API: Oil sands pipeline is matter of ‘critical national interest’

The nation’s largest oil industry trade group today called on the Obama administration to give the green light to the Keystone XL pipeline that would deliver tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to southeast Texas refineries.

Cindy Schild, the refining issues manager for the American Petroleum Institute, called the imminent decision “a matter of critical national interest.”

“Not only is this a chance for the White House to strengthen U.S. energy security and help plan for the nation’s energy future,” Schild said, “but it is also an opportunity to take a specific, public and dramatic action in support of creating new U.S. jobs.”

The State Department is weighing whether more environmental studies are needed before approving the pipeline project planned by TransCanada Corp. The proposed 36-inch pipeline would start in Hardisty, Alberta and end roughly 2,000 miles later in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. Along the way, it would snake through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and eastern Texas.

In Canada, project backers view the pipeline as a chance to expand the market for the oil sands crude, by allowing the country to export as many as 1.1 million barrels per day to the U.S. Supporters in the United States say that the Canadian crude would replace oil now imported from less friendly territories.

But environmentalists have battled the plan, which they say encourages oil sands production in Canada that will damage Alberta’s boreal forest while generating far more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude. Lawmakers in Nebraska have lined up against the pipeline, because its charted path would carry oil through the state’s Sand Hills and near the Ogallala Aquifer.

And even in the oil-friendly territory of east Texas, the project is igniting opposition from landowners who say TransCanada Corp., is using heavy-handed tactics to win easements to place the pipe.

But API said today that policymakers should focus on how the project could benefit the U.S. economy, given projections it could generate an estimated 13,000 organized-labor jobs. Those well-paying jobs shouldn’t be ignored in today’s economic climate, Schild said. “The potential benefits . . . are enormous.”

The trade group also is pitching the pipeline as a matter of national security, since the imported Canadian crude could replace oil imported from the Middle East and Venezuela. “The fact is, if we do not import oil sands crude from Canada, we will import oil from other countries, and other competitors will buy Canada’s oil,” Schild said.

Photo: A woman in Omaha, Neb., protests the Keystone XL pipeline. TransCanada’s second pipeline, the Keystone XL is planned to carry crude oil from tar sands near Hardisty, Alberta to the Gulf Coast. (AP /Nati Harnik)