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Fossil Fuels Obama singles out Keystone in climate speech

Published on January 1st, 2012 | by Tina Casey


What Comes Next for the Keystone XL Pipeline?

January 1st, 2012 by  

Will President Obama approve Keystone Pipeline?The Keystone XL Pipeline  is probably one of the last great infrastructure projects of the petroleum era in the U.S., and it will face a pivotal moment some time before the end of February. President Obama is under a two-month deadline to approve or disapprove the massive pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada’s notorious Alberta Tar Sands down to the midwest and on through to refineries on the Gulf Coast. But heck, why wait two months? Given the conditions of the deadline, President Obama might as well go ahead and cancel the project tomorrow.

Pipeline Politics in an Election Year

The two-month deadline was set by Republicans in Congress, as a rider attached to the new spending bill. Before the rider was voted through, the State Department already warned that two months was not enough time for it to conduct its customary review of a cross-border project (the pipeline is own by TransCanada, a Canadian company). No review, no pipeline – simple, right? In that respect, the rider is a transparent setup that forces the Obama Administration to cancel a massive job-creating infrastructure project in advance of the 2012 elections. If the President truly is boxed into a corner with no way out, why wait until the end of February to cancel the project? Might as well do it now and get it over with.

Organized Labor and the Keystone Pipeline

There has been some talk that President Obama could override the State Department and approve the project. But viewed through the lens of election year politics, the President has little to gain from taking extraordinary measures to push the project through. Sure, the pipeline would create jobs and pump money into the economy, but it does not boast monolithic support from organized labor, one of the President’s key constituencies. A recent post over at Rolling Stone conjectured that approval would pacify the oil industry in advance of the elections, but it’s more likely that the industry will continue bashing the President, directly or through lobbying groups, no matter how many pipelines he approves.

More Energy Jobs for Rural America

One reason why organized labor may continue to support President Obama if he cancels the Keystone pipeline is the Administration’s solid track record of creating jobs in alternative energy, energy conservation, and new energy research and development. That includes the Re-Powering American’s Land initiative, which reclaims brownfields for solar and wind installations, the AgSTAR manure-to-biogas program for livestock farmers, and the REAP biofuel program to create jobs in growing biofuel crops as well as transportation and refining. What these programs have in common is their potential for enabling sustainable economic growth in and around small towns and communities in rural areas, without imposing the kind of public health and environmental risks inherent in the Keystone project.

New Energy Jobs and National Defense

Unlike the Keystone project, all of these initiatives directly support President Obama’s energy policy, which is focused on transitioning the U.S. away from fossil fuels, both foreign and domestic, with long term national defense strategy in mind.  The Department of Defense has

already made it clear that its future capabilities rest on that a strong domestic biofuel industry along with other forms of alternative energy, and that in turn depends on preserving soil and water quality throughout America’s key agricultural regions, where the Keystone pipeline would insert an unwelcome element of risk.

To Approve or Disapprove: That is the Question

If President Obama decides to cancel the pipeline he would be a hero not only to nationally organized environmental groups, but also to the many  local citizens, elected officials and business owners who oppose the pipeline, without necessarily losing significant support from organized labor. On the other hand, given the intensity of Canada’s investment in the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone pipeline, backstage diplomatic considerations could swing the decision. The only real question now is, why wait another two months to face the inevitable?

Photo credit (cropped): Question mark. Some rights reserved by Banjo Brown.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • Jeremygerardi

    I love the blog and all, but I think this move will help strengthen north american economy. For One, the as you posted earlier articles about how renewable fuels are having trouble cutting parity costs. I’m just saying that no matter what over the next 20 years we will need oil and gas. Even though the Albertans have x amount of tar sands it will be shipped. If not to USA it will be to Asian countries. Personally I would like for Canada to get carbon tax, but for the mean time it is not going to happen. If this pipeline going over the aquafier and is over engineered in saftey percussions. How many pipes are shipping petroleum across USA and Canada? Let alone across state lines. I’m a big Obama sopporter and all, but how can he say he wants more construction jobs, but when pipeline is near clearance it seems he does not want to approve it.

  • Solate4work

    Do not makeup your minds without knowing all the fact’s.here is a link to the Cornell study if anyone would like to read it. http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/globallaborinstitute/research/upload/GLI_KeystoneXL_Reportpdf.pdf

  • Ed

    I am amazed, apalled and chagrined. We are going to import oil from somewhere until solar, wind and bio fuels become a factor. That will be 10 years or more. I am all for more of these things and the sooner the better but it wil not happen overnight. The US is basically reducing gas and diesel usage by 1% a year and that has been happening over the last 5 years and there is every reason to believe that will continue as we get more vehicles that use substantially less fuel. But we still need oil for right now. The less we import from the far east and Venezula, the better it is for everyone. Actually, the refinerys in the US have excess capacity so that means exports that again help our economy for the short and the long run. The Pipeline is good for America, especially if there is ever a disruption of oil from the middle east. Actually, I predict it will happen within the next two years. You think it is hard to get a job now, It will be much worse and our country needs to do everything it can to be prepared.

