November 11, 2011

Pipeline Controversy

A major project has been put on hold over environmental concerns.

Shelby: There has been a lot of protests in Washington over a plan to build an oil pipeline. The Keystone oil pipeline would run 1,700 miles underground from western Canada across six states down to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Supporters say it could create up to 20,000 jobs.

“This pipeline is not just a pipeline; it’s a lifeline for many of our members.”

Shelby: Protestors say it will be an environmental disaster.

“What the major oil companies are doing now is they are going after the more expensive, more destructive, more risky forms of oil.”

Shelby: Canada’s oil sands — or tar sands, depending on your point of view — are booming. There is 170 billion barrels of oil here. In fact, only Venezuela and Saudi Arabia have more than Canada. Oil here, though, does not flow. It is mixed up with sand and is hard to extract. Some of it is mined in massive open pits using some of the biggest earth-moving equipment in the world.

But most of Canada’s oil sands are too deep to dig up, so they use steam to get it out. It looks nothing like the open pit mines. Here, pipes replace excavators and trucks. Think of them as straws in the ground. Steam is used to cook the ground, separating the oil from the sand. Then it is pumped to the surface where the oil is separated from the water. But steaming oil out of the ground creates the most earth-warming greenhouse gas. Critics call it the dirtiest oil on the planet.

“Yes, it will create jobs: welders, pipe-fitters will be employed to build this thing. But in the process it’s going to further addict America to the dirtiest petroleum fuel known to man — tar sands.”

Shelby: American cars and trucks already are burning gas made from Canada’s oil sands. In fact, we import more oil from Canada by far than from any other country in the world. Trans Canada says they just want to send more.

“We have gone through a three-year thorough review of this pipeline project — probably the most rigorous environmental review I’ve ever been through in my career.  The conclusion of that is the pipeline would have limited impact on the environment.”

Shelby: Politically, it is a tough spot for President Obama. The controversy pits major labor unions against environmentalists, two groups that are important and could help the president’s reelection bid.

The Obama administration is preparing to delay a decision on the pipeline while it looks into an alternate route. This should push any action on the plan past the 2012 election.


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