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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Keystone Pipeline Rejected, For Now

Air Date: Week of

Steam injected into these nine wells brings oil to surface at the Foster Creek site in northeast Alberta. (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers)

The Obama administration decides against building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline extension. Environmentalists celebrate while the oil industry plans their appeal. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with environmental activist Bill McKibben, and spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Travis Davies about the decision.


GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Massachusetts, it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman.

President Obama has put the kibosh, at least temporarily, on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. That’s the one oil producers in Canada want to build to carry low quality, high sulfur crude from the tar sands of Alberta 17 hundred miles to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Republicans in Congress had tried to force the Obama administration into making a quick decision on the seven billion dollar pipeline by attaching it to a payroll tax cut extension.

But in a written statement denying the construction permit, the President said the deadline “prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact.” For proponents, it’s back to the drawing board. They get to resubmit plans for the pipeline route. For opponents, it’s a major, if temporary, victory. Environmentalist Bill McKibben led the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline:

MCKIBBEN: I wrote the first book on climate change 23 years ago, and there are very few days in those two decades when scientists have been able to smile and the fossil fuel industry had to scowl, and this was one of them. Barack Obama not only did the right thing about the Keystone Pipeline, he also did the brave thing.

GELLERMAN: But President Obama did not rule on the merits of the pipeline. He basically said the Republicans in Congress rushed him, and….

Bill McKibben speaks out against the Keystone XL pipeline in Times Square. (Courtesy of Bill McKibben)

MCKIBBEN: He didn't even have a chance to rule on the merits of the pipeline. They haven’t had, you know, the Republicans didn't give him time to even judge it. And TransCanada or anybody else is, you know, of course, is free to apply to build another one- it will take a long time for that application to go through and there will be lots and lots of us watching at every turn to make sure the process is transparent and that the science is respected.

GELLERMAN: Congress- can they change the rules of the game? Right now, it’s the President’s decision.

MCKIBBEN: Well, Congress can certainly try to do a lot of things, and doubtless they will because, in essence, they are a harem of the fossil fuel industry. They took a vote a couple of weeks ago to expedite this approval processes, it was 234 to 193 in the House and those 234 people had taken 42 million dollars from the fossil fuel industry for their campaigns. They’re bought and paid for. We worked to get the President to do the right thing. Now we’ll work to get Congress to do the right thing. We’re going to try, that’s for sure.

GELLERMAN: Well, the Chamber of Commerce says ‘Well, we’re talking jobs here. We’re talking fuel from a friendly source.’

MCKIBBEN: The only independent study of jobs from this pipeline, done by Cornell, showed that it would kill as many jobs as it would create. That fuel from a friendly source is destined for export to Latin America and Europe and not for use in the U.S. The arguments in favor of this are simply bogus; they’re just a cover for the fact that people want to make some money pumping more oil.

And, of course, they all ignore the biggest argument of all. As Jim Hanson of NASA said, if you tap those tar sands heavily, it’s essentially game over for the climate. And that doesn’t matter to the Chamber of Commerce. They filed a legal brief with the EPA two years ago saying that climate wouldn’t warm, but if it did, humans could, and I quote: ‘humans could alter their physiology’ in order to continue to inhabit this Earth. So for them, no big deal. We’d actually rather have a few of those giant energy companies alter their business plans and let the rest of us keep our anatomy more or less intact!

GELLERMAN: Climate activist Bill McKibben, head of 350.org, has led the fight against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

For a different perspective on the president’s decision to deny a permit for the pipeline, we turn to Travis Davies, spokesman with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, based in Calgary, Alberta.

DAVIES: It's very disappointing. We've been through a three-year process. Now, that said, there’s some positive takeaways, one being that the president has said it was not denied on the merits of the project. The other being that TransCanada pipeline is committed to reapplying. So there is a delay, yes, but there is a lot of merits of this project both for the U.S. and for Canada.

GELLERMAN: How many jobs do you think this would create?

DAVIES: Well, the pipeline, specifically, I can’t really get to. Oil sands, I know a bit more about. In terms of U.S. and Canada, a group called the Canadian Energy Research Institute has done some work on forecasting. If you look out over the next 25 years, oil sands will create almost 900,000 jobs in Canada and an additional 400 to 500,000 jobs in the U.S.

Steam generation units at Cenovus Energy's Foster Creek operation in northeast Alberta. (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers)

GELLERMAN: Mr. Davies, why not just build the pipeline in Canada and send it out from one of your ports either east or west?

DAVIES: Well, it’s a good question and we’re looking at those options. Of course, there’s several proposals to get to Pacific tidewater. There’s already a pipeline going over there and we do export to places in the U.S. like Washington and California, increasingly Asia. The thrust is that there is a lot of demand in the Gulf. We’ve got a situation where Mexican heavy oil is in steep decline, so you’ve got a situation where one of the largest refining markets in the world have a lot of spare capacity.

GELLERMAN: I know that there was a study done by the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union in Canada. And it showed that Canada would have 18,000 more jobs if the oil was refined first in Canada. Why not do that?

DAVIES: All well and good but, as I said before, over 25 years, we see the resource producing almost 900,000 jobs. As it stands today, we don't have enough labor to do a lot of the work that we’re going to need to do.

GELLERMAN: As I understand it, our refineries here in the United States would take that oil, turn it into diesel which they would then export to South American and Europe, because that’s what they use there.

DAVIES: I go back to the fact that you’re buying Canadian oil at a discount. Why are you going to sell that and buy more expensive oil? Well, maybe there might be a limited supply that does go to Europe but, by far and large, this is going to get used in the USA.

GELLERMAN: Travis Davies is with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.



The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Bill McKibben is the President and Co-Founder of


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