    • Anonymous

      Let’s see….

      Over a ten year period we could build a pipeline and start bringing tar oil from Canada to the US for refining.

      Or over a ten year period we could build a bunch of wind farms and install a bunch of solar arrays as well as manufacture a lot of EVs and PHEVs.
      It takes less than two years to build a wind farm. Some large ones are built in less than one year.

      It takes less than a year to build a large solar farm. Just a few weeks to cover the roof of a very large commercial building.

      We replace most of our car fleet in a twelve year span. We can build EVs and PHEVs just as easily as building ICEVs.

      Build the pipeline and ten years from now we will still be buying a lot of oil from other countries.

      Build electric cars and the infrastructure to charge them and we will not be buying as much oil from other countries.

      Is this a hard choice to understand?

  • Anonymous

    To Hell with the pipeline. We don’t need oil from anywhere.

    Increase the federal subsidy for EVs and PHEVs so that more people buy cars run on electricity.

    The Volt is made in America.

    The Nissan Leaf is made in America.

    Toyota makes some of its cars in America. We’ll likely see a Prius PHEV plant opened here.

    Tesla makes their EVs here and they will be releasing an EV ‘for the rest of us’.

    We will make many/most of the EV batteries in America.

    We make wind turbines in America.

    We make solar panels in America.

    We will install our wind turbines and solar panels with American labor.

    By moving to EVs and PHEVs we cut the flow of American money to foreign countries, including Canada, and keep more of our money here at home where it can help our economy.

    Let’s think of ourselves first. Don’t build the damn pipeline.

    Let’s do the smart thing and turn to 21st Century technology.

  • muchos huevos

    Hope he would approve it, I rather buy my gas from Canada than the America Haters, besides it will create more jobs for us here, and not there.

    • Cornell study found that it might actually COST the U.S. jobs.

  • ty coon

    What you are all missing is that this oil is all contracted to refineries in Port Arthur. This is important because it is a duty free trade zone. What does that mean? It means that the tar sands oil from Canada will be refined here in America then shipped to Europe and Latin America-tax free. The US will never see a drop of gasoline or diesel or jet fuel from this. Nor will we get any tax revenue. But the refineries will make billions. What does the US get? Pollution from the refining process for sure, and possible contamination from spills in the future. Oh, and we get the bill for any cleanup cost.
    National security? This oil hurts not helps that, Seeing as how it will be buildt by undocumented workers from Canada.

  • Kencarolw

    I for one is in favor of alternative energy-but this country is not ready to be 100% off of foreign oil-as of now if we must use oil lets keep it local- If it is installed it needs to be at least 3 times stronger (pipes) in place over water-there also needs to be some way to keep terrorists from damaging it -big questionDO WE HAVE THE REFINERIES ? as far as I know we dont have any new refineries- as for oil a lot more items beside fuel come from oil-

    • as mentioned elsewhere in these comments, the oil wouldn’t be for the U.S.
      also, just as a note, the LARGE majority of the oil we use is for transportation

  • The pipeline is supposed to account for 5% of current domestic energy consumption estimates (which are growing every year) and only reduce our dependency on foreign oil by 9%. However, the pipeline is expected to not run at full capacity. They claim there are 52 regulations to make it safe, and are asking permission for the use of thinner, cheaper steel and higher pressure pumping rates, but analysis of these regulations show all but a handful are just rehashes of the current weak regulations in place. It crosses the largest fresh water aquifer in the country, and a spill like those the oil companies keep having would be devastating to drinking water, and irrigation we need for domestic farming. How would you like an increase in oil prices AND food prices AND water prices if a problem happens? An ILR study from Cornell university puts the number of jobs created only at around 2500, mostly for construction, its not benefiting the economy by creating jobs – that’s a scam argument. It does get us off foreign oil dependence (a little) in the middle east, but puts us on oil dependence from Canada – at the taxpayer’s expense, this sounds like a huge subsidy to OIL companies, and NOT a “DEAL for the US”- it is not clean domestic energy production like solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, etc, it is still an import, just not from as far away.

    • Anonymous

      One source states that it could take ten years to complete the pipeline and put it in service.

      In ten years we could move 5% or more of our personal transportation to EVs and PHEVs and eliminate the need for that oil.

      Perhaps it’s time to slow investments in old tech and spend the money on new tech….

    • In the long run, that Cornell study found that it might actually COST the U.S. jobs.

  • Markkhicks

    Is all of America drinking the koolaid? You are missing the gig picture completely. This pipeline will reduce our dependency on unfriendly nations for energy. The government has spent trillions defending parts of the world for oil supply and the Canadians have an almost unlimited supply available to the USA

    Why Canada would technically ship the raw product to the USA ( sort of like farmers shipping their topsoil ) for refining is beyond me but somebody should clue in on what a deal this is for the USA

  • The State Department estimates that this enormous boondoggle will only create a couple thousand temporary construction jobs.

    The facts that we don’t need the oil domestically and that this project constitutes another enormous threat to the environment aren’t being considered.

    That this will further boost energy industry profits is the only consideration.

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