Keystone XL withstands GHG scrutiny, TransCanada exec says

Canadians are ready to defend the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline project on a greenhouse gas reduction basis now that opponents have shifted their arguments to that arena, a TransCanada Corp. executive said.

“Through this long process, they have tried many different arguments, from corrosive oil to threats to aquifers,” said Alex Porbaix, president of oil pipelines and energy at TransCanada, the project’s sponsor. “[GHG] implications from oil sands and their development are nowhere near the catastrophic amounts they’re talking about. Canada, Alberta, and TransCanada are comfortable having that debate.”

He made those observations during a briefing at the National Association of Manufacturers, where representatives of US business, organized labor, and the oil and gas industry jointly urged the Obama administration to promptly approve the proposed pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to US Gulf Coast refineries.

NAM held the briefing 2 days after thousands of people protested continued fossil fuel use in general and Keystone XL in particular because of global climate change impacts in a rally on the National Mall and march to the White House.

“Everyone agrees the oil industry should do more to reduce GHGs,” Porbaix said. “Alberta, where much of Keystone XL’s oil would come from, was the first government jurisdiction in the world to regulate GHGs. Canada’s federal government has issued stringent regulations to limit GHG emissions from coal, and is working on similar rules for oil. And the industry increasingly is moving from mining to underground recovery where there’s significantly less surface disturbance.”

Such in-situ production now accounts for about one third of the production from Alberta’s oil sands and will grow to an estimated 75-80% in a few more years, he predicted. “I think Canada is well along the path to reducing GHG emissions,” Porbaix said.

‘Inexcusable’ bureaucracy

Other briefing participants reemphasized the proposed project’s US economic, energy security, and employment benefits. NAM Pres. Jay Timmons said its construction would provide 20,000 manufacturing and construction, and employ another 118,000 people in related businesses. “It’s been more than a year since NAM hosted one of these briefings, and there hasn’t been much progress,” he told reporters.

“People outside Washington complain the federal government can’t get things done,” Timmons said. “The bureaucracy and red tape surrounding Keystone XL for nearly 5 years has been inexcusable.”

US President Barack Obama said in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address that job creation would be the administration’s primary objective during his second term, according to American Petroleum Institute Executive Vice-Pres. Marty Durbin. “API couldn’t agree more,” he said.

“We see growing bipartisan support among policymakers for this project,” Durbin said, adding, “The public gets it too. It just makes sense for the administration to take the final steps and move forward with this project.”

Small businesses would be among the biggest beneficiaries if the pipeline is built, noted Matthew Koch, a vice-president at the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.

Businesses near the pipeline’s route would get direct obvious direct benefits as construction workers would spend their income locally, while manufacturers across the country would produce pipeline components, Koch said. Benefits for small businesses elsewhere would be indirect, but no less real, because building the pipeline would help stabilize energy prices, he said.

Local impacts

Billy Rogers, who oversees the work of 400 welders working on Keystone XL’s southern segment for Michel Construction Co., said every employee is well-qualified and determined to build a safe and secure pipeline.

“These are hundreds of skilled craftsmen working good blue-collar jobs this nation needs,” Rogers said. “Every crew foreman is well-qualified, and there’s a third-party inspector with each crew as well.”

Rogers said since he moved his family to Texas in May 2012, store employees and managers where they live have thanked them because they spend their money locally. “The landowners I deal with are happy we’re there,” he added. “Some have had to call law enforcement in to remove trespassers on their property.”

Building the pipeline will also provide significant employment opportunities for veterans returning from deployment overseas, said Michael Hazard, a retired US Navy petty officer first class who now is a training specialist for the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters’ Veterans in Piping project.

“If Keystone XL isn't approved, the US will continue to rely on oil from unstable regimes instead of strengthening our relationship with Canada,” he warned. “Continuing to [do this] would be counter-intuitive to the values and ideals that inspire the volunteer spirit of the American military.”

The project is a lifeline for thousands of the union’s members, another official added. “With over 50% unemployment in our pipeline construction sector, Keystone XL stands as the largest single private investment opportunity for a path back to a paycheck for our members,” said UA Special Representative David Barnett.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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