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Senate strikes down Keystone XL pipeline bill

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The United States Senate struck down a bill by one vote that would have allowed for the construction of the remaining 60 percent of the Keystone pipeline, referred to as the Keystone XL expansion. The full pipeline would stretch from Alberta, Canada down to the Gulf Coast of Texas and transport 830,000 barrels of oil per day at full capacity.

The House of Representatives passed a bill promoting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline for the ninth time on Nov. 14. The bill moved onto the Senate Nov. 17 where it was overrode, after three years of debate.  Florida state senator Marco Rubio, Republican, voted yes on the expansion.  Bill Nelson, Democrat, voted no.

Despite this loss, Republicans are ready to reconvene in 2015 and push a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline through Congress.

The current Keystone pipeline runs from Alberta to Cushing, Okla. The proposed expansion would cut through an area of Montana and North Dakota where oil extraction is growing and continue to oil refineries in Texas. The pipeline would transport more crude oil from Canada, most of which would hail from tar sands.

According to the Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), tar sands are “a combination of clay, sand, water and a heavy black viscous oil called bitumen.” Globally, the largest deposits of tar sands are found in Alberta. Canada is currently the only country with a commercial tar sands industry.

TransCanada, the company responsible for building the pipeline, first proposed the project in 2005 and it went mostly unnoticed until environmentalists extensively started lobbying against it in 2011. Legislation allowing the Keystone XL pipeline must be signed by President Obama because the pipeline would cross the U.S.-Canada border.

According to an article published by NPR, the State Department, which had to “conduct an environmental assessment” of the proposed expansion due to its position crossing the border, is “waiting for the outcome of a Nebraska Supreme Court case that could affect the pipeline’s route.”

“As far I have seen, and this includes when the pipeline was first proposed and now, people in Nebraska are opposed to the pipeline,” Jake Nanfito, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said. “Those I have talked to here are aware of the news and are happy the legislation to push the plans forward has failed. This includes professors, students and my family.”

While the environmental effects the pipeline may cause are still under debate, many politicians and lobbyists have strong feelings on the topic either in support of the oil industry or environmental groups. While Republicans in the Senate were in unanimous support of the bill, Democrats have been split on the subject, torn between supporting the jobs that construction of the pipeline would foster and defending the environmental concerns that have been discussed.

“I think the pipeline would be a step backwards in terms of energy policy,” Professor of Biology Katherine McHugh said.

According to McHugh, the pipeline does not pose any environmental harm “at face value.” However it is still being debated whether or not the tar sands in Canada will be mined at a faster rate regardless of the pipeline. Certainly the pipeline will make it more cost effective to mine the tar sands. This would continue to support the use of fossil fuels, thus increasing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere and accelerating global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its Fifth Assessment Report. In order to keep the effects of climate change to a minimum in the coming decades, the report says that there would have to be drastically decreased emissions of carbon dioxide, that untapped reserves of fossil fuels would have to remain untapped and reforestation projects would need to be implemented.

“Anything we can do to move away from fossil fuels would be an improvement,” McHugh said.

Information from this article gathered from http://www.nytimes.com, http://www.npr.org, http://stateimpact.npr.org, and http://ostseis.anl.gov

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