A Vote Smart Guide to the Keystone XL Pipeline

29 March 2013

The Keystone XL Pipeline: it's been dominating headlines for what seems like forever. There have been a number of related speeches and protests, and passion exists on both sides of the issue. But what is it, and why does it matter?

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a proposed extension of the existing Keystone Pipeline. Keystone XL would run on the existing line from Alberta, Canada with the new extension going through Nebraska and on to the Gulf of Mexico. Like the existing pipeline, it would transport crude oil from both Canada and the United States. Though originally proposed in 2008, the project gained national attention in late 2011 when it came up for executive approval.

In November 2011, President Obama announced that he was directing the State Department to look into the feasibility of building the pipeline. Later that month, in a bill extending the payroll tax cut, Congress included language forcing the President to make a decision, either approving or denying the application, within 60 days.

Once those 60 days were up, the President ended up rejecting the pipeline. In his speech, he explained that the imposed deadline prevented a thorough review of the project's merits and drawbacks. But he made clear that was open to its approval in the future.

Congress has tried multiple times to allow the project to proceed without presidential approval. Two pieces of legislation included such language in 2012, though both failed to pass. One House bill sought to automatically grant the proper permits regardless of the President's actions. A subsequent Senate amendment attempted to exempt the project from any further executive review.

Environmentalists and lawmakers like Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have voiced their opposition to the project, particularly to its proposed route. One of their major hangups was that the initially proposed route passed through two environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska: the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer. TransCanada – the company that wants to build the pipeline – revised the route to avoid the Sand Hills and particularly sensitive parts of the Aquifer, and Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R-NE) subsequently lent his support to the project, sending this letter to President Obama.

Recently, a bipartisan group of Senators has urged the President to approve the pipeline too, sending a letter outlining their support for its construction. Another letter urging approval – this one from 145 members of the House from both parties – also made its way to the President's desk.

In addition, a group of Republican Governors – from both states through which the pipeline would pass and and states through which it would not – lent support in a joint letter. Montana's Democratic Governor Steve Bullock also made clear his approval of the pipeline, which includes an on-ramp in the town of Baker, Montana. These legislators and governors believe the project will promote job creation and American energy independence.

But environmental groups, like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, have continued their vocal opposition. They remain concerned about the impacts of the project on climate change and believe that its rejection would send a powerful message about the Obama Administration's commitment to weaning the United States off fossil fuels. Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) expressed such sentiments last August.

President Obama is expected to make another decision on the future of the project sometime soon. Be sure to check for more info and updates.

Related tags: blog, California, key-votes, Montana, Nebraska


William M. Wiest says...

Posted on March 29, 2013 @ 8:31 p.m.

Very helpful review of this matter. Thanks.

Dorothy Duda says...

Posted on March 29, 2013 @ 8:35 p.m.

The pipeline itself would be no problem if it were at least double-walled but triple walled would be better with space between walls and using flexible material in construction allowing for expansion and contraction and not drying out & cracking also flexible material would permit some bending.

I would be happier about the shale oil extraction if a much better process were found for it uses much to much water and wastes it plus destroys the surrounding environment for wild life habitation and plant life as well as human liveability! Find a better way!

Carol Dodson says...

Posted on March 30, 2013 @ 12:33 a.m.

Lest we forget, there are also instances of suspected earthquakes that have occurred as a result of the infusion of underground wastewater from the fracking process. Just this week, there was a report that Oklahoma sustained such an earthquake last year. We seem to be ignoring this very dangerous side effect of fracking.

Theodora B. Crawford says...

Posted on March 30, 2013 @ 12:36 a.m.

Here in California we bemoan the increasing droughts and growing need for water; Water for our agriculture, our homes, our industry and in sufficient quantities to maintain our waterways in healthy condition.

Moreover, we have a serious concern for earthquakes. As headlines show, fracking is creating seismic insecurity and the disregard for our environment, including the ocean, are becoming increasingly toxic.

Californians are determined to produce renewable energy sources and to attempt to curtail global warming. That politicians chose to ignore these huge issues in order to line their own pockets short term is to condemn our country and our planet to extinction...and it happening much faster then science has been predicting.

Raymond O'Neil says...

Posted on March 30, 2013 @ 3:34 a.m.

From the first WW onward, our nation's Middle East policies have been dominated by the need for oil. At last we have, with Canada, a chance to free ourselves to pursue the interest of the world's poor and suffering instead of the well being of petro-oligarchs.

The phyxical enviroment compels careful attention to pipeline construction standards, remedial standards for oil extraction and refineries, oil tanker standards, and many such matters. But ooil will be in our future for decades to come, and we do not need to be subservient to OPEC and such in order to meet our needs.

The moral environment compels us to liberate the world from Middle East dominance.

loco mojo says...

Posted on March 30, 2013 @ 7:07 a.m.

Most of the oil carried by the XL will be refined into diesel and jetfuel,then exported to Europe, China, and Latin America--not for American gas tanks. Valero, Total, and Motiva, have already rejiggered their Port Arthur refineries to make diesel and jet fuel, nearly all of which will be piped into tankers and sent abroad. In presentations to investors, Valero openly and proudly touts it's export strategy, even showing world maps with arrows pointing from Port Arthur to it's foreign customers.

Mike Alston says...

Posted on March 30, 2013 @ 1:29 p.m.

Excellent points made on the use of potable water for oil extraction and the potential for increased earthquakes. Beyond those concerns, however, I hope the politicians will do some research on the Hubbert peak. If we continue to put our trust in the oil industry at the expense of research into alternate, renewable fuel sources, we will inevitably hit a point at which it will take more energy to extract oil than is actually contained in the oil itself. This won't happen tomorrow, but it will happen. Continuing to allow our energy policy to be dominated by oil will almost certainly leave us behind other countries who have more comprehensive policies.

Pat Fletcher says...

Posted on March 31, 2013 @ 7:27 a.m.

Aside from the environmental damage the extraction is doing to Alberta, aside from the environmental damage extracting this oil is causing (more BTUs to extract it than it can produce), aside from the overall environmental damage using it will cause, aside from its being aimed at the export market where more money can be earned -- am i the only one who noticed the pipeline spills in the news recently?

Pat Fletcher says...

Posted on March 31, 2013 @ 7:29 a.m.

Last week, at Willard Bay State Park, an 8-inch pipeline ruptured spilling diesel into the marshes. It was Chevron's third pipeline leak in Utah in the last three years. Federal officials believe a beaver dam stopped the leak from reaching wildlife in Willard Bay. As of Wednesday, March 20, Chevron officials said they don't yet know what caused the pipeline to rupture. [KSL Television]

This past Monday, federal regulators proposed $1.7 million in civil penalties against Exxon Mobil Corp. for safety violations linked to a pipeline rupture that spilled an estimated 63,000 gallons of crude oil into Montana's scenic Yellowstone River. The July 2011 rupture of the 12-inch pipeline under the river near Laurel fouled 70 miles of the Yellowstone River's banks, killing fish and wildlife and prompting a massive, months-long cleanup. Investigators chalked up the immediate cause to floodwaters that damaged the line and left it exposed. It ruptured under pressure from debris washing downriver. [AP]

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