News / Science & Technology

Obama Faces Decision About Controversial Pipeline

Rosanne Skirble
President Barack Obama must soon decide the fate of a controversial pipeline that has been stalled by environmental concerns.

The TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline is an extention to a pipeline that would carry over 800,000 barrels per day of heavy tar sands oil 3,000 kilometers from Canada through the American midwest to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The pipeline is finished except for the leg that crosses the U.S.-Canada border, which requires the president's signature.   

New route

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
x
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
The pipeline was originally planned to run across a major aquifer, putting the water supply for millions at risk. Now TransCanada is back with a new route.

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest," Obama said in a speech last June. "And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."
 
The president made those remarks at the launch of his Climate Action Plan, a move to reduce America's contribution to increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere. 
The Keystone pipeline under construction in David City, Nebraska. (Courtesy TransCanada)The Keystone pipeline under construction in David City, Nebraska. (Courtesy TransCanada)
“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward," Obama said. "It’s relevant.” 

The pipeline would carry over 800,000 barrels of heavy tar sands oil a day. Opponents say mining tar sands uses vast amounts of energy and water and produces much more pollution than conventional oil.

Environmental concerns

Anthony Swift is an energy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which opposes the pipeline. He says oil from tar sands would generate 240 million metric tons of carbon -- the equivalent of putting five million more cars on the road.

“The whole point of Keystone XL is to get tar sands through the U.S. to the Gulf coast where it can be refined and exported internationally," Swift said. "So, you’re left with increased carbon emissions, risk to our farms and our water sources along the route for very little benefit because it really is an export pipeline.”

But others, like Sabrina Fang at the American Petroleum Institute, disagree. She points to recent polls that show the majority of Americans support the project. She says the pipeline makes good economic sense and won’t put the environment at risk.

“We don’t know why it has been complicated and politicized," she said. "But we are hoping that with this New Year, the president will look at all the facts of this project and see that it will be safe to build.  It will be safe to operate and it will create jobs.  And, his own State Department has already said that it is safe to build in four previous environmental reviews. And we don’t expect anything different from this fifth one.”
Protestors gather at the National Mall in Washington calling on President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, as well as act to limit carbon pollution from power plants and “move beyond” coal and natural gas, Feb. 17, 2013.Protestors gather at the National Mall in Washington calling on President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, as well as act to limit carbon pollution from power plants and “move beyond” coal and natural gas, Feb. 17, 2013.
A draft environmental impact statement released by the State Department last March concluded the pipeline would not significantly harm the environment. 

However, Swift says 1.2 million people registered their opposition to those findings. 

“We know that the impacts of tar sands spills are far more significant than conventional crude spills," he said. "We found that in Mayflower, Arkansas, and Kalamazoo, Michigan, where a tar sands spill of 800,000 gallons [3 million liters] cost over a billion dollar to clean. In fact the Kalamazoo River, over three years after that spill, is still contaminated with tar sands.”

Presidential approval 

Oil industry executives are confident that safeguards will minimize such spills. Fang predicts Obama will approve it.

“I think the president, when he looks at this final review, which we expect will mirror the last four reviews saying this is safe to build, I don’t see how he can say that this is not in the nation’s interest to get this pipeline built,” she said.  

That worries Anthony Swift. 

“What's at stake here is our climate future," he said. "In a large degree, the Keystone XL is a decision on whether we continue pushing increasingly dirty energy sources or move toward clean alternatives.”

Obama will make his decision after a final State Department review.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More