Keystone oil sands pipeline: Obama's hot potato

12-23-2011 // Steve Hargreaves - CNNMoney

This excerpt is from CNN Money

Now that a congressional tax deal has been reached President Obama has one more tough call to make. He has 60 days to either approve or reject the controversial Keystone oil sands pipeline expansion project which has dogged his administration.

While that sounds fairly straight forward, like much in Washington it's not.

Obama, who was originally expected to green light the 1,700-mile long pipeline slated to carry crude from Canada's oil sands region in Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast, last month postponed a decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 election.

The president cited problems with the pipeline's route, which took it over a major aquifer in Nebraska and sparked opposition from even Republican lawmakers in that state. But analysts said the move was mostly political, with the administration bowing to pressure from environmental groups which don't want the pipeline built at all.

Thursday's move by Congress is a Republican attempt to force the president's hand before the election. He either has to approve the pipeline and alienate his environmental base, or reject it and explain to voters why the nation doesn't need 700,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude.


Reject the project: This is what environmentalists want and they cite a list of reasons why the pipeline should be turned down.

They say the jobs numbers are bunk, pointing to studies form the State Department that predict 6,000 jobs and one from Cornell saying it will actually cost jobs as it will stifle the green economy.

They say the pipeline could leak, or that the crude from Canada would be exported to Europe or China.

But mostly they are concerned over the environmental effects of developing the oil sands themselves.

Much of the oil sands are mined like coal in giant open pits that result in water pollution and deforestation. Companies that operate in the oil sands, including ExxonMobil (XOM, Fortune 500), BP (BP) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA), have gotten better at mitigating these impacts, but problems remain.

And because oil sands are just that -- sand mixed with oil -- the oil needs to be separated out, requiring massive amounts of energy and leaving an overall greenhouse gas footprint 5% to 30% greater than conventional oil.

"I am confident that President Obama will stand up to big oil and reject this dangerous and unnecessary pipeline," the National Wildlife Federation's Jeremy Symons wrote in a blog post Thursday.

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