Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Keystone Pipeline Plan: What's it Mean for the 2012 Elections?


"TransCanada is still pushing the same dirty tar sands pipeline over the Sandhills, over the Ogallala Aquifer, and endangering Americans' drinking water,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. "They think that if they redraw the map they can fool the people whose land and livelihoods would be threatened by this dangerous pipeline."

A 1,170 mile long pipeline costing $7 billion to construct, from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast, will bring in 830,000 additional barrels of oil per day, create 20,000 jobs, potentially pollute underground water systems and worsen global warming. This is the Keystone Pipeline, and it is one of the major controversies of the 2012 election campaigns.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign is clearly for the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, whereas Democratic nominee Barack Obama holds an interesting stance on the issue. Obama’s energy policy is openly called “all of the above.” His energy policy is considered diversified in interest of increasing production of traditional energy sources such as oil and natural gas while increasing investment in alternative sources such as solar, wind, and hydrogen power.

The Keystone Pipeline was designed to provide a greater volume of oil to refiners from bottleneck sites where oil is being produced more quickly than it can be transported. Currently, oil is transported by trucks and trains, which is potentially dangerous and less efficient than it would be to travel by a pipeline. Environmental concerns involve the impact of potential oil spills into the surrounding area from the pipe, as well as tar sands impact on global warming

In January, President Obama denied a permit to construct the pipeline along a projected route because the administration felt the State Department didn’t have adequate time allotted to study related environmental and safety concerns. Obama said, “the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact.”

A major factor in the pipeline denial was due to issues with constructing the pipeline through Nebraska and its groundwater-rich Sandhills region.

Republicans Blast Obama Stance

This among other stances Obama has had on energy lead Republicans to believe that Obama’s “all of the above” policy is simply a campaigning ‘stunt’ to hold neither side on the issue. Republicans point out Obama stating oil as “the fuel of the past” at a North Carolina campaign stop in March, pledge of windfall profits tax on oil and gas companies for more than 15$ billion a year in 2008, and criminal indictment against Continental Resources oil company, and others, over deaths of a ‘small’  number of migrating birds.

In February, TransCanada, the company looking to create the pipeline, announced plans to build the southern portion of the pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico in order to address a bottleneck effect occurring in Cushing.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the White House welcomed the news of the southern pipeline plans. stating “Moving oil from Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production.” 

On March 21st Obama paid a visit to the Cushing, Oklahoma pipeline site and investigated the conditions there. His visit was said to emphasize his “all of the above” energy policy and strengthen the side of it that supports American oil production. He made an announcement regarding the pipeline that he would expedite construction of the southern portion of the pipeline from Oklahoma. His announcement was made in front of a row of pipes, and green and copper-colored piping segments. “The White House relished the setting and clearly wanted the photo-op,” reported Jeff Mason of Reuters. 

Obama Hails Southern Route

“Today I’m directing my administration to cut through red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority,” Obama said.

Still Republicans view his approval of the southern portion of the pipeline as a ploy to appear to support traditional energy projects. Environmentalists fear if reelected Obama will approve construction of the pipeline, while Republican prediction that Obama will kill the pipeline remain.  Arguments are also that Obama’s announcement at Cushing involving approval of the southern pipeline is just to take credit for its progression which doesn’t require his approval and will have progressed regardless. 

Federal agencies play a role in the approval process and permit allowance; states, however, have a more direct say in approving the route. Republicans consider his approval announcement hype because the project was scheduled to start in June, with or without him.

“The American people can’t afford more half measures on energy from the president,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council said it was “downright foolhardy to cut corners on safety reviews for permitting, especially when the industry has a history of oil spills.”

“This is the energy policy equivalent of admitting to an experiment with marijuana but not inhaling” reported Dan Schnur from the New York Times.

In April TransCanada submitted a new application to the US Government with changes in the route through Nebraska. The proposed new route veers east around the Sandhills region.  Some in Nebraska are reported as still opposed to the plan.

According to the Associated Press, “a senior State Department official said US officials would conduct a thorough review of the new application, with a final decision not expected until early near year – well after the presidential election.”

A Gallup poll showed in March that 57% of Americans back the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, however, 20% follow the issue closely. A Fox News poll also in March showed 67% of registered voters support building the pipeline.

“The most likely outcome is that Canada will still build a pipeline, but rather one that goes westward to the Pacific Ocean north of the United States border and then ships Canadian oil to China instead of into this country,” according to Schnur.

In April it was predicted that as the election pressures become more intense and gas prices rise, the president and administration may accelerate the review process and allow the northern leg of the pipeline to move forward more quickly. However, gas prices are currently in decline and have been for the past five weeks, as reported on Friday by the Huffington Post.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “that day when hundreds of thousands of barrels arrive from Canada is at least a decade away, however, and much of the gasoline refined from Canadian oil would probably be exported, industry analysts say.”

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Lauren Haag is a senior at Ramapo College majoring in Biology.

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