Democrats defeat bill to build controversial oil pipeline from Canada to US

Daily News Article   —   Posted on November 20, 2014

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Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., chair of the Senate energy committee, spoke Nov. 12 about getting congressional approval for the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline. With her is Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a member of the committee.

(Associated Press at Daily Telegraph) – The Democrat-controlled Senate narrowly defeated a bill Tuesday to approve a controversial pipeline from Canada to the US, a massive project at the center of a fierce environmental dispute.

Republicans, fresh from sweeping midterm election victories, vowed take up the legislation again next year, when they will control both chambers of the new Congress that takes office in January.

The Senate voted 59-41 in favor of the legislation, but it needed 60 votes to reach the White House. The Republican-controlled House had passed it overwhelmingly last week.

The Keystone XL pipeline has divided Democrats, with President Barack Obama opposing the measure and signaling Tuesday that he would veto the bill if it cleared Congress.

Keystone-pipeline-routeThe project would move oil from Canada into the United States and eventually to the Gulf Coast. Supporters say it would create jobs and ease American dependence on Middle East oil. A government environmental impact statement also predicts that a pipeline would result in less damage to the climate than moving the same oil by rail.

Critics argue that the drilling itself is environmentally harmful, and said much of the Canadian crude would be exported with little or no impact on America’s drive for energy stability.

Delays in approving the pipeline have caused friction between the US and Canada, which needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production.

The languishing legislation suddenly received new life this month as both parties hoped to boost their prospects in a runoff election in oil-rich Louisiana state for the last unresolved Senate seat from the November 4 midterm elections.

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is facing an uphill battle to keep her seat in the runoff next month, had pushed for the vote and beseeched fellow Democrats to support the pipeline, ultimately coming up one vote short.

NOTE:  The State Department has the permitting authority for the Keystone XL pipeline project because it crosses an international border, and the secretary of state must determine whether the project is “in the national interest.” This is why the President has the final say.

An Associated Press report. Reprinted here from London’s Daily Telegraph for educational purposes only.  May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Daily Telegraph.

Questions

NOTE: Read the “Background” and “Resources” before answering the questions.

1. How many U.S. senators voted for/against authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday?

2. a) What is the Keystone XL? Be specific.
b) What are the arguments for/against the construction of the pipeline?

3. a) Who is for/against the project?
b) What did a government environmental impact statement say about the pipeline?

4. Why might the Keystone XL possibly be authorized in 2015?

5. Why was this project brought to a vote at this time?

6. With which Democratic Senators do you agree: those who opposed authorizing the pipeline but voted for it to help fellow Democrat Mary Landrieu or those who opposed its authorization and did not vote for it, even to help fellow Democrat Mary Landrieu get re-elected in a run-off election? Explain your answer.


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Background

From a Bloomberg News editorial posted 9/26/11:

  • In deciding whether to allow Keystone XL to run through six American states, the only relevant question is whether it would be safe. The State Department, with help from the Environmental Protection Agency, has studied the risks. It has determined that, as long as TransCanada complies with all laws and regulations, builds Keystone XL properly and operates it safely (although some minor spills would be expected), the pipeline would have “no significant impacts” on wetlands, water supplies or wildlife along its route.
  • Keep in mind, the U.S. is crisscrossed by thousands of miles of pipelines carrying crude oil, liquid petroleum and natural gas. One of these is the Keystone 1 pipeline, which already carries crude from the oil sands. Yes, these pipes sometimes leak — spectacularly last year when almost 850,000 gallons of oil spilled from a ruptured pipe in Michigan. Far more often, when leaks occur, they are small and self-contained.
  • Pipeline opponents have implied that if the U.S. doesn’t buy Canada’s oil, then companies will be discouraged from developing the oil sands. But it’s unrealistic to assume that the oil couldn’t be sold elsewhere. Yes, today’s business plan calls for sending most of it south — some 700,000 barrels a day through Keystone XL. If the U.S. blocks that conduit, though, we can reasonably expect that another pipeline would be built to Canada’s west coast, where the oil could be sent by tanker to China and elsewhere.

From the New York Times posted Nov. 14, 2014:

Q. What is the Keystone XL pipeline?

A. The Keystone oil pipeline system is designed to carry up to 830,000 barrels of petroleum per day from the oil sands of boreal forests in western Canada to oil refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast. About half of the system is already built, including a pipeline that runs east from Alberta and south through North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. The State Department is now reviewing a proposed 1,179-mile addition to the pipeline, the Keystone XL, a shortcut that would start in Hardisty, Alberta, and diagonally bisect Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. From Steele City, Neb., the addition would connect to existing pipelines to the Gulf Coast.

Q. Who wants to build it?

A. The Canadian company TransCanada initially proposed the pipeline in 2005 and applied to the State Department for a construction permit in 2008.

Q. What are the arguments in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline?

A. The pipeline would be a job creator, although most of those jobs would be temporary. The State Department environmental review estimated that Keystone would support 42,000 temporary jobs over its two-year construction period — about 3,900 of them in construction, the rest in indirect support jobs, such as food service. It estimated that it would create about 35 permanent jobs.
–read an alternative view: instituteforenergyresearch.org/analysis/an-economic-analysis-of-keystone-xl

The report estimated that building the pipeline would contribute about $3.4 billion to the American economy.

The State Department review concluded that even if the pipeline were not built, global oil demand is such that companies would continue to develop the Alberta oil sands and bring the petroleum to market in other ways. The oil could come by rail or by building other pipelines. But moving oil by rail has its own hazards. As transport has increased in recent years, so have explosions of rail cars carrying oil.

Building the pipeline would also help provide a conduit for oil from a friendly ally, Canada, and cement trade relations for the United States and Canada.

Q. Would blocking Keystone XL help stop climate change?

A. Most experts say no. The additional emissions produced by extracting the oil are not, in and of themselves, a major contributor to climate change.

In 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive international data is available, the global economy emitted 32.6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. The United States was responsible for 5.5 billion tons of that (coming in second to China, which emitted 8.7 billion tons). Within the United States, electric power plants produced 2.8 billion tons of those greenhouse gases, while vehicle tailpipe emissions from burning gasoline produced 1.9 billion tons.

By comparison, the oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline would add 18.7 million more metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere annually than would be produced by conventional oil, according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency. In other words, those added carbon emissions would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.