Industry poll finds broad public support for Keystone XL

Eight of 10 U.S. voters believe the Keystone XL pipeline is in the nation’s best interest, according to a  nationwide poll released Tuesday.

The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Petroleum Institute, a major supporter of the pipeline that would ferry oil sands crude from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

According to the phone survey of 1,000 registered voters, 77 percent believe the pipeline would strengthen America’s natural security and slightly more — 85 percent — believe it would be a boost to the nation’s economic security.

Related story: British Columbia decides against pipeline to Canada’s west coast

While support was slightly higher among Republican voters, Cindy Schild, API’s downstream operations senior manager, noted broad support across all political orientations.

“The American people support it — people of all political points of view, politicians from both parties and national opinion leaders,” Schild said in a conference call with reporters. “We’ve witnessed firsthand the public’s strong support in the rallies we’ve held and in poll after poll that’s been conducted.”

The State Department is conducting a final environmental review of TransCanada’s proposed pipeline, after  concluding last year that Alberta’s oil sands will be developed even if Keystone XL isn’t  built.

As part of that process, the State Department may hold another public hearing on the proposal, following summits in the pipeline’s path and in Washington, D.C., Schild said.

“They’ve held already over a dozen hearings” already, Schild said, noting the most recent in Nebraska earlier this year. “We thought that was the last public hearing, but then they discussed having another one, probably this summer.”

A State Department official said no decision has been made on whether an additional public meeting will be held. However, State does plan to provide a fresh opportunity for the public to comment on Keystone XL after it issues a final environmental impact study of the project and formally launches a process of determining whether the pipeline is in the national interest.

“This additional public comment period will provide a further opportunity for the public to provide input on this proposed project,” a State Department official said. “We will provide details on the national interest determination comment period at a later date.”

Under a 9-year-old executive order, the State Department is tasked with determining whether the $5 billion project is in the “national interest.” If any one of eight separate federal agencies disagrees with State’s decision, a process would begin that would put the final verdict in President Barack Obama’s hands.

But API’s Schild said any additional forums would delay an already “overdue” decision on Keystone XL.

Already, a final decision is at least many months away, as the State Department slowly works its way through about 1.2 million public comments submitted on its draft environmental study of the pipeline. Late last month, the State Department released the first 100,000 of those public comments, with plans to post all of them on a weekly basis before reaching a final decision.

TransCanada Corp. first sought approval to build the border-crossing pipeline in 2005. While the northern, border-crossing section of the project is under review, the Calgary company has gone forward with construction of the southern leg of the pipeline in Oklahoma and Texas.

Environmentalists say 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.