The last week of September marked the start of a series of public hearings in six U.S. states about the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline. The $7 billion pipeline would move tar-sands derived crude oil from Alberta, Canada through Kansas, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Keystone XL is a project of Calgary-based TransCanada Corporation. The company announced in August that the U.S. Department of State had issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) reaffirming the environmental integrity of the pipeline.
Quoted in an August 26, 2011 press release from TransCanada, Russ Girling, company president and CEO said, “Today’s Final Environmental Impact Statement continues to demonstrate the focus on safety and the environment that has gone into the development of this critical North American pipeline.” According to TransCanada, the environmental review process for the pipeline was one of the most detailed completed by the Department of State, taking approximately three years to complete.
But environmental groups in several states organized rallies to protest Keystone XL, challenging the integrity of the FEIS as well as unacceptable risks of oil spills, and increased dependence on a dirty form of energy. A final decision on the project by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected by the end of this year. A positive ruling would give TransCanada permission to cross the Canadian-U.S. border with the 1,700-mile pipeline. Supporters of Keystone XL include the governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback, a Republican who applauded the construction jobs already created in his state by the building of the section of pipeline that was completed in Kansas last February. At two public meetings held in Texas in September, refinery workers and other union members were also positive about the project, noting its potential to create thousands of much-needed jobs along its route.
Opponents of the project include the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biological Diversity—which believes the pipeline could harms several endangered species including the whooping crane, least tern, and the burying beetle—and the National Wildlife Federation. At the state level, Nebraska’s governor, is protesting Keystone XL because it will cross the Ogallala aquifer, the key source of fresh water to the Central U.S. Most of the proposed pipeline would be buried underneath the aquifer, but in some places it would be located several feet above the aquifer. Nebraska state senator, Ken Haar, plans to introduce a bill that would put the state in charge of pipeline regulation rather than the federal government. If the bill passes, Nebraska could request that TransCanada must reroute the pipeline, leading to more delays.
In Kansas, Rabbi Moti Rieber, speaking on behalf of the Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, led a rally organized by the National Wildlife Federation and spoke out about reasons why the Obama administration shouldn’t place a greater value on temporary construction jobs than the long-term health of a planet already being polluted by the burning of fossil fuels.
On September 28th, a study by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute questioned the claims by TransCanada and others that Keystone XL will promote new jobs. The study shows that the budget for the project is closer to $3 or $4 billion, meaning fewer jobs than promoted. In a press release from the Cornell Global Labor Institute, Lara Skinner associate director of research, said, “The company’s claim that Keystone XL will create 20,000 direct construction and manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is unsubstantiated. There is strong evidence to suggest that a large portion of the primary material input for KXL—steel pipe—will not even be produced in the U.S.”