EDITORIALS

Big oil vs. big ecology

Demonstrators hold up signs in front of the White House in Washington in September to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline project in the U.S., and the Tar Sands Development in Alberta.
Luis Alvarez | AP
Demonstrators hold up signs in front of the White House in Washington in September to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline project in the U.S., and the Tar Sands Development in Alberta.
Posted Jan. 11, 2012, at 6:18 p.m.

If you ignore the mountain of analysis and opinion about the pending Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, it is easy to tell President Obama whether he should approve or disapprove it. Read some of that stuff, and it gets harder.

Congress has given the president 60 days to decide. He wanted to wait until after the November elections to deal with this explosive political issue, but Republicans inserted the requirement in a bill he couldn’t afford to veto.

Big oil and its friends argue that the l,700-mile pipeline will provide future oil needs, reduce American dependence on Middle East oil, and create many jobs. Environmentalists contend that it will harm flora and fauna, pollute air and possibly groundwater, and risk spills that could do serious damage.

Look further into the matter, and you will find a lot of exaggeration with overstatements on both sides.

On the big oil side, the TransCanada Corp., which wants to build the pipeline from the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States, claims that it could produce as many as 250,000 permanent jobs, besides the 20,000 construction temporaries. But the Washington Post’s FactChecker, Glenn Kessler, notes that both the temporary and the “spinoff” predictions could shrink with a drop in the price of oil. And the spinoff jobs include 136 manicurists, 110 shampooers, 1,714 bartenders and 898 reporters, if you can believe it. The State Department puts job estimates at a mere 5,000 to 6,000 temporaries and 50 permanent.

As for greenhouse gases that would be produced, Friends of the Earth claims that the earth-damaging emissions would add more than the exhaust from 6 million new cars on U.S. roads. NASA’s renowned climatologist, who perpetually warns about global warning, joined a protest group at the White House and said, “If we burn the oil in the Canadian tar sands, it’s essentially game over for the climate.”

For the project to go forward, the Canadian company needs a State Department approval authorized by the President. The State Department says it cannot complete its final environmental impact statement by the deadline and thus can make no recommendation for or against approval. Its preliminary statement strongly suggests that it favors the project. It brushed off threats to beasts and birds as temporary and minimized danger to air and water.

Cancellation will probably do little to curb global demand for Canada’s mammoth oil sands deposits. Other pipelines will continue to bring the oil to U.S. distilleries. And climate change will go on as it always has.

So President Obama, caught between the conflicting claims of big oil and the powerful environmentalist lobby, is expected to decide against the pipeline and face the disapproval of its advocates.

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