Republicans and business leaders are urging President Obama to turn talk of creating jobs into action by green-lighting a long-delayed $7 billion expansion of a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline that supporters say will create 20,000 jobs.
The proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver Canadian crude from the oil sands of Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries, can’t go forward without the president’s approval through the State Department’s permitting process, where it has been stuck for three years in part because of environmental concerns.
“The fact is that pipelines leak,” said Harlan Hentges, executive director at the Center for Energy Matters. “If you got one, it’s going to leak. The only question is when.”
TransCanada, the Canadian oil company behind the project, said the pipeline extension, which could carry as many as 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, will ease American dependence on supplies from the unstable Middle East.
“We could help reduce the amount of imports from the Middle East,” said TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha, “which would ensure energy security for the United States.”
“Canada is becoming an energy superpower in almost every sense of the word,” said John Kerekes, the central region director at the American Petroleum Institute. “Right now, they understand that their No. 1 market is us.”
White House tightrope
The political and diplomatic sensitivities of the project were on display last week when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, who again pushed for the White House to sign off on TransCanada’s plan.
Asked about the project after the meeting, Mrs. Clinton said the State Department is awaiting a required environmental impact report before moving forward, but she promised action before the end of the year.
“We have worked diligently to make sure that we have full understanding of all of the consequences, including the very important point that the minister made to me about energy security and what that means for our two countries,” she said Thursday.
“We are leaving no stone unturned, and we expect to make a decision on the permit before the end of the year.”
The White House is walking a political tightrope on the project, which environmentalists say could endanger hundreds of miles of pristine American heartland from Montana to Oklahoma, as well as Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer, the underground source of drinking water and irrigation water for much of the Midwest.
Proponents say the project’s benefits far outweigh the risks.
Republicans on Capitol Hill and business groups have voiced strong support for the Keystone XL project. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created a “Partnership to Fuel America” to push the issue.