Energy Secretary Steven Chu is making waves with recent comments that suggest the Obama administration is on track to approve the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would deliver Canadian oil sands crude to Gulf Coast refineries.
In an interview with energyNOW!, Chu argues that when it comes to importing oil from foreign countries, Canada is a better option for the U.S. than alternatives in the Middle East and elsewhere:
“Having Canada as a supplier for our oil is much more comforting than having other countries supply our oil,” Chu said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is poised to make a decision about whether the 36-inch pipeline is in the national interest by the end of the year, following the State Department’s conclusion last week that there would be “no significant impacts to most resources” along the planned 1,700-mile route. But Chu’s comments are being viewed as the latest signal yet that an approval is likely.
The $13 billion Keystone XL pipeline would double the capacity of an existing TransCanada Corp. pipeline network that now ends in Cushing, Okla.
Already, most of Canada’s oil sands crude is now exported to the U.S. — about 1.1 million barrels per day in 2010. That would likely grow under the proposed pipeline expansion, which initially would allow an additional 700,000 barrels per day of crude oil to flow into the United States, with much of it going to Gulf Coast refineries.
Chu’s remarks, delivered during a one-on-one interview at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada, yesterday, dovetail with arguments that have been advanced by Keystone XL champions in the oil industry and in Canada.
For instance, TransCanada’s vice president for Keystone, Robert Jones, said that in deciding whether to approve the pipeline, the Obama administration is choosing whether the U.S. wants “to import oil from Canada or get conflict oil from OPEC nations.”
And Clinton herself noted the contrast last year, stressing that as long as the U.S. is reliant on oil to fuel its energy needs, “we’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada.”
Environmentalists who have been protesting the pipeline in front of the White House worry that the pipeline would expand the marketplace for diluted bitumen and synthetic crudes produced from Alberta’s oil sands. The greenhouse gas emissions from Canadian oil sands crude have been estimated to be potentially 40 percent more than conventional oil, largely because of the energy-intensive methods required to extract the material, including open-pit mining and in-situ techniques.
Chu noted that “the technologies that are used to extract tar sands oil . . . are improving dramatically.”
“The companies that are extracting these tar sands are making great strides in improving the environmental impact of the extraction of this oil and will continue to do so,” Chu added.
But the energy secretary also acknowledged that the final decision won’t satisfy everyone:
“In the end, it’s one of those things where it’s not perfect, but it’s a trade off.”
Ultimately, Chu said, the U.S. needs to focus on diversifying its energy supply and wean cars and trucks off oil. “Right now, our transportation needs come almost exclusively from oil,” Chu noted, but that could change with continued research and investments in electric vehicles, biofuels and energy efficiency.
Watch a clip of the energyNOW! interview with Chu here: