Obama leaves Keystone XL pipeline in limbo

by | Jan 30, 2014 | News

Pipelines in Alberta await installation. Photo courtesy of Loozrboy via Flickr.

Pipelines in Alberta await installation. Photo courtesy of Loozrboy via Flickr.

By Jonathan Rumley

The Keystone XL pipeline is a lot like a couple’s dream vacation that often gets talked about but never gets booked. Canada wants it to happen but the United States has other priorities.

These priorities were on display Tuesday evening during U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. Although energy was a major topic, there was no mention of the proposed pipeline throughout his entire 65-minute speech.

“TransCanada has a leak right now in Manitoba, it had a pipeline explode, would you want that running through five states if you were the president?” Blake Lambert, Humber College politics professor, told Humber News.

A massive natural gas explosion 50 km south of Winnipeg has left approximately 4,000 people without heat for several days in frigid Manitoba. TransCanada said they are still determining the cause of the fire, which has been Manitoba’s fifth pipeline blast in the past 20 years.

VIDEO: TransCanada natural gas pipeline explosion on Jan. 25, 2014, in Otterburne, Manitoba.

Lambert’s point is clear; TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline has many inherent risks. How can TransCanada ensure the safety of a cross-continental pipeline when they can’t even prevent a major explosion in the sparsely populated Canadian prairies?

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline seeks to link the Alberta oil sands with several U.S. states extending to the Gulf of Mexico. Millions to billions of barrels can be distributed and sold by the pipeline but only if the president of the United States approves it.

“He’s treading a careful path. He’s not saying no, he’s not saying yes. He’s trying to figure out what’s in his country’s best interest,” Lambert explained.

After the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, Obama has appeared reluctant to make a decision on any energy project that has the potential to create an environment disaster that would tarnish his presidency.

“When our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did,” Obama said.

Obama’s conflicted energy policy

Politico’s Darren Goode said Obama wants it both ways. The president acknowledged that climate change is a fact while announcing the United States produced more oil last year than they bought from the rest of the world.

This complex energy policy illustrates the conflicting opinion amongst Americans.

The New York Times reported last Friday that U.S. oil consumption rose by a record 992,000 barrels per day. It was the first time since 1999 that American consumption increased more rapidly than in the rest of the world.

Despite the statistics that show America’s dependency on oil, there are still naysayers when it comes to the Keystone XL.

“There are lots of people in the U.S. who don’t want this pipeline to be built,” said Lambert.

One of those groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council, encourages Americans to oppose the pipeline. “Tar sands oil is the dirtiest on the planet,” according to NRDC’s website.

“Is it in the national interest to have this pipeline? I don’t think the case is sealed on that. I think Canada would say it is, but I don’t think it is for Canada.”

Many in the energy sector have articulated the benefits of a pipeline.

“I would certainly emphasize that a pipeline is a much safer and reliable way of transporting any kind of oil than rail,” Roger McKnight of En-Pro International told 660 News. “Rail is just a pipeline on wheels and an accident waiting to happen.”

Obama encouraged Americans to find and develop new sources of energy within the U.S. and wean themselves off their foreign oil dependency.

Canada wants an answer

“One politician — the president of the United States — can say yes to a great project to create jobs on both sides of the border, help with energy independence and energy security,” said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird during his visit to Washington on Jan. 15. Baird publicly stated that it was decision time for Obama.

The Canadian government’s strong inclination to get the deal approved has not made the U.S. move any quicker on a decision.

“I don’t think anybody should have the idea that the Obama administration and the Harper administration are bosom buddies; clearly, they’re not,” said Lambert.

U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, told Baird that the American public has many questions about the project.

These questions may never be answered, and with environmental disasters like this week’s oil explosion in Manitoba, more questions may arise.

The fact remains that the Keystone XL pipeline is merely a proposal at the moment. Obama has already rejected a similar proposal two years ago amidst protests from environmentalists.

The latest proposal revealed by TransCanada one year ago aims to “minimize the disturbance of land, water resources and special areas” has yet to receive a positive response from the U.S. government.

Obama told Congress to make 2014 “a year of action.” He continued, “America does not stand still, and neither will I.”

Ironically, where things stand now, the Keystone XL pipeline has no action because the president is standing still.

The dream vacation Canada desperately wants is currently just that: a dream.

LISTEN: Humber College politics professor Blake Lambert speaks about Obama’s stance on the Keystone XL pipeline.