Discussion Over Controversial Pipeline At UH

A conference on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project was held at the University of Houston. Representatives from TransCanada and the oil sands consortium were on hand to discuss the project, and the government's decision to delay approval of the pipeline.

Sean McMaster
Sean McMaster, Executive VP and general counsel at TransCanada

Canada ranks third in proven oil reserves behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. From its oil sands deposit that’s one fourth the size of Texas, TransCanada is hoping to extend shipping oil to the U.S. through a project called Keystone XL.  

The pipeline would carry tar sands more than 17 hundred miles from Alberta to Port Arthur, passing through a half dozen states along the way. On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced it will delay issuing a permit, citing environmental concerns about the Nebraska part of the route. Sean McMaster is executive VP and general counsel at TransCanada:

“Assuming it’s, say a 5 year regulatory process, it’ll take a couple of years to build the pipeline. So, that’s maybe seven years from when we can see this pipeline to when it’ll actually ship crude oil, and you needed that oil seven years ago when we started.”

He says the company has spent more than three years on the approval process on the $7 billion project.

“The American people need this oil. The refineries have spent significant sums of money altering the refineries so that they can process this heavy crude. It’s a shovel-ready project, doesn’t need any government funding. It’ll put thousands, tens of thousands of workers to work immediatley. If we get the permit, we would be constructing within a month of getting the permit.”

Map of Keystone Pipeline KLHe says Keystone is a way to help wean America’s dependence on countries that operate with less than admirable intentions.

Simon Dyer is with the Pembina Institute, a Canadian sustainable energy think-tank, that does advocacy and research around energy and the environment. He says there is a reason for the opposition to the route the pipeline might use:

“This is actually locking us into a more high impact, unconventional oil. And obviously there also a lot of concerned land owners across the United States, along this proposed pipeline route.”

The State Department’s delay on a permit could mean a decision will likely come well past the 2012 presidential election. Dyer doesn’t see it as politics, but rather very serious decision making.

“I think you know, thinking time to do it right is important and really, if you look at this oil in this pipeline, which is actually more dirty and higher impact than the typical oil that is used in the U.S.. Obviously it’s taking the United States in the wrong direction, so I think that needs to be weighed carefully in any decision.”

He adds since it’s impossible to calculate the most damaging outcome, it’s better to buy time.