The other day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to offload the decision on whether to go forward with the Keystone XL pipeline on the State Department. But President Obama himself was asked about the pipeline in a local news interview last night, and he took full responsibility for making the decision. In doing so, he related a full understanding of the public health risks, though he limited that to the immediate risks of a pipeline spill, rather than the extraction and burning of tar sands oil in general.
The State Department’s in charge of analyzing this, because there’s a pipeline coming in from Canada. They’ll be giving me a report over the next several months, and, you know, my general attitude is, what is best for the American people? What’s best for our economy both short term and long term? But also, what’s best for the health of the American people? Because we don’t want for examples aquifers, they’re adversely affected, folks in Nebraska obviously would be directly impacted, and so we want to make sure we’re taking the long view on these issues.
We need to encourage domestic oil and natural gas production. We need to make sure that we have energy security and aren’t just relying on Middle East sources. But there’s a way of doing that and still making sure that the health and safety of the American people and folks in Nebraska are protected, and that’s how I’ll be measuring these recommendations when they come to me.
The interviewer with KETV-TV in Omaha went on to ask whether the jobs gained from the pipeline would “play into the equation,” and Obama said:
It does, but I think folks in Nebraska like all across the country aren’t going to say to themselves, “We’ll take a few thousand jobs if it means that our kids are potentially drinking water that would damage their health or rich land that’s so important to agriculture in Nebraska are being adversely affected” because those create jobs, and you know when somebody gets sick that’s a cost that the society has to bear as well. So these are all things that you have to take a look at when you make these decisions.
This is definitely encouraging, though as I said, it looks at the problem from a NIMBY standpoint rather than the main idea that burning tar sands oil is, as Bill McKibben put it over the weekend, the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet. Climate scientist James Hansen has said that if the pipeline goes through, the climate will basically never be stabilized. That’s the larger problem, though obviously the risk to the Ogalalla aquifer is a factor as well. Keep in mind that Obama actually won the single electoral vote in the Omaha area in Nebraska, and probably wants to win it again.
Joe Romm reports that TransCanada, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall on Obama’s decision, suggested that they may go ahead with a route through Canada to Asian markets for the tar sands oil.
Executives at Alberta-based TransCanada Corp., which has enlisted the oil and gas industry’s lobbying muscle to help surmount environmentalist push-back against XL, walked a fine line on the fate of the pipeline during a third-quarter earnings call. As they reiterated earlier expectations of a State Department decision on the Canada-to-U.S. oil link by year’s end, the TransCanada officials noted that whether a further delay would scotch the project depends on commitments with shippers.
While there are sunset clauses in those shipping contracts for Keystone XL, TransCanada pipelines President Alex Pourbaix said today, “As long as we receive our approval … we do not expect our shippers to rely on those sunset provisions any time in the near future.”
At the moment, TransCanada executives noted, their customers lack an alternative method to ship Canadian oil sands crude that approaches the scale of the $7 billion XL link. But “if the administration delays the project long enough,” Pourbaix posited, those shippers “are not going to support us anymore.”
Obviously, the Canadian government would have to approve that. And it may just be a bluff to get the US to give in. The superior option for refining is to route the pipeline to Texas.