By Jenn Mentanko
On February 24, in an uncharacteristic move, United States’ President Barack Obama vetoed the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, snubbing the House of Representatives and Congress on his way. In his rejection, Obama stated the bill bypassed a State Department process that will determine whether the project would be beneficial to the U.S. The decision is one of only three vetoes the president has made throughout his career.
The Keystone XL pipeline was first proposed in 2008 by the Calgary run company TransCanada Corporation. The proposed project would be the fourth installment of the pipeline and would carry bitumen along a 2,673-kilometre route from Hardisty, Alta. to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Harper Pro Pipeline
According to the National Post, Harper has been a proponent of Keystone XL from the beginning, pushing Canada to be the next “energy superpower.” With dollar signs in his eyes, Harper has viewed his home riding as “the most attractive combination of circumstances for energy investment of any place in the world.”
With Harper’s pipe dream seemingly squashed, environmentalists in both Canada and the U.S. are reveling. Obama defended his veto by criticizing Alberta oil extraction as being “extraordinarily dirty” and a cause for environmental concern. He also stated the need to be prudent as a complete environmental assessment is due shortly in a state report.
Alberta’s ‘Dirty’ Oil Sands
Obama’s “dirty” criticism is not a new label for the Alberta oil sands. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Tar Sands Solutions have been riling against oil companies for years, citing severe environmental destruction from the extraction of bitumen. According to Tars Sand Solutions, the Alberta oil sands “emit three to four times more climate-warning greenhouse gas emissions than producing conventional crude oil, making it one of the dirtiest forms of fuel.” This means, on average, the greenhouse gas emissions from Alberta oil sands are between 8 to 37 per cent higher than conventional crude.
Besides greenhouse gas emissions, surface mining extraction clears massive amounts of land, resulting in deforestation and habitat loss. Furthermore, oil and gas industries can use as much water as a large city. This polluted water is then stored in pits that cover approximately 176 square kilometres, and an estimated 11 million litres of toxic wastewater leak in the Athabasca River every day, according to Tar Sands Solutions.
American Green groups say that Obama’s criticisms of the harmful effects of Canada’s oil sands show that he is likely to decide against the TransCanada Corp. project for good. In an interview with National Post, Jim Murphy, a senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation said Obama’s comments are “the strongest indication yet that points the needle to the president rejecting the pipeline.”
Canada and Alberta Policy
Because Alberta is a main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the Canadian federal government has been continuously working with the province in order to reduce these emissions. In 2013, the Pembina Institute indicated that climate policy was not strong enough in Canada to meet its 2020 goal and while Alberta is not responsible for the entire country, it is responsible for an “equitable share of the overall target.”
In order to meet future climate change goals, the Pembina Institute suggested a 40/40 solution for Alberta. This would strengthen Specified Gas Emitters Regulation by reaching a 40 per cent target with a $40 per tonne technology fund contribution rate. By updating this provincial policy, Alberta would make an “adequate contribution to achieving Canada’s 2020 target.”
Currently, Alberta features a levy of $15 per tonne for carbon emissions from major industries. A number of regulations, including Specified Gas Emitters Regulation, and the Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund Administration Regulation have been extended until the end of June 2015. They were originally due for renewal in September 2014, but the government has delayed any changes in order to “continue its thorough analysis of options for the new climate change framework.”
Although TransCanada Corp. ensures the Keystone XL pipeline will be constructed safely with minimal environmental impact, there are still risks. Besides oil extraction, pipelines can erode soil and vegetation, effect water quality and can cause an oil leak or spill. Obama is expected to make his final decision within the coming weeks or months depending on the findings of the state report, but overall the pipeline will not be authorized if it “can’t be shown that it is safe and if it can’t be shown that overall it would not contribute to climate change.”