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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid