Friday, March 23, 2012
Pipeline Or Pipe Dream? A China-Bound Alternative To Keystone XL Is No Easy Feat
Pipeline Or Pipe Dream? A China-Bound Alternative To Keystone XL Is No Easy Feat: by Rick Smith and Andrew Light Last September Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper referred to the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline as a “no-brainer” for the United States. The pipeline would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries in Texas. Nonetheless, the Obama administration rejected the pipeline’s cross-border leg starting in Alberta based largely on concerns about its possible environmental impact on the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska should a spill occur. Congress made repeated attempts to reverse the decision to no avail. The Canadian government has upped the ante by publicly highlighting its efforts to build an alternative pipeline aimed at delivering tar sands to Chinese markets. Proponents of the Keystone XL point to this alternative as a reason to accelerate its approval. On a state visit last month, Prime Minister Harper openly courted the Chinese with the promise of tar sands oil. China, ever hungry for sources of coal and oil to fuel its booming economy, was receptive. Chinese businesses also have been buying into Canadian tar sands projects for some time now, with Petro China most recently buying out its partner on an Athabasica Oil Sands Corporation project for $674 million to take full control. But on inspection the China-bound alternative to the Keystone XL—the Enbridge “Northern Gateway” pipeline—faces hurdles as big if not bigger than Keystone XL. Some groups in Canada call the fight over its approval the “defining environmental battle” of modern times, potentially determining which limits will be placed on the Canadian federal government’s energy and environment policies. The pipeline is now in the midst of a Canadian federal environmental assessment that will go at least to late 2013. This is later than the original approval process the U.S. State Department would have taken before Congress forced the Obama administration’s hand to reject the Keystone XL last January. Here’s a look at the rough road ahead for the project.