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Keystone XL Route Change Puts Environmentalists on the Back Foot

For years those opposing the Keystone XL pipeline used the argument that building the pipe along its proposed route would endanger the delicate Sand Hills Region in Nevada, a sprawling network of dunes and wetlands that are labelled a National Natural Landmark.

The Republican Governor of Nebraska David Heineman, cited fears for the safety of the Sand Hills when he opposed the project, and President Obama also worried for the water quality in the area when he decided to deny TransCanada the permit to build the pipeline last year.

Last month TransCanada offered a new route for the pipeline that added an extra 21 miles in order to avoid the Sand Hills region, and in doing so they robbed the opposition of their main argument and won the support of Governor Heineman.

Related article: Are Canadian Oil Policies Misguided?

To try and continue their battle the environmentalists have now shifted their emphasis to the claim that mining the Canadian tar sands will doom the climate by producing vast amounts of greenhouse gases, but this argument is not proving quite as strong.

Phil Sharp, a former Democratic House member and president of Resources for the Future, said that “the initial opposition was framed heavily in terms of its impact on water and the risks to the aquifer. They kind of downplayed the greenhouse gas issue. Now I think they’re coming up short in the public argument because there either isn’t the public foundation on this issue or the same intensity of interest.”

Related article: Have the Canadian Tar Sands had their Day?

On Tuesday the Keystone opposition released figures that they had received from the Environmental Protection Agency which showed that approving the Keystone XL pipeline would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 181 million tonnes a year, the same volume of emissions released by 46 coal power plants, or 34 million vehicles.

However, this point is met with the equally valid counter argument that rejecting the project is likely to result in more emissions being released than if the project were approved and built. This is because Canada’s heavy crude would just be shipped to Asia in search of an alternative market, and the US would be left importing from the Middle East, and other nations, which are further away.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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