WASHINGTON – Environmental advocates told a Senate panel that approval of the Keystone XL pipeline would be “catastrophic,” while supporters argued that energy independence is especially critical as Russia wields a heavier hand in the world.
Lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee mainly rehashed many of the same political arguments on the issue. Democrats mostly expressed opinions opposing the pipeline, while Republicans argued the case for building the pipeline is, as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) put it, “clear and compelling.”
The proposed 875-mile pipeline would link Morgan, Mont., at the Canadian border to Steele City, Neb., and ultimately link up with other pipelines that would carry the oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It would have a capacity of 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada and the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota and Montana.
Veteran climatologist James Hansen, formerly of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, called tar sands the world’s “dirtiest fuel” and said that Keystone would drive further development of the tar sands in Canada.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said that transporting tar sand oils by rail or through pipelines is not safe, noting that any spill would be “catastrophic.”
“The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would cut through more than a thousand miles of American farms and ranches, carrying oil that is more toxic, corrosive, difficult to clean up, and more carbon intensive all the way to the Gulf, where most of the oil would be exported,” he said.
Brune cited research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), advising that in order to keep global warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit the world should not tap into fossil fuel reserves underground, particularly the most carbon-intensive fuel sources, such as the tar sands in Canada.
“The choice is not whether to accept increased risk through rail…or pipeline, but whether to take this oil out of the ground to begin with,” he said.
Supporters of Keystone testifying before the committee framed their national interest argument around energy security and economic opportunity.
Ret. Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, president of the Jones Group International, said the energy abundance in Mexico and Canada provides North America with the opportunity to become an “energy hub.”
Jones said the pipeline approval decision would be “a litmus test of whether the United States is serious about national and energy security.”
“Why would the United States spend billions of dollars and place our military personnel at risk to ensure the flow of energy half a world away, but neglect an opportunity to enable the flow of energy in our very own back yard — creating jobs, tax revenue, and greater security?” he said.
Jones said that approving the pipeline would send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other “international bullies” that they cannot use energy security as a weapon.
“Energy scarcity is a potent strategic weapon. The greater the gap between global supply and demand, the more destructive the weapons will become,” Jones said. “If we want to make Mr. Putin’s day and strengthen his hand, we should reject the Keystone. If we want to gain an important measure of national energy security, jobs, tax revenue, and prosperity to advance our work on the spectrum of energy solutions that don’t rely on carbon, it should be approved.”