada (NYSE: TRP), and construction would begin from Hardisty, Alberta into Steel City, Nebraska.

Reasons for XL Delay

A primary reason why XL is being delayed is because Obama is not convinced of its long-term potential for permanent job growth. According to studies by the State Department, there would be anywhere from 50 to 100 permanent jobs created as a result of the project’s final construction.

But the State Department also said that 42,000 jobs would be created from Keystone XL. Revenue from XL would also come in the form of $5.3 billion across the land, and it would contribute revenue to state treasuries.

The project itself will bring in 20,000 construction jobs directly for the project and an additional 20,000 related to refinery and manufacturing jobs.

These are the very types of jobs the president supported in his early stimulus package, but now he seems reluctant to get behind a jobs plan that could get people on their feet quickly.

Despite what economists and analysts are saying about America’s economic comeback, the economy still stinks for many people, and most of the job creation has been in the low-wage commercial sector. Why not add as many jobs as possible, whether temporary or not, to at least give an extra jobs boost to the economy?

But this is not the only reason why Obama is stalling the project.

Obama is still beholden to his environmental supporters who have qualms about the project’s effect on the environment, wildlife, and the likelihood of accidental spills.

But Republican Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman gave his approval of the project after initial reservations about the pipeline cutting across the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region. And there is wiggle room for the pipeline to be built around other sensitive areas across the country.

And as far as accidents go, there is actually a higher chance of accidents in train transportation than pipelines. Accidents will be unavoidable, but with commercial drones scheduled to debut in 2015, such surveillance technology could be used to monitor any leaking activity should the XL project be constructed.

Regarding overall damage to the environment, another study has indicated that Keystone XL will have no impact on greenhouse gas emissions – a finding that backs up an earlier study conducted by the State Department.

The study was conducted by IHS CERA Inc., along with non-government affiliated organizations, policy makers, and industry insiders.

The study went on to say that Keystone XL is one of the safest route plans for environmental impacts when considering alternative transportation routes.

Keystone XL Approval

All signs indicate that President Obama is simply putting off Keystone XL indefinitely so he can leave it to the next administration.

And TransCanada is not looking to wait on the president either, since the Canadian company has a Plan B, so to speak, of building transportation along the West Coast of Canada to ship oil to Asia.

At the moment, the president seems more fixated on Syria, and it seems the pipeline is a mere afterthought in the administration’s priorities.

The only way Congress is going to get XL approved is if it brings up a resolution and votes on it to get Obama’s attention.

Call me a cynic, but I’m a bit skeptical that Congress can get something done on this issue. Even though there is bipartisan support, I will be more convinced when I see words turned into action – given Congress’ lack of initiative to work together in the past and the constant bickering we have seen over the years.

But the gears appear to be rolling.

A House subcommittee is planning a hearing next week on Thursday – the anniversary of XL’s application submission, according to USA Today. And Senator Hoeven is working with leadership on a good timing for a Keystone vote.

Senators Max Baucus (D) of Montana, Mary Landrieu, John Hoeven, and other senators sent a personal letter to Obama pleading for no further delays on the project.

If Congress maintains this initiative, there is a strong chance it will gain more support as Syria becomes more of a pronounced issue. The president withdrew his hardline stance on Syria, since many congressmen have heard from their constituents that a Syrian strike was unacceptable.

And with a Congress that is wary of another war, members are more likely to vote for a proposal that would be a step in freeing the country from Middle East oil.

The country is on the right track in freeing itself of Saudi oil by 2030, according to a study by the International Energy Agency.

Keystone XL would not immediately free us from foreign oil, but it would be a positive support mechanism that would help the country reach its coveted goal of domestic oil independence.


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