API: Keystone XL support is stronger than opposition

Opposition to the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project has become more noisy than widespread, American Petroleum Institute officials said on Dec. 4 as Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality prepared to hold a public hearing on the project’s proposed new route later that day.

Support for the 1,500-mile project to transport bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to US Gulf Coast refineries remains strong, Cindy Schild, API’s downstream operations manager for refining and oil sands, and John Kerekes, API’s Central US region director, told reporters during a teleconference.

“It’s a $7 billion infrastructure crossing five states that will mean 20,000 new jobs, including work in the building and construction trades which are suffering from 12% unemployment,” Schild said. “Longer term, it will provide a major ongoing stimulus to the US economy since 90% of the dollars we spend in Canada are returned to the US.”

She and Kerekes conceded that opposition exists, but added that it’s not clear whether it’s centered on the project itself, which also would provide some capacity to move lighter Bakken shale crude oil from North Dakota to markets, or producing and refining the Alberta bitumen itself.

“There’s not a groundswell of opposition,” said Kerekes, who planned to be at the hearing later in Nebraska. “It’s certainly noisy, and it apparently is opposed to the idea of the pipeline and not necessarily its route. There’s strong Nebraska support for the pipeline, along with this noisy opposition.”

A recent local survey found that 61% of Nebraskans back the project, Schild noted. “For most people, building the pipeline is common sense. We need the oil, and we need the jobs,” she said. “This issue is not complicated. [US President Barack Obama] should approve the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Further study needed

But BOLD Nebraska, the principal Nebraska opponent, said on Dec. 3 that its review of NDEQ’s proposed new route for the pipeline across the state found several problems. “There has been no real and independent study done on the proposed full pipeline route—NDEQ has simply published information given to them by TransCanada,” it said. “Because the NDEQ does not have any clear standards by which they are judging the route, their report is merely descriptive.”

It said more time is needed to thoroughly analyze DNEQ’s draft report, and BOLD Nebraska plans to request another 90 days to comment when its representatives testify at the Dec. 4 hearing.

Kerekes said NDEQ’s draft report followed an open and thorough review of the project. “Nebraskans and the country can have great confidence in the agency’s work, and should have equal confidence in the draft report which it issued at the end of October,” he said. “TransCanada has twice moved the pipeline’s route in response to public concerns to build better protection for the environment.”

Schild said the project’s analyses mark the first time that life cycle impacts have been considered, but added that they should cover consequences from the wellhead to the motorist’s tailpipe, where 75% of the impacts occur.

“When you compare what’s left, studies show that crude oil from Canada’s oil sands is comparable to heavy crude we’ve refined in the US from California, Venezuela, and Mexico,” she said. “The question is whether you want to process this Canadian crude in the US at some of the most sophisticated refineries in the world, or in China and other overseas markets where they aren’t.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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