Keystone XL pipeline: Public hearings end, now comes the wait
Ultimately, it's now up to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to either approve or reject a permit for a 1,700-mile pipeline that would stretch from a Canadian tar-sands site in Alberta to Texas oil refineries on the Gulf Coast.
The last of nine public hearings on the Keystone XL pipeline permit concluded Friday at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., in the company of hundreds of supporters and opponents from across the nation.
Some rallied for the welding, trucking and construction jobs the project could create, up to 120,000 according to pipeline proposer TransCanada. Hundreds more railed against the project for what they see as inevitable environmental hazards.
A State Department report on the project has declared it would have “no significant impact” on the environment, but Native American tribal leaders, farmers and Midwestern politicians such as Republican Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman are uneasy about the pipeline crossing over their main water source, the Ogallala aquifer.
Earlier this year, the U.S. regulators temporarily shut down the existing Keystone pipeline because of leaks.
“A farmer saw this geyser of oil spewing up 60 feet into the air and into wetlands,” said Kandi “Eagle Woman” Mossett, a spokeswoman for the Indigenous Environmental Network. “He reported it to the company [TransCanada] and at first they said, ‘No, there’s no spill. Our tracking system doesn’t show any leaks.’ An hour later they sent someone over to confirm it and the farmer was right.”
But land-based pipelines are still regarded as the safest way to transport oil. And members of Laborers’ International Union of North America came out to emphasize that -- and the influx of money that the $7-billion pipeline would bring via higher employment and an increased tax base.
Many of the jobs created by the pipeline, which TransCanada wants to be operational by 2013, probably won’t be permanent, though. “Folks like me, we just go on to the next job,” said Laura Hughes, a union member who flew from Coos Bay in Oregon to support the project.
Beyond the pipeline itself, the larger issue alarming environmental activists is growing usage of tar sands as an oil source. They say the extraction and conversion process emits three times as much carbon as refining crude oil. They also say it creates surface mines viewable from outer space, plus leftover ponds of toxic water.
“It’s ‘game over’ on climate change if this permit is approved,” Andrew Nazdin, an Energy Action Coalition member, said at the hearing. He was among 100 or so people arrested during a nonviolent protest against the pipeline in front of the White House at the end of September.
The State Department intends to either approve or disapprove the permit by the end of November, and will take its time in making a decision, said Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of State.
After the Friday hearing, she said the department is still in “listening mode” while it considers topics besides the environment, such as energy security and economic effects.
Written public comments about the pipeline permit will continue to be accepted through midnight on Oct. 9.
-- Alexa Vaughn in Washington, D.C.
Photo: A sign protesting the Keystone XL pipeline stands next to an inflatable Earth outside of a State Department public hearing in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg