Trouble in the Pipeline for the Us and Canada

By Foley, Stephen | The Independent (London, England), November 23, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Trouble in the Pipeline for the Us and Canada


Foley, Stephen, The Independent (London, England)


Keystone XL, taking oil from Alberta's tar sands to the Gulf, has set unions against the green lobby. Stephen Foley reports

For a generation, for the oil giants who have crowded into Canada in the hope of exploiting the vast reserves of petroleum trapped in the oily sands of Alberta, the main question has been: how can we get this stuff out the ground? Now thoughts are turning to another question: how do we get it out the country?

The UK's Shell and BP, and their international peers, plus dozens of Canadian oil producers working in Alberta, had hoped to know by now that the US government had approved a new $7bn (4bn) pipeline to transport oilsands crude over the border. But a campaign by environmentalists who oppose all oilsands development, and an outcry by residents along the route, caused the Obama administration to push a decision out beyond next year's election, and yesterday the Governor of Nevada signed a new law that could force the pipeline to be rerouted away from environmentally sensitive areas of that state.

The Nevada law, according to the pipeline's proponents, should make it easier to agree a compromise deal. Green groups, though, have won a major battle and are pushing on with their war to stop the pipeline altogether.

"The extraction of tar sands is a disaster for the climate, because it produces far more greenhouse gases than other oil extraction, as well as poisoning the water for local communities," says Friends of the Earth's Nick Berning. "We have a broader goal of keep the tar sands in the ground, and stopping the pipeline is part of that. We don't need to be doubling down on our dependence on oil. There are cleaner alternatives and any number of means to meet our energy needs."

Oilsands are highly controversial because the method of production involves mining large amounts of material - a mix of sand, clay and a form of petroleum called bitumen - and separating it using water. The resulting polluted water has to be safely stored, and transport of the dense crude is energy-intensive. The European Union is currently working to designate Canadian oilsands a carbon-intensive fuel, which would limit businesses' ability to use it and comply with environmental rules.

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