Decision on Keystone Still in the Pipeline

Last Updated:
Tue, 2013-09-03 13:45

Last month when President Obama announced his Climate Plan, most people expected him to also announce his decision on the highly controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. The proposed pipeline is designed to connect the Canadian Alberta Tar Sands to Gulf Coast oil refineries thereby uniting U.S. energy supplies with Canada.

Many supporters of the pipeline have touted this project as a major job creator due to the construction labor that will be required to build the infrastructure. As a result, Keystone’s job creation estimates have turned out to be a highly debated topic. Last week during a speech in Tennessee, Obama stated that the Keystone Project would create 2,000 construction jobs with 50 permanent positions being created. After stating these statistics, the President commented, “That’s no jobs plan,” insinuating that the long-term employment created by the project will do very little to counter unemployment. This dismissal of the project’s legitimate job-creation potential was not taken lightly by pipeline supporters. Since Obama belittled the job creation estimates in his speech, there has been a slew of articles “fact checking” the projections and arguing that the pipeline will create far more employment opportunities than the President suggested.

Those who are opposed to the pipeline project have been encouraged by the President’s skepticism toward the pipeline’s employment projections. However, despite Obama’s view of the jobs aspect, there is still a great deal of ambiguity in regard to what he will decide to do about this project. In his speech outlining his Climate Plan, Obama did address the pipeline briefly, stating that his decision regarding the approval of the pipeline would be primarily based on the carbon emissions impact that the pipeline would create. This rhetoric might sound pleasing to environmentalists opposed to the pipeline, but in reality, this could be a major benefit for the pipeline’s supporters because of the possibly higher carbon emissions that are created by trains and trucks used for transporting the oil from the tar sands in Alberta into the U.S. In fact, though this lens, the pipeline may actually prove to theoretically reduce carbon emissions.

However, those opposed to the project are also concerned with the issue of possible leaks and the effects of the pollution that would ensue. Leaks are fairly rare in pipelines, but due to the chemicals mixed with the oil to help it flow through the pipeline faster, any of the oil spilled or leaked from the pipes would sink in water rather than floating on top. This has made oil spill cleanup efforts even more challenging than they were originally.

The split of Obama’s support base on this issue is also adding to the difficulty of this decision. Labor unions are strongly in favor of this project because they believe it has significant job potential, while environmentalists are opposed to the pipeline because of the pollution risks and further investment in carbon-based energy production. The Obama Administration has stated that a decision will likely be made later this year or in early 2014 following Secretary of State John Kerry’s recommendation on the issue.

By Peter J. Bock & Nolan Canter


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