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If approved, the Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil extracted from Northern Alberta’s oil sands to refineries and markets in the United States. Vocal opponents of the project hope to convince President Obama not to approve the project, but their chances seem poor. The Canadian portion of the pipeline has already been approved.

TransCanada describes the proposed Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project as “an approximate[ly] 2,673-kilometre (1,661-mile), 36-inch crude oil pipeline that would begin at Hardisty, Alberta and extend southeast through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. It would incorporate a portion of the Keystone Pipeline (Phase II) through Nebraska and Kansas to serve markets at Cushing, Oklahoma before continuing through Oklahoma to a delivery point near existing terminals in Nederland, Texas to serve the Port Arthur, Texas marketplace.” The final approval required is a political one.

In August 2011, the US Department of State released its final Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which concluded that it would have no significant adverse impact. The Canadian section of the pipeline was approved by the National Energy Board last year. The NEB found the proposed pipeline to be in the public interest and accepted that it would connect Western Canadian crude oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast, a large, long term and strategic market, bringing economic and other benefits to Canadians.

Opponents to the project, coordinated by Tar Sands Action, describe it as “a fuse to North America’s carbon bomb”. Several weeks of civil disobedience at the White House resulted in 1,252 arrests. A similar protest is planned in Ottawa for later this month. According to Tar Sands Action, among those arrested are “climate scientists, landowners from Texas and Nebraska, former Obama for America staffers, First Nations leaders from Canada, and notable individuals including Bill McKibben, former White House official Gus Speth, NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, actor Daryl Hannah, filmmaker Josh Fox, and author Naomi Klein.” Several Nobel laureates have also announced their opposition to the project. The Dalai Lama, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Irish peace campaigners Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams, and U.S. anti-landmines activist Jody Williams signed a letter dated September 7, 2011 in which they insist that the project will “endanger the entire planet”.

Supporters argue that refusing to approve the line will not cut American oil use or Canadian oil exports; America will simply buy elsewhere, and Canada will sell elsewhere. Given Obama’s urgent need to create jobs, his recent retreat on ozone standards, the State Department report, the Canadian approval and Republican strength in Congress, it seems unlikely that Obama will turn down the Keystone line.

By Meredith James and Dianne Saxe

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