Several news outlets are reporting that President Obama will call for expediting the permitting process for southern part of the Keystone XL pipeline when he visits Cushing, Oklahoma, this week. Expediting the permitting process for a part of the pipeline is great, and the quicker we can move forward with Keystone the better, but can it really be considered expediting if the project should have already been approved?
The answer is no. President Obama rejected the original permit application for Keystone XL submitted by TransCanada. The entire pipeline project spans 1,700 miles and would bring up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. The southern part of the pipeline, now called the Gulf Coast Project, does not require a presidential permit because it does not cross international borders. It only requires a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and nothing has changed with regards to this part of the project. It’s the same route TransCanada submitted to the State Department in 2008.
In other words, the President’s decision to reject the permit application has already unnecessarily slowed the process. It was the environmental activists’ relentless opposition to Keystone that persuaded President Obama to deny the permit application. In doing so, he blamed others for forcing him to take a decision, saying, “This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people.”
But the review by the State Department was thorough and complete. It studied and addressed risk to soil, wetlands, water resources, vegetation, fish, wildlife, and endangered species. Keystone XL also met 57 specific pipeline safety standard requirements..
Some of the concern of environmentalists and Nebraska residents has focused on the original route of the pipeline, particularly the area where the pipeline would cross the Ogallala Aquifer and the state’s Sand Hills region. Nebraska already has miles of natural gas, crude, refined products, and petrochemical pipelines crossing the state’s purportedly sensitive Ogallala Aquifer, including pipelines in the Sand Hills region.
Even so, if President Obama were sincere in his support of the pipeline, he could have approved the permit and allowed TransCanada and Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality to work on a reroute to satisfy landowners and state officials in Nebraska.
Furthermore, if President Obama were sincerely supportive of the pipeline, he would not have personally lobbied Senate Democrats to vote against an amendment that would have authorized construction of the entire pipeline.
Expediting the southern portion of Keystone XL is good because it will create jobs immediately and move oil from Cushing to the Gulf Coast as soon as 2013. But because of President Obama’s decision to reject Keystone’s permit application last year, we’re already behind. The President’s attempt to satisfy those upset about high gas prices while catering to his special interest groups isn’t going to cut it.