Thousands rally against the Keystone XL pipeline at the National Mal in Washington D.C. The pipeline would carry more than 700,000 barrells of Canadian oil through the U.S. to Houston and the Gulf of Mexico, but still awaits a final decision from President Obama who is torn between environmentalists and the Canadian oil industry. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)
On Sunday, thousands gathered in the National Mall in hopes of sending a message to President Obama: say no to the Keystone XL pipeline. With environmental organizations like the Sierra Club making a strong push against international oil highway – which would stretch from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to Houston and the Gulf of Mexico – the president is also facing pressure from the Canadian government.
According to the New York Times, newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, for the first time on February 8. Though the hotly debated pipeline was discussed, Kerry gave no comment on what recommendation he would deliver to the president. With billions of dollars seemingly put on hold, the Canadian government is just as upset as the Nebraska farmers who have protested against the Keystone XL.
U.S. citizens are not alone in their anger over the delayed project. Along with environmental groups from Colorado and Minneapolis, a party from Toronto also joined in the rally, highlighting the disconnect that has occurred in both countries between the big money business of oil production and the environmental concerns of those who see the oil’s potential effects on the environment, not the economy. One sign at the rally put it simply - “separate oil and state.”
“It’s rare that a president has such a singular voice on such a major policy decision,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the New York Times. “Whatever damage approving the pipeline would do to the environmental movement pales in comparison to the damage it could do to his own legacy.”
According to the Times, Mr. Brune was one of four dozen pipeline protestors arrested at the White House on Wednesday. The arrest marked the first act of civil disobedience in the 120-year history of the Sierra Club, who organized the event and authorizied participation in an act of civil disobedience. Mr. Brune believes Obama will veto the $7 billion project, one that would create thousands of jobs, much like he did in 2011.
“This is a tricky political challenge for the president,” Michael A. Levi, an energy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Times. “The reality is everyone has defined the stakes on Keystone in such absolute terms that it is borderline impossible to see a compromise that will satisfy all the players.”
Since conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper chose to withdraw Canada from the Kyoto Climate Treaty late last year, Mr. Harper’s government has made his intentions clear. “The signal of a rejection of a permit by the president would be a significant change in the Canada-U.S. relationship,” Greg Stringham, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ vice president for oil sands and markets, told the Times. “Canada, right now, with our potential growth in energy, is looking for security of demand wherever that might be throughout the world.”
President Obama’s eventual decision will either offend the nation’s environmentalists, or our neighbors to the north who are counting on exporting 700,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil to the U.S. through the delayed pipeline.
Even if the pipeline project is cancelled, Canadian officials believe Canadian oil exports to the U.S. will increase through the use of rails, barges, trucks, and pipelines previously used for natural gas. “We hope Keystone will go through,” Lorraine Mitchelmore, president of Shell Canada, told the Times, “but it’s not the only option.”