Why The $7 Billion Keystone XL Pipeline Is The Most Controversial Business Venture In America

daryl hannah protests transcanada's keystone xl pipeline

Photo: AP Images

The Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion  (Keystone XL) is TransCanada’s $7 billion project to extend its Keystone Pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast.Once completed, Keystone XL will be able to supply half the amount of oil the U.S. currently imports from the Middle East or Venezuela.

With the prospect of jobs and energy security for the taking, officials and trade unions are looking to quickly approve the project.

On the the other hand, environmentalists have warned of future spills and damage to sandhills. Coming after the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and Exxon Mobil’s July pipeline spill in Montana, environmental impact has become a crucial part of the debate.

Two phases of the Keystone Pipeline are already complete

Construction of phase I (from Hardisty, Alberta to Patoka, Illinois) has been completed. Phase II construction (from Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma) is also done.

It's the 1,661 mile Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project that is under review

Environmentalists are protesting this proposed pipeline, which would include phase 3 (from Cushing, Oklahoma to Houston and Port Author, Texas) indicated by the orange line, and phase 4 (from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City Nebraska) indicated by the blue line. Both phases are currently under regulatory review; along with already completed phase 2, indicated by the green line.

On completion, the Keystone XL will increase the commercial design of the Keystone Pipeline System to approximately 1.3 million barrels per day.

Here's the Canadian section of the pipeline, which was approved by regulators in 2010

Environmentalists oppose the expansion because it threatens ecologically sensitive sandhills

In Nebraska, Gov. David Heineman has said he would support the pipeline if it moved away from the Ogallala aquifer which provides drinking water to 1.5 million people. Back in August, the State Department issued a statement saying the project would cause no significant environmental damage if TransCanada complied with U.S. law.

They're also concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and potential spills

Environmentalists also argue that extracting crude from Canada's oil sands produces more greenhouse emissions than regular oil drilling.

The State Department is believed to have said in its report that the pipeline will cause two spills every-year in its 50-year lifespan. Via Friends of the Earth:

'A professor at the University of Nebraska, Dr. John Stansbury, concluded that the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline is likely to have more than eight times as many spills, take more than 10 times as long to shut down in the event of a rupture and spill more than six times as much as raw tar sands oil as TransCanada estimates.'

Moreover protestors are upset at the handling of the investigation into the pipeline

The U.S. State Department's inspector general has ordered an investigation into handling of the pending decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. This comes after reports of improper pressure on policy makers and conflicts of interest.

The State Department is said to have allowed TransCanada to pick the company that prepared the assessment of the project's environmental impact. The investigation could delay the Obama administration's decision which was due out at the end of the year.

Those in favour of the project argue that it will create jobs and increase tax revenue

With unemployment at 9%, many point to economic issues that the pipeline could help resolve. TransCanada has said the pipeline could directly produce 20,000 high-wage manufacturing and construction jobs, and $2 billion to the economy.

The states along the pipeline route are expected to receive an additional $5.2 billion in property taxes during the estimated operating life of the pipeline.

And that it would boost energy security, cutting dependence on the OPEC

When completed, the Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion project will supply roughly half the amount of oil the U.S. currently imports from the Middle East or Venezuela.

Texas Gov. and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry has come out in favour of the pipeline. Here's an excerpt

Michelle Bachmann is in favour of the pipeline as well. Click here to view the entire letter.

The pipeline is waiting approval from President Obama and Canadian natural resources minister Joe Oliver has said that he is 'cautiously optimistic' that Washington's decision will be 'positive.'

Meanwhile, Alberta premiere Alison Redford is visiting Washington to urge U.S. officials to approve the Keystone XL project.

Meanwhile, celebrities have become involved to raise awareness. Here's actress Daryl Hannah being arrested earlier this year

Now check out major energy disasters in 2010...

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