Global Politics

US may approve more 'dirty' Canadian oil

Native American tribes visited the State Department today to discuss a proposed oil pipeline that would run from Canada right down to refineries in Texas on the Gulf Coast. Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because it would carry �dirty� oil from Alberta's tar sands. The World's Jeb Sharp reports.

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Representatives of Native American tribes are visiting the State Department today to discuss their concerns about a proposed oil pipeline that would run from Alberta, Canada to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas. It would pass through six US states and over a huge aquifer on its way south. It's controversial because the oil the pipeline would carry comes from the notoriously dirty tar sands of Alberta. Terry Cunha is a spokesperson for Transcanada Corporation, the company that hopes to build the 7B pipeline. He says it would be able to carry more than a million barrels a day to the US.

�We see this pipeline as an opportunity to ensure the US continues to have a safe and secure supply of crude oil,� Cunha said.

It would also be a boon to a hurting US economy, providing an estimated 13,000 jobs for those directly involved in the project plus related additional jobs in pipe, steel and equipment manufacturing.
Add property taxes and other investments and Transcanada says the pipeline would inject billions of dollars into the US economy.

But the dollar signs don't sway critics of the proposed pipeline.
Susan Casey-Lefkowitz directs international programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. She points out the pipeline would go over incredibly sensitive ecosystems including the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer which provides drinking water to eight states in the US heartland.

�Any type of spill or leak or rupture which is much more likely in a pipeline that carries this very corrosive tar sands oil would be devastating to the central US states,� Casey-Lefkowitz said.

But it's not just spills she's worried about. Casey-Lefkowitz doesn't want to see any more oil extracted from the tar sands of northern Alberta. The oil comes from a thick, tarry substance called bitumen that has to be mined and steamed out of the ground, an expensive process that creates more greenhouse gases than most oil drilling. Casey-Lefkowitz says it doesn't make sense to keep building infrastructure that encourages the continued use of fossil fuels, especially when we're trying to cut greenhouse gases and move toward clean energy.

�The bigger issue is do we need this additional oil coming in? We think no. We should invest in cleaner, safer ways to move ourselves around,� Casey-Lefkowitz said.

The State Department has to issue a permit in order for the pipeline to cross the US border so that's where activists are focusing their efforts right now. Casey-Lefkowitz says the State Department's Environmental Impact Assessment draft was �completely inadequate.�

She says the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and members of the public still have many questions about the pipeline's impact. They're asking the State Department to conduct supplemental environmental impact assessment.

The State Department insists it is undertaking a careful review of the environmental impacts and is revising its assessment but hasn't decided yet whether to do the supplemental review critics are clamouring for. Even if it does, the final decision on the pipeline won't be made solely on environmental grounds. Dan Clune, principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science explains that the second step in the process is a so-called National Interest Determination.

�We have to weigh a whole series of important interests including the environmental impact and our national security and where we're obtaining our fuel,� Clune said. �Everyone wants to have a clean environment, but everyone wants there to be gas in the pump when they pull up to the pump, so we have to figure out how to balance all those interests in making this decision.�

And the decision won't be an easy one, Clune says. Still, in a relatively unguarded moment back in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a San Francisco audience she's inclined to sign off on the pipeline when the analysis is complete.

�We're either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada.� Clinton said in response to a question about the pipeline. �Until we can get our act together as a country and figure out that clean renewable energy is in both our economic interests and the interests of our planet.