The Inside Agenda Blog

Debate Rages Over Keystone XL Pipeline

by Daniel Kitts Tuesday October 11, 2011

Infrastructure projects don't get any more controversial than the Keystone XL Pipeline. A $7-billion megaproject that would carry oil-sands crude from Alberta to refineries of Texas, the pipeline promises to be a huge boost to Alberta's petroleum industry. It also would provide the U.S. economy with thousands of much-needed jobs during the pipeline's construction.


But the pipeline has also become the target of environmental groups on both sides of the border. The debate over the pipeline's supposed benefits and risks has played out in public demonstrations in Ottawa and Washington DC. It has also played out on the op-ed pages of news organization across the continent.


The Globe and Mail came out in favour of the project in an editorial, arguing the project "carries wide-ranging benefits while being tangential to the climate-change debate." The Toronto Star also supports the project, but lauds environmentalists protesting the project holding governments and oil companies to account. The editorial concludes: "governments and the oil sands producers should take the passion behind the protests seriously, and get on the path to more responsible development."


The New York Times, however, disagrees with its Canadian counterparts in its editorial pages: "Adding it all up, we do not think that the benefit from Keystone XL outweighs the certain damages and potential risks: the stripping of the Canadian boreal forest, the further carbon-loading of the atmosphere, and the threat to the Midwest’s water supplies."


Individual opinion-makers have also weighed in. Conrad Black took to the pages of the National Post to argue "Let Canada's Oil Flow."  "This has been a more complicated process than it should have been, as the usual suspects, led by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, signed the inevitable petition against the oil sands," Black wrote. "How a South African Anglican minister and a Tibetan national religious leader in exile imagine this is any concern of theirs, or that they have any standing to express an opinion about it, fortunately has finally escaped the comprehension of those who have the responsibility to decide the issue."


NDP leadership candidate Brian Topp took to the Globe and Mail to argue the opposite, that the pipeline was actually counter to Canada's economic interests: "In promoting and facilitating this project, the Harper government is, once again, scripting Canada in the world economy to be a source of raw, unprocessed resources. ... Why we are exporting raw bitumen when we could be exporting the hundreds of products that are derived from our own petrochemicals?"


The pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama is strong from both sides of this issue. And the op-ed pages are one of the weapons both sides are using. Prominent environmentalist and author Bill McKibben wrote in the Washington Post that the Keystone Pipeline could be "a defining moment of the Obama years." On the other side of the issue, Canadian Ambassador to the United States Gary Doer, our government's primary pitchman for the project south of the border, has sometimes responded to editorials criticizing the project. "The construction of Keystone XL would create 20,000 direct and 118,000 indirect jobs, providing the kind of infrastructure stimulus that your editorials have promoted," he wrote to the New York Times.

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