Much to the disappointment of environmental activists nationwide, the Obama administration has given Transcanada the go ahead to construct the 1,711 mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry heavy oil from Canada to Oklahoma and all the way down to the Gulf Coast in Texas. In a rather ambitious statement, the administration has concluded that not only will the pipeline provide a more secure source of energy, but that there won’t be any significant damage to the environment.

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The Obama administration dismissed criticism from environmental advocates concerned with the devastating impact the pipeline stands to have on the environment; especially granted the possibility of a leak or rupture in the 36-inch diameter pipeline. Many are also concerned about how the pipeline will, “prolong the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, threaten sensitive lands and wildlife and further delay development of clean energy sources.”

Unfortunately, these grave warnings have fallen on deaf ears. The State Department is backing TransCanada, claiming that the oil giant has “reduced the risks of an accident to an acceptable level and that the benefits of importing oil from a friendly neighbor outweighed the potential costs.”

Given the recent conflicts in the middle east, that might very well be true, and it does make sense diplomatically. But concerning the environment, the facts state otherwise. As we previously announced, construction of the pipeline would actually tear apart miles of land in the U.S, and would require Canada to double its tar sands production, destroying boreal forests while emitting high levels of greenhouse gas emissions – even more than traditional oil production.

That isn’t the only bad news. A recent New York Times op – ed piece further explains: “… a new report from Canada’s environmental ministry shows how great the impact of the tar sands will be in the coming years, even with cleaner production methods.

It projects that Canada will double its current tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. That rate will mean cutting down some 740,000 acres of boreal forest — a natural carbon reservoir. Extracting oil from tar sands is also much more complicated than pumping conventional crude oil out of the ground. It requires steam-heating the sands to produce a petroleum slurry, then further dilution. One result of this process, the ministry says, is that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a whole will rise by nearly one-third from 2005 to 2020.”

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The final approval for the $7 billion oil project will come after public hearings and consultation with other federal agencies. This could very well take a year for construction to begin, but the State Department has already made it perfectly clear that the administration will proceed with the pipelines, which are scheduled to be completed by 2013, assuming there are no delays.

TransCanada insists that the pipeline will be the safest in North America, despite critical assessments of its sturdiness in light of high pressure flow, due to the half-inch thick pipe wall in the pipeline. TransCanada, however, has agreed to “57 conditions set by the Department of Transportation last spring, including burying the pipeline four feet below the surface, committing to frequent aerial and ground monitoring and setting the maximum distance between shut-off valves at 20 miles.”

“We believe we are building the safest pipeline in North America,” said Terry Cunha – TransCanada spokesman – to the New York Times.

Gary Doer, Canadian ambassador to the United States, has also said to the New York Times that building the pipeline would create 20,000 construction jobs and 100,000 additional “indirect jobs in services and supplies.”

“It’s good for the U.S. economy, U.S. jobs and U.S. energy security,” he said. “If you ask Americans, would you choose Canada over the Middle East, they’d say yes.” Doer has also stated that the carbon emissions from oil sands production have now declined to 40 percent per barrel compared to the 90’s, and other improvement are already on their way to being implemented.

The reassurances haven’t convinced environmental activists at all, and the pipeline has created a huge division between the Obama administration and the green movement. To many, the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is yet another disappointment, especially after a recent decision by the administration to “tentatively approve drilling in the Arctic Ocean, to open 20 million more acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil leasing and delay several major air quality regulations.”

Michael Brune, president of the Sierra Club, urged President Obama to veto the project and issued a clear warning about the possible backlash this could have on the president:

The decision-making authority is solely the president’s. Keystone XL is a huge issue for our young leaders at the Sierra Club, but they’re also watching the president’s actions on other critically important environmental and public health protections. It will be increasingly difficult to mobilize the environmental base and to mobilize in particular young people to volunteer, to knock on thousands of doors, to put in 16-hour days, to donate money if they don’t think the president is showing the courage to stand up to big polluters.

It really is quite a disappointing on the administration’s part. Instead of investing in a new pipeline, more focus should be on green projects and alternative forms of energy. Not only would that have a positive effect on the environment, but it would also free the US of dependance on foreign oil – including oil imported from Canada! But it looks like corporate greed might have the edge on this one. Environmentalists will just have to wait and see what the final decision will be.

Via The New York Times