Will Environmentalists Kill the Keystone XL Pipeline?

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For more than four years, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline has been at the center of a heated battle between opponents and supporters.

Those who favor the 1,700-mile extension of the pipeline see it as a step toward North American energy independence and a source of tens of thousands of jobs.

But opponents say the Canadian-U.S pipeline would contribute to global warming and causeirreparable harm to the environment.

On Wednesday, about 50 opponents protested against the Keystone pipeline outside the White House, chanting, "Hey, Obama, we don't want no climate change drama."

The protesters, many of whom were arrested, included actress Daryl Hannah, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, renowned climate scientist James E. Hansen and civil rights veteran Julian Bonds.

Underscoring the intensity of environmentalists' opposition to the pipeline, the protest marked the first time the venerable, 120-year-old Sierra Club's board had approved an act of civil disobedience.

"It's awful hard to reconcile wanting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the dirtiest oil project in the country," Brune said. "The president gets this, he understands this challenge, and we're here to ensure his ambitions rise to the level of the challenge."

The Fate of the Keystone Pipeline

The battle over the $7 billion pipeline pits environmentalists against supporters, who include business and labor groups and congressional Republicans.

Supporters say the Keystone pipeline would generate $20 billion in private-sector investments in the U.S., create 20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 spinoff jobs and pay about $5 billion in taxes to local counties over the lifespan of the project.

The AFL-CIO said the delay has dragged on long enough.

After the protest Wednesday, Sean McGarvey, the AFL-CIO's president of building and construction trades, said the federation would increase its lobbying efforts to try to persuade President Obama to give the pipeline the green light.

"I expect the labor federation in the next couple weeks to come out affirmatively in support of the pipeline," McGarvey said.

The fate of the Keystone pipeline rests with U.S. President Barack Obama, who must issue a permit for it.

The president had rejected TransCanada's permit application last year, maintaining the administration didn't have enough time to fully weigh the costs and benefits of the project.

But President Obama likely postponed a ruling on the pipeline until after the 2012 election to appease the bloc of "green" voters who support him.

Environmentalists were none too pleased when Obama didn't mention the keystone pipeline when he spoke about climate change in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Is the president warming up to the Keystone pipeline or will he ultimately stop it?

We should know soon which way the Obama administration is leaning.

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird last week to discuss Keystone and said a decision would be made in the "near term."

The State Department, which has jurisdiction over the Keystone permit, is to release an environmental impact assessment of the pipeline within the next few weeks.

Is Pipeline Opposition Waning?

While Wednesday's White House protest garnered widespread attention, it paled in comparison to demonstrations against the pipeline in 2011 in which more than 1,000 people turned out.

The low turnout at the latest protest suggests some environmentalists might feel like they are losing the fight.

The original Keystone XL pipeline, which has been operating since 2010, is a 2,151-mile pipeline transporting Canadian crude oil to Cushing, OK, the Midwest oil hub. The extension would pass through North Dakota and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Texas.

Read more Money Morning coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline.

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  1. John K | February 14, 2013

    Actually, the day of the march around the White House is set for this Sunday, Feb. 17th, noon, which is President's Day. No, we are not discoraged at all and expect not the 1,000 you in error reported (it was actually 10,000), but 15,000! This latest event was just a primer for this weekend.
    This project has to be stopped and the president has to show he is serious about this issue but rejecting it.

  2. Jackie H. | February 15, 2013

    This can't go on. Fossil fuels are killing us. Four months after Sandy, Americans are shivering in NY. Tar sands and similar alterate fuels have such a large carbon footprint it is folly to persue. Additionally, once these projects are in place, they are there for a long, long time.

    If Obama had any foresight, he would have taken us on a fossil fuel free course instead of throwing up the stale cap and trade industry friendly approach. He says climate change is real, but I don't think he gets it.

    Sorry if I appear radical, but I'm a grey haired old lady who knows folly when she sees it.

  3. Oscar A | February 15, 2013

    The president got the environmentalist vote. Now he will approve the pipeline. He did the same with the GMO labeling, promised to push it in the first campaign and never talked about it again. I am bullish on the pipeline based on this president record.

  4. steve | February 15, 2013

    They should inspect the pipeline thoroughly. Currently the pipes going into the ground are full of holes from poor welding. It's going to leak like a sieve, exactly one of the points that the environmentalists make.

  5. Rich | February 15, 2013

    Thanks to fracking technology, our own crude oil production is ramping up exponentially and we are absolutely awash in natural gas. We have so much we can't even store it now. We don't need a pipeline to Canada because we don't need their oil anymore. We pipelines within this country to take the N. Dakota oil down to the Louisiana and other refineries. If we can get energy independent and also start exporting natural gas, then there may be more money for other environmental efforts.

  6. Bob Park | February 15, 2013

    Why don't you forbid and protest things like Mt. St Hellens erupting ? That was quite a bit of polution.

  7. Andy | February 15, 2013

    Banning the pipeline won't change global warming or CO2 emmissions, the oil will still be produced, in the oilsands, but it will be sold to other markets.

    At least it is produced in a country that protects human rights!

    The question is only do you want to have the benefits, or see them go elsewhere. Meanwhile the really dirty coal fired powerstations carry on unchecked. Why? because of jobs and votes.

  8. Jeff Pluim | February 15, 2013

    Most reputable scientists have backed off of the term "Global Warming". That is because the earth goes through cycles of warming and cooling, without the help of humans. All we are doing is possibly accelerating the process with our oil industries and spin-offs. Millions of years ago the entire planet was tropical or subtropical. So all of the fuss about Canada's oil doesn't really amount to a hill of beans. And if the United States does not approve the Keystone XL pipeline, do the environmentalists really think that that will change anything as far as the environment goes? Canada will simply export the oil to China or Europe. Since the delay of the XL, Canada has pretty well sped up the approval of sending the Alberta oil across Canada via pipeline to the east coast where Canada's largest oil refinery is. And eventually two other pipelines to the west coast will be approved. So America may stop the oil and jobs going to the United States, but that will not stop the oil from flowing elsewhere. And what effect do you think that vetoing the XL will have on trade relations with America's largest trading partner, Canada? Right now I think that America needs all of the friends it can get, especially when it comes to trade.

  9. R baccus | February 15, 2013

    We have protestors here also and I belive in protesting our government. But the irony–ask how these protestors got here. How Gore traels the wolrd. How the Administration travels. Do any of them walk to get there. What powers their many phones, Air conditioners, private jets, 200 million cars, computers, tv's ect. Their very physical existance(food-transportation) wea;lth and standard of living goes back to a well named spindletop in Texas. Our wealth in earnegy is responsible for 4-5 billion peopleliving today. I spent all my life in responsible production of natural resources—Think conservation and not preservation. That was a respectable and popular word in my youth. I think it has been replaced redicalism and reactionism.

  10. Jamie Henn | February 16, 2013

    As some others have pointed out, you've got the numbers wrong on protesters. Wednesday's event was intentionally limited to 50 environmental leaders, civil rights luminaries, and people from communities impacted by the pipeline or climate change. In fact — more people than ever are joining the campaign against Keystone XL. Our rally against the pipeline last November 6, 2011 brought around 15,000 people to Washington to protest the project. This Sunday, we're expecting more than 20,000 people — in the dead of February — to rally on the mall against the pipeline. Keystone XL opponents have never felt more momentum building agains the project.

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