Oil industry steps up campaign for Keystone XL

The oil industry and some union workers are stepping up their campaign for the Keystone XL pipeline, as the Obama administration nears a decision on whether to approve the controversial $7 billion project.

The American Petroleum Institute is planning to run new advertising making the case for the pipeline, tap some 12 million in grassroots supporters to get involved in the issue and use social media to amplify the arguments that the project could support jobs and economic activity in 49 states.

“We’ll be advertising, making presentations at events around the country and calling on allies and potential allies — including business and labor leaders, veterans, educators and others — to write to the president and Congress urging approval of the project,” said API President Jack Gerard.

Gerard declined to specify how much API would spend on pro-Keystone campaign but described planned ad buys as “significant.”

Sean McGarvey, president of the AFL-CIO’s building and construction trades department, said union workers would be raising their voices too.

Organized labor has been divided on the issue. But McGarvey predicted more unanimity as workers recognize the potential jobs tied to the pipeline project.

“I expect the labor federation within the next couple weeks to come out affirmatively in support of this pipeline,” McGarvey said.

The State Department is finishing a environmental assessment of the pipeline, pegged to its new route around sensitive areas in Nebraska, before concluding whether the project is in the “national interest.” Although the State Department had said it was on track to make its final decision in March, that timeline could be derailed if the government first accepts public comments on the environmental review.

Gerard said there’s no need to wait. Obama could approve the pipeline “today if he wanted to,” Gerard said, noting that the project has already been through previous environmental analyses and public comments.

The Obama administration rejected a cross-border permit for the northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline early last year, after the State Department concluded it needed more study after the Nebraska reroute.

Separately, TransCanada Corp., is already moving ahead with construction of the southern leg of the pipeline, including the stretch through Texas, which does not hinge on the State Department’s decision.

Environmentalists argue that Keystone XL could contribute to climate change by expanding the marketplace for Canada’s oil sands crude. Because the bitumen in Canada’s oil sands is harvested through mining and energy-intensive steam-assisted techniques, it may have a higher carbon footprint than conventional crude.

But pipeline advocates reject opponents’ assertions that diluted bitumen from Canada is significantly dirtier than the crudes from Venezuela and other nations that it would likely displace in Gulf Coast refineries.

Supporters of the project also say the pipeline would give the U.S. greater access to crude from a North American ally and provide a new transportation option for surging oil harvested in Montana and North Dakota.

As Gerard and McGarvey spoke to reporters Wednesday, 48 activists were arrested during a peaceful protest in front of the east gate of the White House. Some handcuffed themselves to the White House fence with cable ties proclaiming “Reject KXL Pipeline.”

The protesters included actress Darryl Hannah, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune 350.org founder Bill McKibben, civil rights activist Julian Bond and Texan Jerry Hightower, whose land is in the pipeline’s path.

In a joint letter, the activists said they had “a moral obligation to stand for immediate, bold action to solve climate disruption.” And the activists stressed that they weren’t protesting the president, but instead, “are here to encourage and support him.”

“President Obama has the executive authority and the mandate from the American people to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline right now,” the activists said. “We risk arrest because a global crisis unfolds before our eyes. We have the solutions to this climate crisis.”

API on Wednesday released new polling data that showed 69 percent of American voters support building the pipeline, and 83 percent believe it would strengthen the nation’s energy security. The poll of 1,001 registered voters was conducted by Harris Interactive.

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Read ongoing FuelFix coverage of the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline:

Man walking route of Keystone XL (Feb. 6)
Obama faces angry liberals over pipeline (Feb. 1)
Despite injunction, activists continue plans to thwart Keystone XL (Jan. 29)
Keystone XL work veers onto wrong land (Jan. 28)
53 senators push Obama to approve Keystone XL (Jan. 23)
Nebraska governor OKs Keystone XL route (Jan. 22)
Study: Keystone’s tar sands waste more damaging than coal (Jan. 18)
Keystone XL prompts dueling studies (Jan. 17)
Keystone XL foes say fed study should consider climate effects (Dec. 20)