Senate Votes Against Completion of Keystone XL Pipeline


Gilberto Flores
National Beat Reporter

The United States Senate voted down legislation that would allow for the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline on Nov. 18. The final vote count was 59-41, and the pipeline needed 60 votes in order to pass. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the same legislation on Nov. 14. If it had passed Congress, the decision to approve the pipeline would have been up to the President.

At fewer than 1200 miles long, the remaining portion, Phase 4, of the Keystone pipeline project would stretch from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Neb., where it will meet the remaining completed portion of the pipeline. If completed, the pipeline would move crude oil from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, where refineries would process it into gasoline and other fuels. The pipeline would be able to move about 830,000 barrels of oil a day.

A Senate vote on the pipeline has been delayed and stalled on many occasions, as Senate Democrats find themselves divided on the issue. Construction unions support building the pipeline, while environmental groups are against its construction. House Republicans pushed an identical bill granting the pipeline’s approval through the House on Nov. 14, as they have nine times before. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louis.) is facing a runoff election next month to keep her seat and was able to persuade her party colleagues to bring a vote on the long stalled project to the Senate floor. Oil and gas is a very important industry in Landrieu’s home state of Louisiana, and she has said that the passing the pipeline is key because of the jobs it would create. In the days leading up to the vote, it was unclear whether Landrieu would have gathered the 60 Senate votes required for the pipeline to pass.

The State Department had to step in and review the proposed pipeline because it crosses the U.S. border with Canada. The review concluded that the overall pipeline project would create 42,000 direct and indirect jobs. Opponents of the pipeline have disputed these State Department numbers, as these 42,000 jobs would only be during the two year construction period. After it is constructed, the pipeline would only employ about 50 people in long-term positions. The State Department also released an environmental report on the Keystone pipeline in January, which concluded that the pipeline would not drastically affect the price consumers pay for gas at the pump. The review also found that whether the Keystone XL pipeline is built would not have a significant effect on climate change, since the oil would ultimately be produced with or without the pipeline.

President Obama has been keeping silent on the issue for a long time, but recently he has suggested that he would have vetoed the project, had it reached his desk. However, the President ultimately has the last word on this issue; since the pipeline crosses the U.S. border with Canada, TransCanada, the company that owns the pipeline, needs a “Presidential Permit,” which would allow for construction to begin.

The President is waiting on the results of a Nebraska State Supreme Court case that could determine where the pipeline is constructed. In its early stages, the initial proposal of the pipeline went through the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region in Nebraska. The proposed pipeline’s route would have come into conflict with the region’s high concentration of wetlands, large areas of shallow groundwater, and delicate ecosystem, according to a State Department press release. This proposal was widely criticized, so TransCanada drafted a new proposal. Nebraska’s Republican Governor Dave Heineman approved the route, but critics argue that the Governor doesn’t have this power, and that the decision is to be left to the Public Service Commision. Opponents have challenged the Governor’s decision in court and the case has now reached the Nebraska State Supreme Court. A decision is expected later this year.

Other environmental claims involve concerns over the local water supply being contaminated by the Keystone pipeline. Since the project would run through many rural areas, it has a close proximity to several farmlands. Another concern is over the environmental impact of producing crude oil from the Alberta oil sands. This process emits 17% more greenhouse gases than regular oil drilling. Instead of drilling a hole in the ground and having oil flow out, the oil has to be mined from the sand and heated, and this heating portion is what creates more greenhouse gases. Additional concerns regarding the pipeline include the amount of deforestation that would occur in the Boreal forests of Alberta, where trees have to be removed in the process of digging up tar sands oil, as well as the safety of indigenous populations whose livelihoods are threatened by the pipeline in the U.S. or the digging up of tar sands in Canada.

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