What is the Keystone XL Project?1
More than 70 environmental groups called on President Obama to take the lead on climate change this week, urging him to shut down aging power plants and block a controversial tar sands pipeline project, Keystone XL. In their open letter, they reminded Obama of his promise to act on climate change during his second term.
What is Keystone XL?
The Keystone XL pipeline is a project headed by TransCanada Corp. The proponents of the pipeline plan for it will to transport Canadian tar-sands crude oil to Gulf Coast refineries. More specifically, it will cross from northeastern Alberta, Canada into multiple destinations in the United States, which include refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and proposed connections to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
What has been happening in the past with Keystone XL?
With Canadian regulatory approval received from the National Energy Board (NEB) in 2010, the Keystone XL Pipeline saga began, waiting for approval from US regulators, namely President Obama. Because the route crosses international borders, TransCanada needs a presidential permit from the State Department to construct the pipeline.
January 2012, Obama rejected the proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline on federal land. He delayed a decision on the pipeline, citing environmental concerns over the pipeline’s planned route near a major aquifer and the Sandhills in Nebraska. The State Department announced it will not approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in its current form but would allow TransCanada to re-apply once it has devised a new route avoiding sensible ecosystems.
March 2012, a GOP-led bill (amendment to approve Keystone XL in the transportation bill) sought to speed up the construction, but that was rejected by the Senate. The US State Department announced that they would wait until after the 2012 election to make a decision of whether or not to go through with the controversial project.
May 2012 TransCanada rerouted its proposed path and submits a new application with a modified route through Nebraska.
December 2012, an appeals court in Texas ruled that TransCanada, could in fact use eminent domain to seize land for the construction of the pipeline. Via eminent domain, TransCanada has been able to etch out the pipeline’s path, settling with private landowners and their condemnation lawyers along the way.
January 2013, the final review of the pipeline found that the new proposed route avoids sensitive regions that have been a source of environmental concern, removing a major barrier to the project’s receiving final approval from President Obama.
The Keystone XL controversy
First and foremost, the primary Keystone XL concerns are environmental. In addition to worrying about potential spills, environmental groups are concerned about the product the pipeline will carry – an unconventional oil known as oil sands, a thick and heavy oil that is often mined. It has to be diluted with other hydrocarbons to move it through a pipeline. And according to environmentalists, the extraction of the oil from the tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does.
It is clear that environmental concerns are only part of the controversy that has been brewing over the Keystone pipeline. To build such a massive project through the heartland of North America, TransCanada has slowly been acquiring property rights to build each section of the pipeline, sometimes employing state power to overtake private property through eminent domain, and paying property owners through condemnation compensation. Landowners are generally not happy with this order.
President Obama has yet to state his decision on whether or not the pipeline can connect to Canada, going over country borders, to bring oil from Alberta to the Gulf region.
TransCanada, however, says it is confident the US will eventually grant permission to build the pipeline. It plans to begin construction in 2013 and hopes to have the pipeline up and running by early 2015. TransCanada has already begun building the southern portion of Keystone, now called the Gulf Coast project.
Despite what the company or environmentalists say, the decision lays in President Obama’s hands.