Obama Administration Rejects Keystone XL Expansion

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The State Department has reached a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline:  they will not support it.  After reviewing the projected impacts, both environmentally and economically, along with the arguments for and against the proposed 875 mile addition and refurbishment of the existing Keystone Pipeline to cross a shorter distance and increase the capacity more than 100,000 additional barrels a day (for a final length of 1,179 miles and a capacity of 830,000 barrels a day).  President Obama announced his administration’s rejection of the pipeline on Friday of last week, November 6th.

The Keystone XL Pipeline extension has overtaken much of the US’s political discourse since it was proposed in 2008, and, according to Obama, it didn’t need to be. Supporters of the extension touted economic growth by way of exports and job creation. Opponents of the extension warned against the environmental impact. Obama criticized both sides emphasizing that the extension had “an over-inflated role in our political discourse,” calling it a symbol used by both parties against one another rather than “a serious policy matter.”  He emphasized that it’s misrepresentation “obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”  In light of that, Obama made this decision with regard to the US’s moves toward environmentally-conscious behaviors: “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking action to fight climate change, and frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

The oil being transported by the pipeline comes from Canada’s oil sands.  It is  17% more carbon intense than more traditional oil sources due to the heating method necessary to extract it from the sand.  If the pipeline extension had been approved, oil companies would have undoubtedly expanded development of these sands, which would have undoubtedly increased greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming.  Initially it was thought that if the US didn’t concede to the extension, TransCanada (the country who built the pipeline) would have found another way to expand their exports and thus expand the development of the sands, so the US’s decision was arbitrary.  However, due to the recent dip in oil prices, alternative delivery methods (train, ship, etc.) aren’t feasible as they cost more and would limit oil companies’ resources for expansion.  There is no question that expanding the pipeline would equate to more GHG emissions, and by not expanding the pipeline we as a world can avoid those consequences.

There is also no doubt that the expansion would result in more jobs and a boost in our economy, but as the price of oil is low already (and by flooding the market with more, it’s unlikely that would change any time soon), it isn’t all it was cracked up to be a few years ago.  Plus, the jobs created would not be long-term.  Obama notes that there are other options on the table for creating jobs both short-term and long-term, stating poignantly: “If congress is serious about creating jobs, this is not the way to do it.”

This decision is a part of the Obama Administration’s legacy for fighting climate change and supporting renewable energies, like the president’s Climate Action Plan and other programs and initiatives from the government. It also frames Obama and the US up as environmental leaders with the UN’s Climate Change Conference in Paris coming up later this year (November 30th through December 11th).

For more information on the Keystone XL Pipeline and the president’s decision, check out this article from the NY Times.


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