As the Senate weighs a symbolic vote on the oil sands crude pipeline that has rallied green opposition to a degree rivaled only by proposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Canada's ambassador to the United States yesterday walked a line increasingly familiar to his government -- committing to stronger climate change action but refusing to link those moves to approval of Keystone XL.
Ambassador Gary Doer spoke alongside American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard at an anniversary party of sorts for the Alberta-to-Gulf Coast pipeline, whose sponsor first applied for a presidential permit to cross the U.S. border in September 2008. API created extra-long pencils that read "KXL delay: 5 years and counting" for the occasion, but Doer was more direct than celebratory as he avowed that his home country is "ahead of the U.S." on curbing coal-fired utility emissions and is prepared to rein in the carbon footprint of its vast oil sands region.
Doer noted that KXL's sponsor, TransCanada Corp., last year reversed a pipeline to ship Pennsylvania shale gas to Ontario, displacing fuel from Alberta, and touted the move as an example of successful U.S.-Canada energy trade relations. He declined to confirm the existence of a letter from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to President Obama that reportedly offered quicker action to limit greenhouse gases from oil sands production to help shake loose the delayed KXL permit (E&ENews PM, Sept. 9).
"It's illegal for the president of the United States to cut a deal" in exchange for ruling on whether the project is in the nation's interest, Doer told reporters. No matter how Obama rules on KXL, a decision now not expected until next year, he added that "we know that there will be lawyers behind every cherry blossom" in the capital.
It is senators who have the $5.3 billion pipeline on their minds these days, however, as they eye a vote next week on a nonbinding resolution of support for KXL offered by North Dakota Republican John Hoeven and Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu as an amendment to a stalled energy efficiency bill (see related story). The Hoeven-Landrieu language aligns with that of a provision that netted 62 votes during the upper chamber's budget debate in March, but it also diverges from a House GOP focus on pursuing legislative avenues to force Obama into approving KXL.
"My hope is there's not a lot of tolerance to bring this up again, because there's not a lot different than the budget vote," Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club's deputy federal campaigns director, said in an interview.
Given that Obama explicitly linked his KXL decision to climate change and has cast doubt on GOP estimates of the pipeline's job-creation potential since March, Pierce added, "I'm not too sure how they think they're going to get a better vote out of this one."
One green-group official tracking the Hoeven-Landrieu amendment, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity, said that the measure would risk losing Democratic votes if it attempted to "overreach" by restricting executive-branch power to decide on cross-border pipelines.
Obama's climate-centric perspective on KXL has altered the approach of pipeline promoters beyond Canadian borders. API released a report this week touting the oil and gas sector's investment in greenhouse gas reduction technologies since 2000 as greater than the federal government's and nearly as large as that of all other U.S. private industries combined.
The study counted spending on nuclear power, liquefied natural gas and cleaner-burning vehicles as carbon-mitigating technologies.
Before climate activists and the oil industry can sway Obama, they must make their final appeals to the State Department, where a long-anticipated environmental review of the 1,179-mile KXL is expected within weeks. State's weekly post of public comments on its draft analysis of the pipeline did not appear yesterday, suggesting that the 1.5-million-plus submissions may be complete and the review's release imminent.
KXL would ship up to 830,000 barrels per day of Canadian oil sands crude, which carries a carbon footprint 17 percent greater than that of conventional oil according to State, from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.