American President Barack Obama may find himself in boiling oil even as he faces his biggest environmental policy challenge before the 2012 presidential elections — the outcome of a controversial plan to transport vast amounts of tar sands crude from Canada to Texas through the now-infamous Kestone XL pipeline.
Over the weekend close to 10,000 protesters mobbed the White House perimeter to voice their opposition to the plan, which if approved would carry 35 million gallons a day of “heavy, high-sulphur, toxic bitumen crude right through the Great Plains, the breadbasket of America,” over 2720 km through six states, until it reached Texas refineries.
The pipeline operation will originate in Alberta, Canada, and will be built by Canadian company Transcanada. Given the trans-national character the State Department has been tasked with determining the full range of its consequences — environmental, economic and other .
Last week, Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's “... goal remains... to complete the process before the end of the year so a decision can be made before the end of the year. But obviously, our first obligation to the American people, to the President, is to ensure that we do this in a rigorous, transparent, and thorough way.”
Yet notwithstanding this commitment to come back with a final decision on the plan before the end of the year, Ms. Nuland added, “We'd like to get it done by the end of the year, but if thoroughness demands a little bit more time, nobody's slammed the door on that.”
However in Sunday's demonstration in Washington protesters surrounded the White House with a giant pipeline replica that read “Stop the XL Pipeline,” and wore “orange safety vests to remind spectators of the threat of potential spills”.
Actor Mark Ruffalo, activist Bill McKibben and Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune were among the protesters, reports said.
Until the final decision on the pipeline is made, Mr. Obama faces a tough choice between the environment and the economy, not to mention mounting costs.
TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling was quoted in media last week saying the three-year review process had already imposed costs on his company, including $1.9 billion on pipe and other equipment stored in warehouses.
Tensions, however, have been on the rise in the debate on the pipeline when, firstly some media reports suggested that TransCanada “seriously misrepresented the number of jobs the Keystone XL project would create”.
The Huffington Post reported that the “dubious job count [included] expenditures on the Canadian side of the border” and [contained] “tens of thousands of indirect jobs in retail, printing and publishing and other ancillary industries that [it] claimed would be spurred by the pipeline.”
Additionally the State Department itself came under fire over its decision to hand over responsibility for an impact study on the Keystone pipeline to a company that was said to have previous ties to TransCanada.
While the Department said in response to Congressional inquiries that “the perception that Cardno Entrix,
an environmental contractor in Houston, had a conflict of interest was based on a misunderstanding,” the New York Times reported, two Senators who had asked for the information reportedly said the Department's response “did not resolve their concerns.”